by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center
Queer pedagogy is an emerging area of research among scholars and instructors who are committed to creating inclusive learning environments for all students. Informed largely by queer theory and concerned with the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender learners, queer pedagogy is an interdisciplinary approach that emphasizes the value of fluidity, uncertainty, and multiple possibilities in and as educational experiences (Yep, Lovaas, & Elia, 2003). It is an approach that seeks diverse perspectives “about topics that are slippery and dynamic, such as cognitive and clinical psychology, social studies of all kinds, physics, math, philosophy, anthropology, literature, and so on” (Shlasko, 2005, p. 133). And it has critical implications not only for what we teach, but also how and for whom we teach. If you are interested in applying and trying queer pedagogy in your teaching, G. D. Shlasko (2005) offers several practical suggestions for places to start. I really like the following three ideas:
- Constantly multiply the possibilities of knowledge by focusing on questions, rather than on answers. Queer pedagogy seeks to disrupt linear, transmission models of teaching that view students as passive recipients of information. Try beginning the course planning and design process by asking yourself, “What questions shall we ask of each other? After we explore those questions, what will have been left out? And then, what other questions shall we ask of each other?” (Shlasko, 2005, p. 128). Your responses to these questions can help queer course goals and objectives, materials and texts, and learning activities.
- Incorporate texts about and from the perspective of queer people, and encourage students to read all course texts “queerly.” One way to do this is to include readings that are explicitly about queer identities and experiences, or published by queer writers and scholars. Another strategy is to encourage more self-reflective, queer reading throughout the course. Try using the following reading questions for class discussion, “What does this text mean, because of my reading, that it did not mean before? Why did I understand it to mean that, and not something else? How else could one read it? What else could it mean?” (Davis & Sumara, 2000; Kumashiro, 2002). These questions not only help students begin to think more critically and queerly about a reading, they can also create space for different experiences, identities, and voices to contribute to class discussions.
- Rethink what does and does not constitute being “out” in the classroom, for both you and your students. Deciding why, when, and how to disclose aspects of our identities in the classroom is a challenge for any instructor. The process of “coming out” to students (as well as to colleagues) is especially difficult for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender instructors. Queer pedagogues suggest “any teacher can bring multiple, fluid identities and knowledges into the classroom” (Shlasko, 2005, p. 131). The point is not to identify one way or the other. Rather, the point is to make present in the room multiple ways of doing gender and of understanding gender (e.g., Khayatt, 1997; Kopelson, 2002; Shlasko, 2005). As such, a “performative acknowledgment of queer possibility” (Shlasko, 2000, p. 131) can help foster safer, more inclusive classrooms (and campuses!) where a range of identity expressions is possible for everyone (Rofes, 1998).
These are a few ways you can begin to enact a queer pedagogy in your teaching. The references listed below are thoroughly queer and offer a nice balance of theoretical and practical discussions of queer theory in educational contexts – check them out!
If you have any questions about the content of this blog post or want to schedule a consultation to learn more about queer pedagogy, please contact the Reinert Center or feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Davis, B., & Sumara, D. (2000). Another queer theory: Reading complexity theory as a moral and ethical imperative. In S. Talburt & S. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Thinking queer: Sexuality, culture, and education (pp. 105-130). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Khayatt, D. (1997). Sex and the teacher: Should we come out in class? Harvard Educational Review, 67, 126-143.
Kopelson, K. (2002). Dis/integrating the gay/queer binary: “Reconstructed identity politics” for a performative pedagogy. College English, 65, 17-35.
Kumashiro, K. (2002). Troubling education: Queer activism and antioppression pedagogy. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.
Rofes, E. (1998). Transgression and the situated body: Gender, sex, and the gay male teacher. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association.
Shlasko, G. D. (2005). Queer (v.) pedagogy. Equity & Excellence in Education, 38, 123-134.
Yep, G., Lovass, K., & Elia, J. (2003). Queering communication: Starting the conversation. Journal of Homosexuality, 45, 1-10.
This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at email@example.com.