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08 August 2010 @ 04:39 pm
damn, I should post about something else at some point  
I've just had another example of why I think 'social justice' as done on Livejournal and Dreamwidth is in such terrible shape: the chief practitioners. ithiliana posted a comment about one of her classes... okay, I tried to rephrase this, but I'm going to quote the one line directly because I don't want to mangle her presentation: "the students all try to avoid even mentioning race/ethnicity or anything related to the internet and oppression and dominant cultural issues in the context of the internet." Yes, this will likely result into a derailing about quoting locked posts, but it was the particular phrasing that made me sag my head to the keyboard and say "oh, god, if I were them I would do the same thing."

I'll note that ithiliana has posted several times about anon memes and how they are bad; I actually considered going over to one to make the original comment, but felt it would be a) wrong to do so in regards to a locked post b) show a lack of courage to not be willing to discuss it face to face. I thought about it seriously, left the tab open for a day because we share a common interest in Tolkien and I have found her commentary on other subjects good at times. Easiest just to let it go by. Then I felt like a raging coward twice over: I was staying silent half because there's fic I didn't want to be locked out of _and_ I was prejudging her reaction and assuming she couldn't take a critical comment at all -- and posted a comment.

"There may be entirely different causes, but given you aren't terribly friendly towards people you view as 'doing it wrong' on those subject, I think I'd be very inclined as a student to stay far away from them when you had some power over me (ie, a grade.)"

(yes, there's a typo, I suck that way)

She then replied that only one in a thousand of her students gets anything but an A or a B, and that if she failed students who made "sexist, racist, and homophobic" comments that she'd fail most of them. And that I had insulted her, she now did not trust me, and thus I was deleted.

Of course, it's rather hard to actually _discuss_ when you've been locked out of the entry, but this is what I'd have said if I was able, in reply:

"The problems here are several: first, that you instantly conflate "doing it wrong" with "sexist, racist, and homophobic". Which is where I saw the problem: you tend to conflate disagreeing with you ("doing it wrong") on the subject of sex, race, or sexuality as sexism, racism, or homophobia. There is no space for honest and just disagreement.

And the second and more important issue is, it doesn't matter what you actually do in the sanctity of your grading book,_nor did I ever criticize your grading_ ; you may in fact be able to utterly separate your opinions and grade someone entirely on the quality of their writing, even if you believe they come to wrong conclusions and use basises that you find abhorrent. The problem is, that if you speak and react as you do in your journal, with very little tolerance for people of differing views, they are likely to _think_ you will have equally little tolerance in their submitted work, and look for safe ground where they can write on subjects that upset you less or where they agree with you wholly. Certainly as a student, I sometimes found professors who genuinely enjoyed students with vastly different views, loved to engage them, and didn't react badly if they didn't change their views. But they were a rare exception, and if you care about your grades, you move to safe topics.

And third, I'm not talking about outright failing people for it, often it's just the difference between an A and a B or a B and C. An essay that is adequately written but cossets your sensibilities is, if you are human, is very easy to see as higher quality than one where you are glaring and going "no! I disagree! That's --ist!" And there are students to which a grade letter or two makes a great deal of difference.

Now, ithiliana has every right to lock me out; it is her journal and no obligation to share, but I just felt very sad that my prejudgment, that even the slightest honest critique would be met with furious anger, was right.

ETA: I had screening of anonymous comments on due to the spammers that were going about a while back, have turned it off now.

ETA2: Anyone coming from Ithiliana's post, I have no problem with you commenting here, feel free. Anonymous personal attacks may get screened at my discretion, but honestly, I have pretty thick skin.
Never mess with the sacred chickenslesbiassparrow on August 9th, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
Students and what they want to discuss
Depending on the class* and the size, I'm not always sure why people think students would be willing to rush to talk about certain topics, especially if they're phrased certain ways. My classes are often made up of students of really diverse backgrounds and different educational systems; I have no idea their prior experiences with teachers or these topics they've had. I've no idea what their comfort level is with certain topics and how much trust or distrust they have for someone (me) who has a lot of power over them. A lot of that comes into play especially in larger classes where there is a greater distance between you and the individual students.

