Room for challenge?

Channel 4 recently put out a two-part series Genderquake which in their own words set out to explore “what it means to be a man or a woman [in 21st Century Britain as it is ever changing]”. I found this programmes to be of great interest as it made me reflect on a session where we looked ‘Reflecting on your own values’. This was particularly poignant in relation to the first two questions:

  1.  How would you describe your own identities; such as gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs and so on?
  2. Would you say that your identities have changed over time? If so, how?

The incident outlined in the embedded video was one that caused me great concern and caused me to think about how as teaching staff/academics we may go about creating safe spaces for students to explore other identities/characteristics they do not hold. This is of great interest to me in devising methods to support this as I feel that my teaching practice moves in the direction of encouraging students to challenge an ask questions – however it is vital to ensure that boundaries and respect are given to all those involved in any form of discourse.

Moving forward I would like to research into theories that support and help me to better understand this area of teaching practice that I seem to be moving towards/drawn to.

A process of play

In this session, we focused on reading Understanding Art: The Play of Work and Spectator.

It was a text that I enjoyed reading as I started to ask a lot of questions in reference to the purpose of education and who education benefits. My first overall ideas and questions centred around the concept of educating the masses versus remaking the public. For me the very idea of the latter felt like an indication that ‘we’ as perhaps educators ‘remake’ the public which then develops into the idea that the greater majority are somehow subpar and need reprogramming and rebuilding. This is in complete opposition to my personal thoughts and ideas as a believer that we are here to enhance and support the development of the toolkits that our students come equipped with.

The idea that the people have been problematised shows a very real problem within society with perhaps a few feeling that they know best and dictating to others how they should be going through their lives – who is the authoritarian? Why do they have this voice?
Thoughts about the ruling class – how do we perhaps overturn this idea of instilling discipline? Education being used as a tool of the state to separate out those who have the resources or capabilities to go against the grain and refuse the imposition of and streaming of groups. Are students being forced to be workers/obedient removing their ability and confidence to become leaders who shape policy and the academic agenda further reinforcing the fact that education is a tool that only a few privileged will be able to take full advantage of?
The idea of the conversation being interfered and altered. A different system and a different way. Tradition as dangerous/problematic.

 

In addition to discussion of the text by we had participated in an activity which I thought was very clever in encouraging participation. the activity involved a ball of string and a pack of playing cards. Each time a participant spoke they would have to wrap some string around their hand. this actually caused people to become more aware of the power dynamics and how much they may have been dominating/leading a conversation which had positive outcomes in people supporting quieter members of the group to participate more. I would like to use an activity like this intermittently in order to gauge dynamics within a cohort of students and support quieter students to have the ability to take more of a stake in discussions.

Asessment Matrix

In this session, we worked in groups to take a closer look at the assessment matrix and critically evaluate the boundaries and requirements.

The task was really helpful as we all had an opportunity to self-assess ourselves placing coloured squares along each set of criteria according to our personal opinions which forced a critical analysis of self and was compared with the observations of our peers. In addition to this when re-writing the criteria we were very conscious of language and how slight variations of particular words could equate to higher or lower grade boundaries.

I felt this was a useful exercise to complete as had the tendency to mark myself quite harshly based on my activity in that particular session where I had been a bit quieter than usual which didn’t reflect my normal levels of engagement. The activity felt quite like a boost in confidence as my peers looked at my contributions wholistically which reflects what an assessment should look like.

 

Faith and University: Facts vs Beliefs

Teaching in the context of religion, belief and faith

When we think of religion, belief and faith we open ourselves to a mode of thinking which highlights the ‘individual’ along with their sense of self and strings together our collective similarities providing a space and vehicle for further and possible discussions around our differences as an opportunity for learning. Equally with the latter in mind, one must be mindful of the fact that students are perfectly within their rights to abstain from engaging in certain discussions that may infringe on their privacies, however, this raises questions about how we ensure that the classroom is a ‘safe space’ for all.

In the context of an art school/university religion, belief and faith serve an important role in the output of the work created by our students. Within my personal practice, I do not believe it to be possible to see or create art without feeling some form of emotion which is indirectly linked to religion, belief and faith in its broadest sense whether it be in support, a commentary or direct challenge of these modes.

In thinking of relation to how this may be applicable to my students, I believe this centres around the idea or rather so the acceptance and understanding that “one voice cannot drown the rest”.  this draws direct parallels with conversations that are being had specifically within the context of museums and the ever-evolving dialogue between the institution (museum) and audience when thinking about how to tell stories of objects which are have their rightful places within other cultures which may be heavily influenced by a religion or belief which ultimately determines their significance.

The video ‘Does Religion have a place in Modern Society?‘  provides an example of how we can start to understand and being accepting of one another.

Religion In Britain: Challenges in Higher Education

In reading the stimulus paper by Tariq Modood and Craig Calhoun it becomes clear that continual evolution is necessary to keep not just religion but also our societies alive. I think some of the most interesting themes to focus on in terms of how we view religion and the challenges it may face in Higher Education are the following; Western European moderate secularism, Multiculturalism, Minority Identities, The ‘vaguely Christian’ UK and Religion as a public good.

