On Teaching Research

Long time readers know I regularly teach social activism courses, even when they are not technically about that (shhh!!!), which led me to a LaDuke reading and an idea. The piece in question, “Ingrid,” is a memorial to Ingrid Washinawatok-El Issa who was on of the founders of the Indigenous Women’s Network and long time global feminist activist who was killed working in solidarity with women in Columbia in 1999. Normally, I teach this piece as one of the many short pieces we read in class to discuss the meaning of “movement building” and “activism.” The goal is to push past social science dichotomies as well as preconceived notions of what counts and what does not on multiple levels.

I have always enjoyed teaching this article because of the connections it allows us to make to other movements and “communalism.” It is also an extremely astute and succinct discussion of how to honor elders and youth and care for the self as part of caring for the community. We also refer to the way LaDuke describes Washinawatok when discussing complex social issues that seem untenable:

Yet amidst the most nurturing of personalities was the sharpest of analysis, a perception of political direction that could find a path, no matter how small, through the smallest openings in the forest.

Coupling this phrase with both Alvarez’s short statement about activism as anyone who “comes to help” and the decolonized definitions of “helping” that we read throughout has been critical to debunking the learned malaise of some otherwise political students.

It’s list of important aspects of a movement are also helpful in the ongoing list we make in class of what people say is important and how we see movements working that do or do not have those things. (The goal is not to judge who does it “right” or “wrong” but rather to look at where things overlap or are unique.)

  • recovering traditional relationships
  • respect
  • responsibility
  • rebuilding
  • building and restoring community “where you are”

In re-reading the piece with my recent posts about what we read and how we read in mind, it made me think of another important aspect of the article: its ability to encourage research. The essay is dense with references to key figures, organizations, and collaborations without actually explaining any of them or their import. The assumption LaDuke makes is that her audience already knows the references. All though her assumption is likely appropriate in the context in which the essay was written, in a WS course, especially entry level ones, those assumptions would be false. And what I love about that is the way it highlights that historical narratives are never value neutral. It pushes the readers I would likely teach out of their comfort zone as liberal intellectuals who readily recognize certain narratives of activism and makes them question: why don’t I know this? Why is it assumed I will know this? What makes this assumption more visible to me than similar assumptions in other reading material? In other words, it allows us to get at ideology and hegemony in knowledge production.

Since there is also a bevy of potential new material for the average WS student, the article provides the opportunity to ask: How many of you went out and looked up some of these organizations? organizers? movements? And to point to how this basic, and ever dwindling skill, is a key part of research as well as reading. If you are constantly looking up the knowledge pointed to in material that is unfamiliar to you, you are likely to build a wider base of read material, references, and intersectional modes of analysis. It will also strengthen your ability to recognize and analyze methods and theories in any text you read.

I have passed the article on to my grad students to consider what kind of assignments they can build around the reading to teach critical skills in research and reading to their sections of our upcoming course. I expect that many will come back with: We could ask each of them to look up at least one person and/or organization they did not know and prepare a quick presentation for the class on it. And I think that is a good start. But I am curious about the more creative pedagogical skills they have and how this reading will enhance their opportunities to use them. I am equally interested in how they will ensure the discussion honors the herstory presented and not just turns it into another “add woc and stir” moment. If I have done my job correctly, they will do their jobs in a way that makes this class sing. (By the way, have I mentioned how much I love that my overzealous grad students start work on our classes at the same time my neurotic little self starts obsessing too. They’re so great!!!!)

2 thoughts on “On Teaching Research

  1. Reading about your approach to teaching is inspiring and thought-provoking for me as a fellow educator who is trying to move marginalized experiences into the center and also inspire active learning. Thank you.

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