*I mean if they've signed up for 'gender, homophobia and the internet' they damn should be prepared to talk about it, but if they've signed up for 'the internet and fandom' they're not necessarily expecting it and need a fair bit of hand-holding.
Lauratavella on August 9th, 2010 01:20 am (UTC)
Re: Students and what they want to discuss
It was "Internet Studies" and one of the texts was Jenkins, so I would suspect more 'fandom and the internet'.

And yeah, assuming that your students will implicitly trust you, or should, seems questionable to me. It's just a lot safer, as a student, to find a tamer subject that interests you and you can write about, then to launch yourself straight into the teacher's hotbutton land, especially if you have reason to suspect the teacher will unkindly regard even small divergences from their personal orthodoxy.
(Deleted comment)
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 01:34 am (UTC)
Re: Students and what they want to discuss
You've said that this is the only time you're interested in posting in this space, and if that means you don't want to engage with me, that's your say-so.

That said, if you make it clear that you have specific ideas of "how ideologies of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality are foundational in the convergence culture", then...

duh, of course your students will stay away from those topics.

It's like saying "I'm a pottery professor, and here's a big pile of nuclear waste, but sure, why don't you make glassware out of it?" Of course they won't. If you get radiation poisoning, they have good reason to suspect you'll judge them based on that.

It's fair for you to judge people more harshly based on sensitive topics/glassware made of depleted uranium, but it's unreasonable and deliberately obtuse for you to wonder why they're not trying to make you a goblet out of depleted uranium. You told them the depleted uranium was dangerous! Of course they're ignoring it and making you a goblet out of clay.
Lauratavella on August 9th, 2010 01:44 am (UTC)
Re: Students and what they want to discuss
I will point out gently that this is nothing I had available to supply. I could post the whole of the original post and our respective replies if you give permission; otherwise I felt bound to quote as little as possible, and in specific only the single line that was necessary to illuminate my reaction.
Never mess with the sacred chickenslesbiassparrow on August 9th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
Re: Students and what they want to discuss
Additionally, if students show they have learned these outcomes, they will receive a good grade in the class whether they agree with me or not (whatever the fuck that means):

Er, I would assume that 'they agree with you' means they agree with you? I'm honestly not being snarky here: this seems to be the one thing all students are good at sussing out - given that they often worry more about that than anything else, it's not surprising.

I do not know the background of your students; all I would say is that in my experience students often run scared of dealing with hot topic issues for multiple reasons that may have a lot to do with complicated and different backgrounds and have very little to do with a particular class. However, their fear is often (perhaps ironically) magnified when a class presents those issues as particularly fraught because a lot of the time you are showing them big giant pits that they do not want to fall into. Hope that made sense.
Lauratavella on August 9th, 2010 04:46 am (UTC)
Re: Students and what they want to discuss
magnified when a class presents those issues as particularly fraught because a lot of the time you are showing them big giant pits that they do not want to fall into. Hope that made sense

Yes! That puts it very well. What got me was the air of... almost surprise that this was happening. Of *course* they are likely to avoid discussing it if it's a minefield.
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Students and what they want to discuss
I understand that you believe that you will not penalize the students for their political views for their particular opinions, and I understand that you believe that there are structures in place that will prevent you from doing that.

However, these structures do not dissolve the power dynamics in the classroom. I think that as a teacher, especially one focused on learner-led environments (as you may be), it's easy to forget about these power dynamics and how they can effect students' willingness to fully engage, no matter how much work you do to assure them that you will not abuse your power.

If part of the syllabus is to "demonstrate an understanding" of a certain concept, many students (and this is how they've been trained to think about themselves, as supplicants in the learning process) will interpret their task as to demonstrate your understanding of the concept, and thus to agree with you.
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 01:00 am (UTC)
(I'm commenting anon; I expect you understand why, but it is somewhat interesting that I—a person who is a minority on at least three axes, and I'm waiting patiently for people to show up to make their guesses at to which axes, and to dismiss me based on what they suspect those axes are—feel the need to post anon.)

