Evidence of Teaching…Trouble

Any evidence of my teaching must start with the single-most important focus of my educating life: Trouble. Even before I started writing on my TROUBLE blog, I thought about trouble a lot. It started in the spring of 1997, when I first encountered Judith Butler’s infamous lines in the preface to the first edition of Gender Trouble.

“trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it.”

Embracing trouble and developing ways, in my scholarship and teaching, for how best to make it and to be in it—and stay in it, have been central to what I do, and in many ways who I am, as a thinker, writer, and undisciplined educator. Directly and indirectly, I used the classes that I taught at the University as laboratories for testing out various troublemaking methods and tactics.

By the time I stopped teaching in 2011, I had developed a troublemaking system:

Lists: Troublemaking is…*

  • an interdisciplinary method for putting a wide range of ideas across disciplines and the academic/non-academic divide into conversation with each other.
  • a critical and playful approach for engaging with ideas and theories.
  • a compelling way to describe and understand a central theme and task underlying many social justice movements.
  • the basis for my pedagogy inside and outside of the classroom.
  • a central virtue in my vision of a feminist virtue ethics.

*Taken from a discussion of my areas of interest in a 2011 job application cover letter.

Looking back at my teaching materials, I can find evidence of trouble everywhere, including: entire courses about making trouble and required readings and discussion topics assigned to trace genealogies of troublemakers and critically interrogate troublemaking methods. Lectures and class activities designed for making and staying in trouble. And blog posts from my TROUBLE blog, incorporated into discussions and used for pedagogical experiments and modeling my approaches to engaging with texts and completing assignments.

The following is only a fraction of my evidence of teaching trouble:

Courses About Trouble

During my second year of teaching at the University, I started giving serious attention to trouble. In the spring of 2008, troublemakers served as a way to organize an upper level history course that I was teaching for the first, and thankfully only, time: Rebels, Radicals, and Revolutionaries (1). It also became the focus of weekly readings lists in two additional courses as we discussed difficult writers as troublemakers (2) and troublemaking as a virtue for feminist teachers and students (3).

In the spring of 2009, I was able to design my own advanced feminist theory graduate seminar. I decided to make the class all about the political and ethical possibilities for feminist and queer troublemaking (4, 5). Drawing upon feminist and queer theorists, we studied five different forms of troublemaking: Unruly Behavior, Becoming a Pest, Betrayal, Deviance and Residing Outside of the Law. I enjoyed the course so much, that I taught a revised, and slightly reimagined, version of it the following spring (6). In that second version, we discussed:

After my troublemaking seminar was done, I continued teaching about trouble in other classes, incorporating it into my readings lists and discussions on troubling and troublemaking and its relationship to critical pedagogy (7), critique as a virtuous form of troublestaying (8) and Judith Butler as a Troublemaker who Refused an Award (9).

Flyer designed by my husband, Scott Anderson, to advertise my course. The girl in the picture is my daughter Rosie, taken when she was 3.
Flyer designed by my husband, Scott Anderson, to advertise my course. The girl in the picture is my daughter Rosie. It was taken when she was 3.

Using My Trouble Blog in the Classroom

Focusing on troublemaking in my classes, especially when I was able to devote an entire course to it in 2009, was so energizing that I decided to create a blog where I “gave serious (careful, intense, playful) attention to what it means to make trouble, be in trouble and stay in trouble. Where I explored the ethical and political possibilities for troublemaking in my own work and the work of others, gathered as many different examples of troublemaking that I can find, and critically analyzed a variety of discourses and media through the lens of troublemaking” (10).

During the summer of 2009, I wrote a lot on that blog, including posts in which I prepped for my upcoming courses (11), reflected on feminist pedagogy and blogging (12) and offered up some advice to student on blog writing (13).

After that summer, I continued using my TROUBLE blog in my classes as: a resource for and supplement to my class notes, a source of inspiration for class assignments, and a space for modeling one way to do the assignments.

TROUBLE as a Resource and Supplement to My Class Notes:

If I had written about a topic or the readings that we were discussing in a class, I would post on our course blog about it, oftentimes including excerpts from my own reflections and/or links to my TROUBLE blog entries, like this post about children as disciplinary problems for my Troublemaking course blog (14) or this post about Alice, from The Brady Bunch, and the nanny problem for my Contemporary Feminist Debates course blog (15). Sometimes, I would even make a blog post the focus of our class discussion for that week, like when I used a TROUBLE post on Horton the Who as a caring troublemaker to discuss Michel Foucault and Judith Butler (16, 17).

TROUBLE as a Source of Inspiration for Class Assignments:

Shortly after starting my blog during the summer break of 2009, I created a category that I called Oh Bother! (18). This category was designed to be a space where I could post about things—commercials, images, ideas, songs, products—that bothered me and then invite blog visitors to analyze and trouble them. Students in my Queering Theory class the following fall wanted to modify it for our class, which I did, calling it “Queer This!” (19) and incorporating it in the required blog assignments (20).

The Queer This! category was for posting images, news items or anything else that students felt spoke to issues related to queering theory and/or our readings and class discussion. It was very successful, with students posting on a wide range of items, from public restrooms, to the boy scouts, to “wife swap” to the u.s. census to children’s books (21).

It was so successful that I used it in the next version of Queering Theory and modified it even further to work for other, non-queer theory courses. In Contemporary Feminist Debates, as we tried to expand how we defined feminism and what a feminist issue could be, it became “This is a feminist issue because…” (22). And, in Politics of Sex, as we tried to figure out the numerous ways in which a politics of sex could be applied to everyday practices, it became “What’s Sex got to do with…” (23).

TROUBLE as a Space for Modeling One Way to Do an Assignment:

As I continued researching and experimenting with blogs, I found it useful to complete some of the online assignments that I was requiring my students to do. It enabled me to provide those students with one model for how to do the assignment and it allowed me to experience the assignment from the perspective of a student completing it and not just a teacher creating and assigning it. These two things helped generate more effective results on the blog. By reviewing my completed assignment, students could gain a better understanding of what I actually wanted from them, and by doing the assignment with them, I could gain a better understanding of how it actually felt to try to meet the requirements of my sometimes overly ambitious assignments. In both my earliest (24) and latest (25) examples of this approach, I combined the modeling of one way of doing the assignment with further explanation, advice, and reflection the process.

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