Lesson Plans: CLAGS/ NYU CSGS Pedagogy Workshops, Spring 2000

Responding to the felt need for a public space in which to discuss the special issues involved in teaching gender and sexuality, Alisa Solomon and I planned a series of three Pedagogy Workshops this spring. Over our combined 30+ years of teaching (!), we had been struck by both the unique difficulties of teaching in these areas and the lack of fora in which to explore these particular challenges. We’d also been moved by reflection on how issues had changed for us as teachers as students changed with changing times, and as we gained experience—not always positive— in the classroom. We wanted to create a place for discussion among higher education teachers of all kinds and at all stages of their careers, to offer ideas and strategies to even the most seasoned veteran, to introduce possibilities to the newest graduate student teaching assistant. We were pleased and encouraged by the range of the turnout, which included just such a wide span of experience. Instructors from all over the tri-state area, from public and private colleges and universities, participated.

A discussion of two articles, “Teaching as a Gay Man: Pedagogical Resistance or Public Spectacle?” by Jonathan G. Silin, and “Sex and Pedagogy: Performing Sexualities in the Classroom,” by Didi Khayatt, focused our first meeting. We posed general questions about pedagogy and articulated them with specifically feminist and queer issues. One of the dividing lines between the two articles was coming out in the classroom: the gay man insisted on coming out as an important pedagogical strategy, while the lesbian took the opposite tack. What things, we wondered, caused this difference? Certainly the kind of teaching
(academic discipline, level, type of school) had an important role in determining pedagogical strategies. Probably gender did as well. Taking these articles as our points of departure, we discussed the place of “the personal” in our classrooms. A general philosophy of teaching was enunciated by Silin: his role as teacher was to “lead students to new forms of action.” Was this, we asked, a pedagogical goal shared by our workshop participants?

In our second meeting, we expanded the discussion of “the personal” in the classroom, focusing on the use of personal anecdotes by both students and teachers. We discussed how to encourage students to move beyond anecdotes, how to make meaning out of the personal testimonies that students often resort to in class discussions. But we recognized, too, the feminist principles involved in the use of personal experience as authoritative, and we also acknowledged that Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies have a special relationship to the personal, being constructed around identity categories (unlike Queer Studies in this regard?). Discussion of our specific pedagogical circumstances made it clear that “the personal” remains a powerful category that can both install and deconstruct authority.

Our final spring session allowed us to discuss and critique syllabi brought in by workshop participants. Fall 2000 will bring a new series of workshops held at the Graduate Center: Monday, September 18; Monday, October 16; and Monday November 13. The CLAGS website will have additional information later this summer.

Carolyn Dinshaw
New York University