I feel that it's an unfortunate side-effect of the current atmosphere of discourse that it's impossible to say anything, even as a disprivileged person, that doesn't fit the acceptable mode. For instance: I am a disabled person whose disability would not be any better if viewed through the lens of the social theory of disability. Even if everyone accommodated my anxiety and depression, it would still suck donkey balls to suffer from anxiety and depression, and I don't feel that it's wrong to express that truth about my disability. And yet, if I say that in some spaces, it's viewed as siding with my oppressor, or having internalized my own oppression, or other statements of that nature.

It drives me crazy (ha, yes, "wrong" language, but I'm mentally ill, so I feel entitled to that phrase) that I have to dance en pointe around my own disability to be acceptable.

And yes, it can be bad for privileged people to work through their issues in disprivielged space. But sometimes, sometimes people need to work through things. And when every space—personal journals, student papers, words, thoughts, intimations&mndash;is a public space, what you're saying is: if you didn't have a correct worldview to begin with, you'd best show up and go somewhere else. There's no way to learn, grow, think, discuss. You have to be perfect at the start.

And maybe that's the world we want to live in. But it's going to make it hard for anyone to join our world.
Lauratavella on August 9th, 2010 01:12 am (UTC)
Sorry, had screening of anon posts on due to the commercial spammers that were going about a while back, took it off and unscreened this.

Yes, the instant cutoff, the way you must believe *exactly* such and such a line or you are an -ist and thus properly the target of righteous and unending fury is becoming my bugaboo. There are places and spaces between "believes exactly as I do" and "is a bad person with bad thoughts".
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)
It's very confining--indeed, suffocating--for people who suffer from a particular oppression to feel that they have to respond in a particular way to that oppression. It makes me feel strangled, as an oppressed person, to see that there's only way that's appropriate to talk about these things if you don't want to be shouted into silence.

I don't know what else to say about it. It's just depressing. It makes me want to not talk about the way society impacts me at all.
Krisquiet000001 on August 9th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Wait, wait. There are people who want to say that anxiety and depression do not suck donkey balls?

Dude, as a fellow anxiety and depression sufferer, I say: WTF?

Yes, I really enjoy it when I wake up in the middle of an anxiety attack and have to remind myself that it's JUST anxiety and not a heart attack or something. And oh, those depressive days when I don't want to get out of bed at all for anything, they'd be so much more enjoyable if society said "it's okay for you to not do anything you want to do, you just stay in bed."

(I also have arthritis, and it pretty much sucks donkey balls, too. I don't really care if anyone else defines me as disabled - my arthritis interferes significantly with me doing things I want to do like playing with my dog or riding horses or even sometimes walking across a slippery parking lot in the winter.)
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
There is a model of disability called the social model of disability (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_model_of_disability). It says, basically, that "disability" only exists if your society fails to accommodate you. In other words, you're only "disabled" by lack of sight if your society doesn't enable you to go about your business without needing to use visual data; you're only "disabled" by your need for a wheelchair if your society doesn't enable you to get around in said wheelchair.

The classic example of the social model of disability is Deaf culture, in which the lack of hearing is viewed not as a disability but as a way of enabling you to take part in the sign-language-ful world of Deaf culture.

The problem is that some people who are disabled don't see their disability that way. People with chronic pain feel that they're are "disabled" not because their society doesn't "enable" them but because they hurt all the time. People with depression or anxiety feel that they're "disabled" not because their society doesn't "enable" them but because the I-hate-my-life-and-cannot-cope sensations of anxiety/depression are things that they neither want nor like.

One of the less-talked-about privileges is the privilege of people who benefit from the social model of disability attempting to force it, often my means of shame or silencing, onto people who don't benefit from it. But it's not beneficial to people with chronic pain or many forms of mental illness.

And yet the current mode of discourse is to pretend that it's the "right" way to talk about disability, and to silence, erase, or shout down those with chronic pain, mental illness, or other disabilities that are not improved by the social model.

This is especially bad since many of the modes of disability that are benefited by the social model (physical disabilities such as paralysis, or blindness, or being Deaf) have more cultural currency than the moves that don't (things like bipolar disorder, or depression, or PTSD, or panic disorder, which are often viewed, along with other mental disabilities, as not being "real"). So in many ways, this is a case of the privileged shouting down the disprivelged.

