Steps towards a feminist pedagogy of science in society

This thought-piece has been stalled in revision for a few months, so let me expose it for responses and see whether that nudges me to think more about the issues.
——
0. Discussions of feminist pedagogy often describe critical pedagogy that involves feminist topics, teachers, students. What would make the pedagogy specifically feminist? Or anti-racist?

The response developed here centers on the development of a human being as dynamic between developing internal structuredness and “unruly” external structuredness, recognizing that through that dynamic access to human experience has been constrained by the unequal gendered and racialized world, and moving towards fuller human relationships.

The newborn child has to learn in shifting grounds—shifting not because of history and place (which we will return to), but because of its developing capacities and ways of knowing, including sense of self.
Moreover, not only the development of one’s self, but the very sense of self, involves a dynamic between developing internal structuredness and “unruly” external structuredness. (Theories that assume a proto-self at the outset perpetuate the idea of a soul–the living being does not develop without being directed by something else put there by a higher power.  These days the secular variant is to invoke genes, which have been fashioned over evolutionary time by omnipotent natural selection.  In contrast, Hendriks-Jansen (1996) proposes that a human being’s sense of self emerges in the infant through a reciprocal dynamic: the infant’s activity patterns elicit adult behavior that presumes—and thus bootstraps or scaffolds—intentionality on part of the infant.)

1. Shifting ground unavoidable over a person’s life course
a. Because of “unruly” complexity of changing context
[From a recent essay of mine: [We can think about] people trying to make sense of their own circumstances as they seek ways to change what has been given to them by dint of history, place, and the unfolding actions of others. In Williams’s novel Loyalties, the ending of which is quoted at the start of this chapter, an elderly character who was once a partisan fighting against Franco’s overthrow of the Spanish Republic but is now tending a forest plot for conservation, argues with a relative from the next generation, noting that the scientific career of the latter man has taken him away from his birthplace. Political involvement, the older man contends, cannot be a simple matter of staying loyal to one’s roots. Given the “powerful forces” that shape social and environmental change, we can “in intelligence” grapple with them “by such means as we can find” and take a deliberate path of action, but “none of us, at any time, can know enough, can understand enough, to avoid getting much of it wrong” (Williams 1985, 357-8). Or, in the words of a close intellectual and political colleague of the older man, if we “go on saying the things we learned to say and it will be just strange talk, in a strange land” (161).]

b. The newborn child has to learn in shifting grounds—shifting not because of history and place, but because of its developing capacities and ways of knowing, including sense of self.
c. Throughout life, each of us continues to try to impart order according to our sense of ourself as an individual with knowledge, capabilities, plans, and direction.
d. This happens unavoidably in relationships, from which we:
e. seek and sometimes find needed support (material and emotional)
f. have our self-directedness buffeted by the order-imparting efforts of others
g. encounter unplanned conjunctions or intersections, and
h. draw from these conjunctions or intersections as we learn and develop capabilities that may shift our plans and clarify our sense of directedness.
In sum, in responding to shifting grounds this is an extension of what we already do from birth onwards.

2. Creative learning, a tension

a. We are all always already creative learners (see #1b-h).
b. Our knowledge and capabilities at any time (see #1c & h) provide structures that can be built on (and taken into account in plans and direction). At the same time, those structures inhibit recognition of—and thus learning and developing capabilities in response to—the buffeting and shifting grounds.
c. In other words, we always face Tension 1: Structures that each of us has cognitively internalized and embodied versus opening out/up/beyond those structures
d. This leads to a Q: How to learn in ways that acknowledge the tension and keep it in play, not sidestep it?

3. Teaching, coaching, supporting others (aka creative learners)
a. The parent or other caregiver for the newborn has to support that new person-in-formation. Without such relationships the newborn cannot survive on its own or develop into a self.
b. The self and person that develops is enabled and constrained by relationships, including those with caregivers, teachers, coaches, and other supporters.
c. Relationships with people who have developed in an unequal gendered and racialized world means that the support might strengthen structures within the learner that cognitively internalize and embody that unequal gendered and racialized world.
d. There are two related tensions here (in #3a-c) for caregivers, teachers, coaches, etc.—Tension 2: Supporting people to build on their structures versus disturbing and challenging those structures and Tension 3 (a variant of Tension 1): Getting support for ourselves to build on our own structures versus eliciting disturbance and challenges of those structures.
e. Suppose caregivers, teachers, coaches, and peers decide to extend #3a and take as our primary life ethic that we support others to do the best work they can in their circumstances, which are always structured by themselves (see #2b) and their relationships with others (#3b & c). Tensions 2 & 3 necessarily come into play.
f. The “best work they can” for the teachers etc. as well as the learners can be envisaged as developing knowledge and capabilities to better implement the primary life ethic.
g. One way to address the challenge of #3f and the Tensions is to notice that access to human experience has been constrained by the unequal gendered and racialized world (e.g., curiosity about people with different experiences succumbs to discomfort, fear, and separateness). Instead, we can seek fuller relationships—and thus get closer to the best work we can do in our circumstances.
h. Seeking fuller relationships involves mourning the losses we have already accumulated through constrained living and re-evaluating past hurts so as to defang the fear that has become part of the “structures within the learner that cognitively internalize and embody that unequal gendered and racialized world” (see #3c) (e.g., females and students of color performing less well than they can because of stereotype threat; white people crossing the street when a black person approaches them at night; …)

to be continued….

References

Hendriks-Jansen, H. (1996). Catching Ourselves in the Act. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Williams, R. (1985). Loyalties. London: Chatto & Windus.

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2 thoughts on “Steps towards a feminist pedagogy of science in society

  1. Peter J. Taylor Post author

    I see that I have thought myself to a place where what is feminist about feminist pedagogy here are ideas that apply for me even outside feminist discourse. Is that the same as saying feminism needs to be everywhere?
    I have also puzzled out principles, an approach that begs the question of for whom such principles are a basis for action.

    Reply
    1. Peter J. Taylor Post author

      However, what the principles do help resolve for me is the need for feminist pedagogy not to rest on positions (e.g., criticism of essentialism), but to foster processes consistent with taking “as our primary life ethic that we support others to do the best work they can in their circumstances,” while recognizing the tension around “supporting people to build on their structures versus disturbing and challenging those structures.”
      As a corollary of this, I need to tussle with my resistance to a certain form of structuredness, namely, a sense of affiliating with a group or identity in which you feel some solidarity with others who adopt the same critical stance. Without the security of belonging, exploration can readily get closed down so that the structures do not get challenged. With the security of belonging, exploration can readily get closed down so that the structures do not get challenged. In any case, my resistance to affiliation and valorizing of exploration of what I call heterogeneous construction must stem in part from an unmarked affiliation with white, professional class, self-determining, anglo-protestant male-dom.

      Reply

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