Teaching to Transform: From Volatility to Solidarity in an Interdisciplinary Family Studies Classroom

By Allen, Katherine R.; Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. et al. | Family Relations, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Teaching to Transform: From Volatility to Solidarity in an Interdisciplinary Family Studies Classroom


Allen, Katherine R., Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M., Gillman, Laura, Family Relations


Teaching to Transform: From Volatility to Solidarity in an Interdisciplinary Family Studies Classroom*

Teaching about multicultural families and the xenophobia (e.g., racism, sexism, heterosexism) they experience can be volatile. We describe a transformative experience in an interdisciplinary course on families that we team taught. We deconstruct student reactions to the course content and grading and describe the pedagogy of possibility we created to encourage students' ability to embrace our social justice goal. We offer four pedagogical implications regarding interdisciplinary perspectives, collaborative teaching teams, reconstructing authority, and enacting social.justice.

Key Words: conscientization, feminist pedagogy, interdisciplinarity, reflexivity, teaching, xenophobia

In this article, we analyze the content and process of an interdisciplinary team-taught course, "Interdisciplinary Study of Families: Facing the Challenges of the New Millennium," to reveal the pedagogy of possibility (Simon, 1992) we created in collaboration with our students. Throughout the course, our aim was to achieve a more authentic teaching-learning experience for our students and ourselves (hooks, 1994), facilitating a learning environment that would look and feel different from the traditional college classroom. We discovered that within this environment, even explosively confrontive experiences could be transformed into possibilities of growth and change for ourselves and our students, enabling all of us to delve into the issues raised when difference is actively addressed. We share the evolution of our pedagogy of possibility and offer suggestions for practitioners who teach courses about families and who wish to transform potentially volatile subject matter into reflexive, conscious ideas and practice.

Overview of the Course

The course was a joint offering in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Human Resources and Education. The three teachers were from the home disciplines of family studies (Katherine Allen), religious studies (Stacey Floyd-Thomas), and foreign languages and literatures (Laura Gillman) and shared an affiliation with the Women's Studies program housed in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. Our study of families spanned the 20th century and focused on various family cultures including those in which we had both an empirical and personal interest: lesbian and gay families (Katherine), African American families (Stacey), and Hispanic families (Laura).

Our objectives for student learning in this course were to (a) approach the study of families critically and experientially through shifting interdisciplinary perspectives (e.g., religious, feminist, family, ethnic); (b) scrutinize how the private institution of the family acts as a microcosm of public institutions historically, politically, socially, spiritually, and economically; (c) deal with multicultural voices in their own contexts and integrity without imposing an overarching, one-dimensional framework; (d) discover the areas in which dialogue can happen between these diverse groups as we simultaneously respect the points at which each perspective differs; and (e) examine the identity politics configuring one's own family dynamics, taking into account social stratification such as race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

We organized the 15-week course around the following key themes: Part I was about families and their histories; Part II focused on theories of power; Part III addressed religion and spirituality; and Part IV was concerned with structures and processes in postmodern families. The teachers were individually responsible for organizing class lectures and activities and discussions for four lectures; we also conducted three classes together. When one of the teachers was in charge of the class, the other two attended, participated, or evaluated the activities of the class. …

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