Yet if you frame it that way, you'll be thoroughly clobbered.

It's an ugly, ugly thing, and not something that's much talked about in ableism/disability discourse.
Krisquiet000001 on August 9th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)

I, personally, would very much like it if society could enable me to live better with my chronic pain (due to the arthritis) by making it GO AWAY.

That'd make me happy. People saying "I acknowledge your pain and will get you a drink/book/whatever so you do not have to walk across the room"? Not so much.

I'm tempted to say I should do more research, but I'm afraid it would rather piss me off and I have a lot of other stressful things going on right now.
(Anonymous) on August 10th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
many of the modes of disability that are benefited by the social model (physical disabilities such as paralysis, or blindness, or being Deaf) have more cultural currency than the moves that don't (things like bipolar disorder, or depression, or PTSD, or panic disorder, which are often viewed, along with other mental disabilities, as not being "real")

You know, that's something that hadn't occurred to me before, but you're right. It's also something I'm going to keep in the back of my mind in the future when reading discussions about disability/ableism and the social vs. medical models of disability, so thank you, (other) anon.

On your flist, btw, tavella, so you may recognize my IP. I've had issues with people trolling my LJ/DW and Ao3 account recently, so I thought it would be safer to comment anon so as not to tempt anon!trolly fate. Plus, I've learned recently that I function much better in angry debates when anon (as in, I stay calmer and over-react less this way).
Number One Spoon: 5cm- irreplaceable springherongale on August 9th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)
I banned T. because the comment was one of the most personally and professionally nasty insults I've gotten, made from a position of complete ignorance about what goes on in my classes, and replicating the kind of shitattack I've had to deal with since 1982.

- ithiliana, on her response post at her LJ

Wow. She must really lead a charmed life, if your mild comment qualifies as "one of the most personally and professionally nasty insults I've gotten."

I'm gonna assume that she's one of those people who probably wouldn't even disagree with your premise, that of her not being especially friendly to people who disagree with her. Hell, I'm gonna assume she's prolly PROUD of that fact, because she sounds like someone who thinks that the "tone argument" means "it's totes okay to respond harshly when crusading for social justice." And so... if she's the kind of person who is opposed in principle to reigning in her emotional responses when making a moral point, then I'm just going to say that it would be pretty damn hypocritical and disingenuous of her to turn around and give you a smack down, basically for being mean (for some crazycakes definition of the word "mean," anyway).

Cuz let's look at the comment of yours that she finds so terribly, terribly offensive. You're basically saying that her attitude, an attitude she probably is proud to display, which is also an attitude that she openly displays in her response post, can lead to silencing. I suppose I can understand where she's be offended, because you're basically saying that she's being opppressive. BUT IF SHE RESPONDS TO STUDENTS THE WAY SHE RESPONDED TO YOU, then... how is that not oppressive? I'm just boggling over here. The lack of self awareness is stunning. I pretty much feel sorry for her, because if she feels that attacked by what you said, that seems almost paranoid to me. And yet, maybe it's not paranoia if deep down, she actually feels guilty for her tough, critical attitude.

I know I'm making a lot of speculative comments in this reply. I did that on purpose. I don't really know that person from Adam, all I know is what she wrote. If my speculations are incorrect then my comments don't apply to her: it's that simple. But if my speculations are correct (and in the end, she's the only one who can decide in her heart if they are), well... I'd hope she takes my comments to heart. Because I actually worry about people like her. She reacted to your post with such a stressed out, defensive attitude. If I were one of her students and saw a post like that? I know that I would be leary about saying anything other than positive comments and offering agreement, to whatever she said. And that's just a FACT, since I'm commenting on my own feelings here, and no one can tell me that those are wrong.

Edited at 2010-08-09 03:33 am (UTC)
Lauratavella on August 9th, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
It's not even that I'd call it *silencing*, as it was, well, a practical thought: do you really expect your students to voluntarily embrace topics that you get painfully upset about?