In looking at the complexities of religion it is necessary to consider the fact that specifically in the UK the state and church were once engaged meaning that the two ran alongside one another. Modood points out that organised religion can play a significant role in a number of factors including our cultural heritage and national identity which of course trickles down into the identities of the individual thus creating the personalities and markers of normality within our communities. It is also well acknowledged the strength in which religion displays in the context of bringing people together which can play a larger role in providing peace of mind for students (both Home and International) during a period of their life which can often prove to be one of the most challenging parts of adolescence and finding ones place in society. The latter shows religion in the form of public good but it is again important to look at wider context of religion and the intollerance which have caused rifts between different religious groups fractioning further into racial groups over time.

Further to this when we start to consider the connection between state and religion it is vital to emphasis that as educational establishments there is a sense of a duty of care to ensure that all religions are represented fairly and accurately.

In thinking about this some of the questions that have arisen are

Question 1: Who is it that decides the circumstances where religion becomes a ‘public good’ as we have seen throughout history cases where religion has been used to benefit the few rather than the masses

Question 2: Can state and religion ever be truly disengaged when many laws of the land are steeped in christianity?

On Creed

Listening to philosopher and theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah speaking On Creed left me with a smile on my face. Although it was a 30-minute lecture there were many back and forths at this address. What I found to be interesting within this talk was the interconnectivity between belief/religion, community and culture. Being born to Nigerian parents in the UK I felt some synergies with the way Appiah talked about the complexities of religion and how I whilst growing up saw those same complexities within the form of culture and religion intertwining which often caused confusion not just for me but for many of my peers. The latter also spoke to the concept of questioning – what is the difference between religion and belief? Furthermore, we start to look at the idea of interpretation and the unyielding need for religious structures to see its followers and the context of modern society and adapt.

In conclusion, I really do feel that religious identities connect us with some of the oldest stories that we have. As someone who is captivated often through the personal experiences of others it is apt to say that religions do not speak with a single voice. Our identities are utterly personal but this notion of identity can seemingly be shared by thousands which seems to present itself as a re-occurring theme when talking about this topic.

 

Micro teaching – Object based learning

The microteaching session was a brilliant testing ground for me to explore my object-based learning and gain feedback on my delivery. At every point that we have been asked to think about our teaching methodologies and what we hope that students would gain I have always spoken about making people/students feel good about learning.

I delivered a 10-minute session and placed an object (Yoruba talking drum) in the centre of the room and handed out post-it notes. I first gauged the room to find out how everyone was feeling so I would be aware as to whether or not I needed to adapt my style of delivery to accommodate the group – thinking about being high energy or calm and whether or not that would be appropriate to help the group reach the destination in terms of thinking.

I asked the group a total of 6 questions which were designed to support students coming to a point of realisation by themselves without feeling conscious and being able to ask questions and share their understanding of the object. The overall aim of the session was to get the group to realise the importance of multiple narratives and understand the dangers of pre-conceived ideas in the context of objects.

I received a lot of positive feedback from the group as well as suggestions which made me think about how I could support students who didn’t necessarily feel comfortable to share their thoughts and ideas in a group setting.

Revisiting Gender

Following our session which looked at Gender, I was curious to find out more about how various cultures broach the conversations. I found this documentary which explored how religion, culture and gender start to intersect.

I was particularly interested in the idea of the third gender in the form of the Waria who are culturally accepted in their country of Indonesia but conflicts with religious beliefs – this being a majority Islamic country. I think this could be a good tool in exploring the complexities of society through aspects that may be individually recognisable but difficult to grasp together.

 

Art & the Ethics of Play

Vilhaeur’s writing on Human Play was something for great consideration not only in the context of teaching in the context of the art university but it also made me think deeply about the connections to my practice in museums and galleries.

I started to consider how within the arts we are encouraged to explore and test boundaries which all stems from the idea of play and how we develop into adulthood. I carefully considered how as children, humans lack fear and play as a way of informing and navigating their way around the world – again this is a method of testing boundaries and we start to formulate our ideas.

I then wondered what is so different in adulthood? do we cease to play the game or do the rules simply change? The latter in fact is much more accurate. As we age the concept of play becomes deliberate and therefore more calculated very often with the rules being heavily enforced acting as a constraint which opposes the original concept of play being a form of freedom.

The idea of participating in ‘the game’ which can be akin to the university experience builds a certain level of resistance. as with the introduction of new rules and characters, there is a challenging and stretching which causes a constant re-evaluation of self which is critical to development. in acknowledging the players part we equally acknowledge their autonomy which speaks further to the ideas of where the player places themselves and their ability to be self-critical by observing from the outside whilst still participating. It is thought that it is not possible to have awareness of both perspectives as it takes the player out of the game – does this truly stop the player from being entirely engaged?

