The following post is by Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, NCTE members and editors of the English Journal and guest editors, Sean P. Connors and P.L. Thomas.
We are delighted to invite you to preview our November 2016 issue of EJ, which—in keeping with the presidential election—is particularly provocative and compelling. In this blog post, we feature the issue editorial, composed by guest editors Sean P. Connors and P. L. Thomas, as well as the introduction to a special section on teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We hope that the issues highlighted in this month’s EJ will open conversation among English teachers everywhere. —Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski
From the Guest Editors (Sean P. Connors and P. L. Thomas)
“Visible Teaching: Open Doors as Resistance”
“Visibility,” Michel Foucault famously argued, “is a trap” (200). Foucault reached this understanding as a result of his efforts to theorize the panopticon, an 18th-century prison that was designed to control the behavior of inmates by ensuring that they were continuously subject to the gaze of those entrusted with supervising them. For Foucault, the panopticon offers a metaphor for understanding how power functions in modern society. “It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen,” he wrote, “that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection” (187). Significantly, Foucault recognized the panoptic principle—that is, the shaping power of the gaze—at work in other institutions, including school.
Given the surprisingly large number of submissions that the call for this issue of English Journal elicited, we suspect that Foucault’s observations are likely to resonate with English teachers working in the current education reform era, a time when local media publish standardized test scores as a way to hold teachers accountable for their students’ performance, when teachers are subject to unannounced walk-through observations, and when they are required to submit written lesson plans as evidence of their having complied with prescriptive standards. As the articles in this issue demonstrate, however, the gaze is not unidirectional. Rather, there are times when people make themselves visible to others for the express purpose of capturing their attention and resisting what they recognize as unfair or unproductive practices and mandates. To this end, Steve Mann, Jason Nolan, and Barry Wellman use the term sousveillance to refer to a practice wherein people “resist surveillance through non-compliance and interference ‘moves’ that block, distort, mask, refuse, and counter-surveil the collection of information” (333). Visibility, in other words, is not always a trap. It can also constitute a form of resistance, and that is the source of this issue’s call for teaching with our doors open. While the authors whose work appears in this issue of English Journal approach the subject of visible teaching in different ways, they each take visibility as a starting point for considering how teachers can resist education reform mandates that promote, intentionally or otherwise, instructional practices that research suggests are not in the best interest of students. By reflecting on the many benefits that accompany a decision to open one’s classroom door to colleagues, administrators, and parents, these authors celebrate the liberatory potential of visible teaching.
In closing, we return to Foucault’s work, specifically, his admonition against conceptualizing power objectively—that is, as something that some people “hold” and “exercise,” and which others aspire to “seize” and “wield.” Instead, Foucault argued that power is everywhere, with the result that people are continuously able to shape (and reshape) their relationships with others. Rather than understand ourselves as limited in what we are able to accomplish with students in our respective contexts, the authors whose work appears in this issue challenge us to consider how teaching with our classroom doors open constitutes a form of resistance. In doing so, they, like Foucault, invite us to remember that we are always “freer than we think we are” (Bell 83).
Bell, Vikki. “The Promise of Liberalism and the Performance of Freedom.” Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism, and Rationalities of Government, edited by Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne, and Nikolas Rose. U of Chicago P, 1996, pp. 81–97.
Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by A. Sheridan. Vintage Books, 1995.
Mann, Steve, Jason Nolan, and Barry Wellman. “Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices or Data Collection in Surveillance Environments.” Surveillance and Society, vol. 1, no. 3, 2003, pp. 331–55.
P.L. Thomas, professor of education (Furman University) and former NCTE Historian, taught high school English for 18 years in South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is currently a column editor for English Journal and author of Beware the Roadbuilders (Garn Press). Contact him at email@example.com and follow his work at http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/ and @plthomasEdD.
Editors’ Introduction to Special Section on Teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Essays in Conversation (Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski)
When we read Peter Smagorinsky’s provocative article, in which he exchanges racism with misogyny in a quest to cultivate empathy, we were riveted, to say the least. Reviewer comments echoed our sense of the power of the piece. One said she would renew her subscription if we published the article. Another commented, simply, “Please publish this. . . . There will be backlash. So be it.”
We consulted with the guest editors, who concurred. However, upon further consideration, our own editorial limitations became clear. The author of the article is White. Both guest editors are White, as are we. As moved as we were by Smagorinsky’s experiment, we recognized that our own perspectives, despite our best intentions, were insufficient. Fortunately, brilliant colleagues stepped forward in response to our invitations to participate in the conversation. Thus, this section includes an array of voices and perspectives, and it involves diction that may offend some readers. We trust that our readership will appreciate how words, especially those that stretch us into areas of discomfort and even pain, can lead to learning and, perhaps, healing.
Initial submissions by these four esteemed contributors varied in their presentation of sensitive terms. Sometimes the terms were spelled out; other times, they were filled with asterisks or dashes. In the copyediting phase of production, we consulted with numerous experts in language and publication. Ultimately, in the context of academic freedom and with a passionate wish to avoid censorship, we decided to allow each author to determine how to present sensitive terms to express ideas clearly, with intended connotations. Please note that the language employed by each author is presented in the spirit of noncensorship and with scholarly purpose.
We are honored to publish Peter Smagorinsky’s article and to feature exceptional respondent articles written by Leigh Patel, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Jocelyn Chadwick—all of whom offer thoughtful, compelling, and invaluable contributions to this ongoing dialogue. We trust you will be challenged, stimulated, disturbed, and enlightened by these articles.
David Gorlewski works with preservice and practicing teachers and conducts research on literacy and professional dispositions. Both are former English teachers and members of NCTE, Julie since 2004 and David since 2001.