By JOSIE RUSH
As a new year brings with it an imperative to reflect and resolve, turning a revisionary lens toward the classroom has the potential to reinvigorate. Queer praxis embraces this spirit of revision, prompting instructors to take another look at how power, knowledge and meaning are constructed in the educational spaces they facilitate.
First, what is queer praxis? While scholars have been notoriously reluctant to pin a definition on “queer,” there is a general understanding of queer as both a label of nonnormative sexuality and an act of disrupting norms. However, instructors need not be queer to utilize a queer praxis — all that’s necessary for queer praxis is an ability to analyze normative frameworks and a willingness to trouble these frameworks, particularly frameworks of white heterosexism and the values manifested therein.
Queer praxis renders the invisible explicit. So, what can queer praxis do for your classroom? The remainder of the article provides suggestions on how queer praxis may be utilized when planning course policies and content.
Perhaps the most immediate way instructors communicate classroom values to students is through the course policies. Our course policies let students know, for instance, how we expect them to turn in work, share ideas in class, and use electronic devices. Course policies also let students know what sort of behaviors are not valued. In short, course policies provide students with a sort of script that supposedly allows them to perform as ideal learners, individuals who meet deadlines, keep their attention on the lesson, and, of course, participate.
In “Teaching Queer” (2017), Stacey Waite reviews participation policies that prioritize speech over silence and interrogates what types of learners and learning are rendered invisible by the assumption that contributions to the classroom hinge on participation imagined solely as speaking. Queering participation policies might mean finding a way to value engaged listening as much as speaking, mining pedagogical value in silence, or presenting ways of participating in addition to speaking in front of the classroom (like contributing to a class wiki or acting as group notetaker).
Instructors also may find value in having the class collaboratively craft a participation policy. Providing students with guiding frameworks is useful here. What is the value of speaking in class? Of silently (but actively) listening? What’s a class like where everyone participates? Where no one participates?
This interrogative lens can be usefully applied to other policies as we ask ourselves what sort of students our policies (fail to) imagine. Queer praxis often calls us to be transparent in our classroom design, and this sort of transparency with classroom policy allows students to understand the stakes of classroom expectations.
Queering course content extends beyond adding LGBTQ scholars to your syllabus (though you can certainly do that!). As instructors, we must keep in mind not only who is represented in our course content, but the silences produced by that content. Insofar as content authorizes discourse, course reading lists may preclude particular types of knowledge production and, consequentially, particular learners. Are white authors overwhelmingly represented on your syllabus? Do your students only interact with texts authored by men?
Diversity and inclusion are more than boxes we check when designing a course, these are reiterative processes that require commitment and humility. In the spirit of transparency demanded by queer praxis, speak to your students about who and what have been represented through your course content. If you’ve made an effort to be diverse and inclusive in selecting content, talk to your class about why that matters, not only in your discipline but also in higher education. Taking time to collaboratively define diversity and inclusion with your students may highlight oversights in course design and also will help tie these principles to other learning objectives (Marinara et al., 2009).
Another way to queer content is to allow students to select a text or author they feel should be included in the course and explain why. Shifting authority in the classroom in this way, so that instructors are not the sole authorizers of scholarship, gives students the chance to evaluate disciplinary knowledge and their own learning processes.
Because, as mentioned above, queer praxis means attending to invisibilities and silences, it’s a practice best undertaken collaboratively. If you’re interested in queering your course but unsure of where to start, the Center for Teaching and Learning is happy to help. To contact the Center for Teaching and Learning, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Josie Rush is a Teaching Consultant for the University Center for Teaching and Learning
Marinara, M., Alexander, J., Banks, W., & Blackmon, S. (2009). Cruising composition texts: Negotiating sexual difference in first-year readers. College Composition and Communication,61(2), 269-296. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/40593443
Waite, S. (2017). Teaching queer: Radical possibilities for writing and knowing. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.