Seriously, I read that line and just had a *spinal reflex*, picturing myself as her student and contemplating writing a paper or commentary on race and fleeing. Even if I mostly agreed with her. Honestly, I'm not that far positionwise, I like seeing racism and sexism addressed. Poor zdashamber down there has heard my rants at TV nights far too many times (I swear I'm not going to go off on the fratboyness of the Star Trek reboot again!)

But from my experience ithilianadoesn't react any better to close than she does to outright deliberate offensiveness. If it's not the one true way, it's Evil.
Number One Spoonherongale on August 9th, 2010 05:16 am (UTC)
Yeah, I guess it's not that I think it's her intention to silence people... probably far from it! But in all practicality, isn't that the natural end result when you don't hold your emotions in check when discussing emotionally charged topics?

When I was in college I was leary of ever discussing ANY political views with professors, even when I knew those professors to be extremely laid-back and friendly. And it really didn't matter what their views were, I just felt it wasn't safe to be too open since I just knew that people are unpredicatble and I wanted to get the best grades possible. This didn't mean I was quiet in class... I spoke out a lot!... but I was careful.

And if I had a professor who seemed to become easily agitated about things? Even if I admired their passion and completely agreed with them philosophically? I would be EXTRA leary. It's not a judgment on that professor's values as a human being, it's simply a natural self-protective reflex that humans are known to engage in from time to time.
hegemony hedgehogagrimony on August 9th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC)
I think a classroom, which is populated theoretically by people with whom you must interact on a regular basis in not just this class but others, not to mention on interpersonal levels outside of classes, is a difficult place in which to discuss polarizing topics with a willingness to stake a definitive stance on one side of the fence or the other.

That's a really wordy way of saying that even when the class is obviously one in which polarizing topics are meant to be examined and discussed, it can be very difficult for students - especially young college students who are really still trying on their big boy and girl pants - to be open, frank, and definitive in their discussions.

As a non-traditional student, I found the religion and sexual ethics course I took an interesting study in not just course material but the relationship between age, experience, opinion, and course material. Many of the topics we discussed were deep topics, often polarizing, and even more often ethically grey. It was easy for students to speak definitively on topics where the societal expectations of opinion were obvious - the discussion of rape, for example, was one of the topics in which the most definitive opinions were vented. None of those opinions were that rape was okay.

In ethical situations where there was more grey than black and white - and especially when the professor clearly espoused a certain support for one particular shade of grey - conversation would shut down. Lack of experience and uncertainty of validity would keep younger students from saying anything at all. People weren't willing to risk voicing an opinion that either their peer group /or/ their professor might judge them negatively regarding. The non-traditional, older students in the class - or those with more life experience, especially those who were young mothers - were far more willing to voice opinions, especially opinions in opposition of what the professor was seemingly espousing.

The less 'important' or polarizing the topic, the more willing younger, less life-experienced students were to voice strong opinions or disagreement with authority figures. Especially since a learning environment often involves a professor who will try to get people to expand upon why they hold forth with a particular opinion and what substantiates it. Such challenges - while good and a necessary part of learning - often seem to be viewed by the younger, less life-experienced students as being shot down. Which would have the result of shutting them up.

The challenge then, when addressing such topics, is finding a way to foster an environment which encourages people to question their own opinions and what they are based on in order to better understand their own stance and the stance of others without also engaging students still learning how to have confidence mingled with an open mind in a way that makes them feel as if they've been told they are completely wrong. Even if they are.

But the student in a class who has to voice an opinion on, for example, gay marriage and defend that stance, must also face the same students across the lunch table or across the dorm hallway. That, I think, is also never far from their minds, whether consciously or not.
Krisquiet000001 on August 9th, 2010 03:09 am (UTC)
I would agree with this general idea. My sociology professor was pretty opinionated and ran the class in very much a conversational style, and I think one of the reasons the class worked as well as it did was BECAUSE we had a handful of older students (myself included) who were willing to go out there and get things started. Once the ball was rolling, the others (freshmen and sophomores mostly) were willing to jump in.
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
This has always been my experience with undergrad classes.
Madeline the Edifyingzdashamber on August 9th, 2010 03:11 am (UTC)
Huh. ilithiana flipped her shit but good. 7.5 screens in response to a 3 screen post?