On Gender

Gender Diversity at UAL

Working with students who fall within the Culture & enterprise programme it is imperative that they understand a wide range of view points. Their studies are mainly focused on historical facts which is often painted as objective but is regularly characterised and enhanced through the revelation of personal and more subjective histories which draws parallels with the ability and more importantly freedom to as ones desired gender. I would be inclined to approach exploring a subject such as this through the use of an activity to explore empathy. However an important takeaway from must be to never make the assumption of how another group may feel but to simply get into the habit of listening more.

My personal practice often surrounds exposing hidden narratives of groups that for so long have been oppressed by dominant cultures and groups through the initiation of dialogue and the staging of other interventions.

A consideration: Understanding Patriarchy

The extract is explosive and instantly the first line drives home the urgency for breaking down patriarchal systems within society.

Point one: Gender roles are learnt/taught/forced and not innate

Hooks describes perfectly the widely accepted gender roles within the western society which have for so long been actioned in homes, religious institutions, educational establishments and work environments with the use of a personal anecdote. The description of the unfiltered emotions surrounding an interaction she had with her brother demonstrate that traits such as competitiveness and aggression were not reserved for boys/men and on the contrary very natural emotions to feel in said context. Although she acknowledged that her story of being beaten into submission by her father wasn’t isolated, unique nor special it is poignant in mirroring the way in which those same traits and more are seen us undesirable in women in wider society with judgements often being made on their home life, relationship status and character impacting negatively where the same traits would be praised in men and seen as a sign of (false) strength as pinpointed in the text

Point two: Desire can override repulsion and morals

Although many of us within society are aware of the devastation or as Hooks puts it the “life-threatening” nature of patriarchy there will more often than not be a tendency to openly display patriarchal behaviours. The cyclical nature of patriarchy being reinforced in homes within each generation sees a pushing away from associated behaviours because of the internal moral compass or one being on the receiving end of these systems. However, when the desires of an individual are suddenly within reach it is often easy to bypass previously held views when it becomes evident that patriarchy is rewarded and may accelerate your efforts.

 

Question/provocation: Are we indirectly feeding into patriarchal systems by blaming women and mothers for reinforcing patriarchy in the socialisation of their children/friends/family as ‘traditional caregivers’ when in fact they are most oppressed?

A reflection: Pay it No Mind – The life and times of Marsha P. Johnson

Image source: www.thedailybeast.com
Marsha P. Johnson

Watching Pay it No Mind – The life and time of Marsha P. Johnson was not the first time I had encountered the iconic smile as through watching similar docufilms such as Paris Is Burning which came after led me to other footage/videos where I had become aware of Marsha’s work within the LGBTQ community. It’s strange because watching the film felt like ‘home’ in the sense that Marsha’s warmth radiated through the screen. In a way, it seems like a total contradiction that someone who had experienced such brutality from constantly being othered was still able to be so selfless as the countless anecdotes of Marsha’s close friends and non-biological kin attested.

As I think back to watching the film with a great degree of interest the thing that stood out to me the most is that although all of the people within the film appeared to be singing from the same hymn sheet whilst talking about Marsha’s vibrancy and sometimes outrageousness which made Marsha so well loved, there was never quite a consensus amongst all these narratives on Marsha’s identity. The interviews flittered between referring to Marsha as ‘he’ and ‘she’. I was left wondering about the fluidity of Marsha’s identity and whether or not the reference points made by her friends and non-biological kin really did Marsha justice as it seemed that Marsha’s drag was no longer a performance but an integral part of a built identity which enabled a life lived in truth and to the fullest.

An introduction to Higher Education

This week I was (re)introduced to the concept of Higher Education. However, this introduction differed from the norm as I sat in a room in 272 High Holborn somewhere between being an academic/teacher and a student. We were addressed by Dr Susan Orr who aimed to situate UAL and art, design and media education in the wider university context alongside introducing the concept of signature pedagogies which was something of great interest to me.

 

Looking towards the future

As I start this new journey into teaching within the Higher Education environment I feel that it’s appropriate for me to take a moment to reflect on my personal experiences and motivations as a vehicle towards the future.

Having always been curious as a child and a teen some of my favourite responses to questions included “how?” and “why?”. These two simple words served me well and continue to do so as an adult as a tool for engaging further in conversations and simultaneously learn new things. Conversation is vital to innovation and I am excited by the prospect of assisting a new generation of thinkers and makers in developing their ideas about the world and their practice through helping them to challenge their initial thoughts.

Over the next year, I am keen to positively impact student learning and experiences by sharing alternative perspectives on theories, sharing key current industry insights and providing food for thought on the gaps I see in the industry. I would like to approach teaching in a holistic way, providing context for new ways of approaching problem-solving. The latter is very important in facilitating a key shift in thinking before students reach the sector. A change in culture starts in the classroom and works for the better. With the last-mentioned in mind, I am also keen to explore research opportunities in areas related to my practice and how we may be able to further push boundaries of the status quo thus developing my own personal learning and experiences.