NWSA 2016: Radicalizing the Curriculum and Decolonizing the Canon
This weekend, I’m participating in a workshop at the National Women’s Studies Association entitled “Radicalizing the Curriculum and Decolonizing the Canon,” along with my dear colleagues, Kim Brillante Knight (UT Dallas), Kris McAbee (University of Arkansas, Little Rock), Jessica C. Murphy (UT Dallas), Jen Shook (Grinnell College). I’m sharing some preliminary and entirely incomplete notes here to accompany my very short introduction of my course and methods for the workshop, which we want to keep as interactive and participant driven as possible.
How do instructors maintain a commitment to intersectional feminist pedagogy in the face of institutional demands that support a curriculum of colonialist fantasies? Bringing together scholars from literary studies, media arts, digital scholarship, performance, and native studies who see the college classroom as a site for decolonial creative praxis, this workshop will share existing tactics, syllabi, and assignments as well as collaboratively develop new strategies that creatively resist the way colonial fantasies inform curriculum requirements and, thereby, teaching and tenure expectations.
My contribution will be a series of documents, many still under construction, from a course that I am currently teaching at Whittier College, a historically Quaker small liberal arts college and minority serving institution in Southeast Los Angeles. The course is a new one being offered through the English Department called “Digital Textuality.” The course itself offers students a long history of hypertext and electronic fiction and offers a survey, of sorts, from the history of the book to electronic stories to avant garde video games.
In the course of proposing, planning and teaching this course, I’ve come to learn some things about my institution, my students, and about myself as a teacher.
First of there are some challenges to teaching a course such as this one at an institution like mine:
- small institutions = limited resources (including people)
- lack of media studies, history of technology, etc. means this course must teach students fundamentals of those fields in addition to the content of the course
- balancing the teaching of the canon with texts by women of colour, queer and trans artists
In an attempt to address these issues, I’ve incorporated a range of materials, from the predominantly white male and Euro and American-centric canon, and woven in texts by women, women of colour, queer, and trans artists.
Additionally, I’ve structured my class to be as non-hierarchical, democratic, and feminist space. I’ve tried to distribute authority to my students through the design of collaborative classroom policies, project prompts, and exam review materials, and I’ve given students the responsibility of running the weekly course discussion forums and leading in-class discussions.
This has been a learning process and these materials will, of course, be revised and revisited over time. They work well in a small classroom at a teaching institution, but could also work well in small discussion sections.
Syllabus (With active hyperlinks to readings and tools)
Sample Course Constitution by Kalle Westerling (Baruch College)