Your initial comment could be boiled down to "You flip your shit all the time about social justice here, why would a student of yours risk setting you off?"

Which, sure, is insulting...

She's got the furious anger thing going because she sees it as steps down the road to "U dyke Y R U teachin sci fi trash". Even though you were walking down a different road. It is too bad.

...Also embarassing for her how she doesn't use your handle.
Lauratavella on August 9th, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
I really didn't mean it to be an insult, as opposed to a criticism. Which I guess is a fine line to walk. I think the only thing I would change about the initial post would be to make it more clear that I was looking at it strictly as to how the student would likely react and what they might fear, rather than what ithiliana would _actually_ do in grading.
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
Coming in anon because I'm still not sure how to deal with the shift I've felt in the discussions in what is now being labelled as 'social justice'. But I wanted to let you know I read and got some of what you're saying.

I don't know how to have a conversation with people that are supposedly taking on the issues that affect me personally, without the whole thing getting ugly. I've felt people like myself have alwyas been invisible in fandom, so in the beginning I very much welcomed discussions on topics such as racism. But now I'm feeling even more reluctant to address these complicated issues publicly, since a lot of times I don't see room for disagreement.

I don't know what is going on. I don't know if it's a question of the louder voices getting the most attention, or that people who view things as a lot more complicated are not usually posting on LJ and DW. Maybe it's just the nature of fandom dynamics? I'm at a loss and have decided to keep quiet.
(Anonymous) on August 9th, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC)
It's my experience that the moderate voices, the ones who want to discuss those complicated issues and are willing to disagree, have long since left the field.
(Anonymous) on August 10th, 2010 03:13 am (UTC)
anon because I'm a) a wuss, and b) I've found recently that I can engage these kinds of topics better this way, and with less raeg-flailing. Also c) this way I don't have to do what I'd definitely do if I were a student in a university class whose professor had very strong opinions about a certain topic and be careful to be non-controversial.

I've had professors who graded fairly, and professors who were infamous for grading fairly only if you made sure to agree with them about X school of historical or literary criticism/to never disagree with their interpretation of that one author's work/never used the word "irregardless."* If I had a professor whom I knew had strong and polarized political views, I'd keep my papers as apolitical as possible in order to avoid getting on his/her bad side. I had a friend in college who would deliberately antagonize teachers, then whine about how she always got bad grades because this or that professor personally had it in for her. I did not want to be her.

If I had one of a number of fannish people who are very committed to social justice and/or active in metafandom circles as a professor for a graduate seminar or an undergraduate course, I would be as careful not to say something that I know would be totally unforgivable and Doing it Wrong by their lights as I am to say "my roommate" instead of "my girlfriend" when talking to the super-religious girl at work. And there are certain topics that I know are fraught enough that my chances of Doing it Wrong and triggering condemnation and rage are high no matter how careful I try to be, and while in fandom the only consequences are social and emotional (and even those non-tangible consequences can be severe, for some people, especially if they're naturally conflict-averse), in an academic or office/professional setting, getting your boss, coworker, or professor as angry at you as people get in fandom over *ism discussions and fail can have real life consequences for your career, whether you're endangering your GPA or your chances of getting a raise/promotion.

Many people aren't going to want to address a particular issue that they know risks seriously pissing their professor or boss off unless they have to.

*My undergrad thesis adviser had a list of banned words he circulated at the beginning of every class. You lost one point off your final grade every time you used "advancement," or "utilize" in a paper, for no reason other than the fact that he hated them.
Lauratavella on August 11th, 2010 05:21 am (UTC)
I think it's often even more tempting when you like other things about the teacher or the course. If I was interested in SF or fandom, I might be eager to take her courses... and still not want to trigger a blowout when hitting specific areas. I know that I was so reluctant to post *because* I like other aspects of her journal. It was somewhat puzzling to have her assume that I denigrated her work -- I really enjoyed hearing her academic stories. It was the ultra-sensitivity within fandom, the puffing up of minor issues into crusades, that frustrated me.