Disruptions of the Self-Narrative: Musings on Teaching Social Justice Topics in a Research Methods Course

By Puchner, Laurel | Multicultural Education, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Disruptions of the Self-Narrative: Musings on Teaching Social Justice Topics in a Research Methods Course


Puchner, Laurel, Multicultural Education


Introduction

When I assigned a book with the word queer in the title to my Research Methods in Education class last spring, I suspected some of the students would have a negative reaction when they saw the book title on the syllabus. My ostensible reason for assigning the book was to provide an example of the kind of in-depth insight into people's experiences that you can get through well-conducted qualitative interviews. The other purpose, of course, was to increase my students' awareness of the oppression experienced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT)1 youth, though GLBT issues were not listed as a course topic and did not fit with any of the course objectives.

As I read my students' posts about the book on the blackboard discussion board, and the posts were somewhat more positive than I had expected, I wondered whether the incidental appearance of the social justice-related information might have promoted a greater willingness on the part of the students to consider new perspectives. In other words, it got me thinking about the question of whether there is any sort of pedagogical advantage to introducing social justice issues as if you aren't really intending to teach students about them.

I thus carried out a small investigation into my own teaching experience in that course during that semester, leading ultimately to a change in my own informal theory of student learning and student resistance. Hence these musings, which focus on self-narrative-my students' and my own.

Context

I'm a female professor at a mid-size public university. I'm White, and I identify as bisexual or questioning, but that identification is relatively recent, and I've lived as a heterosexual my entire life and have been married to a man for 20 years.

In my master's level research methods classes, I've always assigned articles related to race and gender issues. The reason I began to reflect more carefully on the use of these social justice-related readings during Spring 2010 is that I taught two sections of the course online. In general the classes, my first online teaching experiences, went poorly, for a whole variety of reasons beyond the scope of this article.

However, one positive aspect of the experience was the online discussion. I'd previously used Blackboard discussion to supplement face-to-face classes, but the amount of required online discussion in these fully online classes led to a more complete view of student thinking than I had seen in the past with comparable sized classes. Hence reactions of all students to the reading were more visible to me and much more permanent than usual.

That Spring 2010 semester was also the first time I had used the book about GLBT teen experiences. The book is called In Your Face: Stories from the Lives of Queer Youth, by Mary Gray (1999). It contains excerpts from interviews with 15 gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth, divided into chapters dealing with different aspects of their lives, such as figuring out they were gay, coming out to family, school experiences, and experiences with religion. Each chapter contains an account by each of the teens regarding the issue in question, and my students were required to read a few specific chapters of the book each week for five weeks.

While it's not unusual for a teacher education program to infuse social justice issues throughout the curriculum, it's not the norm at my institution. Some graduate level teacher education students receive virtually no socio-cultural foundations and others take one class devoted to the topic. Students at the institution are predominantly White, with many coming from rural Midwestern towns. The bulk of the students in each of my spring 2010 classes (15 or so students out of 21 or 22) were from off-campus cohorts of students majoring in elementary education, and almost all were public school teachers. The non-cohort students in each class were majors in educational administration, special education, instructional technology, and educational foundations. …

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