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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Waits

Reformation (is not) Revolution

In 2012, Nicholas Fox beseeched self-identified radical teachersat the collegiate-level to teach “text as tactic (pg 15).” Fox describes this pedagogical method as a collection of activities that include:

1) exhibiting texts to then be critically interpreted individually and communally and;

2) using text and interpretations to persuade audiences to agree with radical arguments.

According to him, employing this praxis will allow the classroom to be a site for generating social action and empowering radical students into radical citizens. Activism takes action outside of the classroom and teachers should be helping to facilitate discussions into actions. Should they? Teaching (is not) Activism serves as an activity sheet that instructors can use to ~teach activism~ but is activism something you can learn by reading about the topic or from a certification course? This paper then serves as a rebuttal to that paper. One written with what bell hooks calls ‘the oppositional gaze’, Afrofuturism, and Black feminisms. A paper asking instructors to become radical individuals themselves before teaching activism.

I agree that it isn’t enough to just hand a student a book. In Black women’s liberatory pedagogies pedagogy is defined as “action, a political endeavor aimed at decolonizing and redefining the ways we think about teaching, learning, and praxis (pg 3).” Traditionally, pedagogy is referred to as the art or science of teaching, and “tends to encompass instructional analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of student learning.” However, the authors implore that pedagogy and education do not include holistic approaches to teaching and students. Pedagogy as a field, as well as with its current traditional definition continues to limit teaching to a classroom and exclude the many contexts of teaching and learning black folks have created over the years: way before gaining access to education. It adds that the Western academy has appropriated from precolonial Africa, Asia, and the Americas ideas on cooperative/ communal, experiential, active, student-centered, social-emotional, and service learning, as well as scholar-activism and social justice education (Orelus & Brock, 2014; Hilliard, 1998; King & Swartz, 2014, 2016; Reagan, 2004). This is why we need Black women’s liberatory pedagogies - to (de)construct and (re)construct canonical knowledge and expose oppressive ideologies in power relations in and outside academe. Nothing exacerbated the need for revolution within the education system like the forest fire that was schooling folks throughout the COVID - 19 pandemic. With pass/fail mandates, remote learning, standardized tests, student activists, and employees unionizing we could see huge changes in the university pedagogy field sooner than anyone could have hoped for. Fox uses the article to begin asking what teachers should be teaching. I’m asking for teachers who want the responsibility of equipping their students with texts as tactics to actually be activists at minimum within the academy. Performative activists exist in and out of the academy. Simplifying community action into understanding seminal texts determined to be seminal by people brighter than a brown paper bag and thinking students without holistic support with then starting said revolution sounds performative.

Campus-based activism from the earliest historical accounts, has reflected grievances based in the political dynamics of a nation (Boren, 2001). Activism has been a significant tactic for reform of the American Higher Education system since colonial times. Students advocated for religious freedom on campus, ousted presidents, and boycotted British goods. Significantly, White students have always engaged in racial violence against Black students (Sasso and DeVitis, 2019). From abolitionists being targeted for antislavery sentiments during the Antebellum period, to cross burnings during the Civil rights era, to dorm defacing and cyber attacks of the modern collegiate-era: activism has always been there. As Cassie L. Barnhardt states:

“Campuses should pay careful attention to displays of activism because they serve as a sort of flashing red light, denoting that the campus should stop, take notice, and navigate the situation with acute attention, deliberate discourse, and reflection on its institutionalized values and practices. University leaders should be careful not to simply mimic the response of other campuses, but choose an approach that is compatible with the issues, as well as with the organization’s resources and values.” - Chapter 1: Student Activism in the Academy: Its Struggles and Promise

Learning is not static. Learning is social and should activate every agent of the knowledge production system’s collective sense of agency. Instead of trying to ignite students to be the catalysts for change instructors should distribute that responsibility to themselves first. I think that students and student-faculty; tenured and non-tenured faculty; administration; and staff all have a stake in changing the academy for the better. In more recent years with societal ideas towards labor inequality being popularized, more employees on all levels have begun to ask their employers for more. Disrupting the ways that faculty, students, and administrators are recruited, hired, examined, accepted, and qualified is the minimum of what’s needed. There are no homogenized, quantified, or commodified paths to liberatory pedagogies. Everything must go.

Not everyone needs to be an activist. But if you want to teach text as a tactic I hope you do more for the world other than create lesson plans and pass out literature. Leave the classroom first, then the real work can begin.

In my second year of graduate school I told everyone in my pedagogy course that teaching as a whole is just “a bunch of activities that may or may not work.” Especially when we think of the plethora of students who are consistently left out of the knowledge making process through repeated academic trauma from instructors trying new theories out. How about we start creating our syllabi after we get a chance to survey our students? What would happen if we were to offer all students A’s at the beginning of the semester regardless of participation? What if we started from scratch? Until the tactics used in the academe aid in creating new teaching practices; radicalizing faculty; staff and administration; and creating a new future in education we are not moving forward!

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