Posted by: Emily | January 25, 2010

Challenging classroom practice

One of the things I do in my off hours is work on a journal called Radical Teacher. Founded in 1975, RT is a journal of socialist, feminist, and anti-racist teaching. The magazine has just started a blog in the last couple of weeks, and my first contribution went up yesterday. I blogged about football, of course, this being playoff season, and how Wikipedia after a sports chokefest might prove to be a useful text for destabilizing ideas about authority and objectivity in the classroom.

One of the hallmarks of RT is its emphasis on classroom practice. It’s very, Okay, then, how are you gonna make that happen in an actual class? (Leonard Vogt has a recent post on teaching about the earthquake and Haiti that will show you what I mean.) This is a particularly vexed question for library instructors. I am rarely given free reign to teach whatever I want however I want, and our insistence on linking instruction to particular classroom assignments (a strategy I advocate for all the time) works against innovative, creative, and critical library instruction in one or two shot sessions. I usually teach what the teacher tells me to teach, and experience myself as most successful when I do.

So, what is to be done, beyond daydreaming about co-teaching a composition class and eventually leaving the library profession? Are there potential advantages to de-embedding our instruction? Has anyone tried this? How do we negotiate our essentially dependent positions in the hierarchy of the academy?*

*These are questions that will be explored in lots of depth in Critical Library Instruction, our book out in March from Library Juice Press. Heidi LM Jacobs has a wonderfully well-argued chapter about teaching Wikipedia as an information source, and Dolsy Smith and Cathy Eisenhower knock my socks clear off with an analysis of our structural position that made me rethink the basis of my claim to the classroom in the first place. I just can’t wait.

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