teaching philosophy

I undertake an interdisciplinary approach to teaching. In classes, workshops and lectures, I use the air between the students and myself for the exchange of ideas. As we inflate the room with discourse, like “cloud sharing,” we engage with each other and plug-in to what’s been said and done, in kinship to those living and departed. What hangs in the air is our participation — everyone is needed. For me art is central to the interdependence of collective processes and reflexivity. So, I listen closely for, and respond to, marginalized voices. In our exchanges we trace and disclose how agency is the relation between power and knowledge. In this multifaceted array we read aquapelogo concepts, black literature, comics, feminist, Marxist, critical race, queer and postcolonial theories to frame our discussions of art (or any other discourse that shapes a current inquiry).

I am inspired directly by my instructor the late Craig Owens. As he brought my class into his theorizing and we shared our ideas and artwork, I realized I was a part of the art community, not simply a student taking a class. This discourse, in particular, resonated with me, “[Michel] Foucault and [Louis] Marin who do not interpret works of art, if to interpret them is to assign them a meaning. They are interested less in what works of art say, and more in what they do; theirs is a performative view of cultural production.” I felt like I got inside the art world with this reading, through a trapdoor, beyond the gloss and glare, into the tenets of art, my opportunity to toy with the gears, levers and machinery.

I’m informed by bell hooks’ and Pablo Friere’s dialogic education and critical pedagogy. I listen to students, I am influenced by their views, I adjust my perspective, and make changes to our educational environment. Recently, a student asked in passing, “where's my name, where’s the project list?” I realized that I was maintaining a mental list instead of a physical list, and in doing so, had snatched the student’s and his classmates’ agency, access and visibility. In response, I created a signup sheet with his and his classmates’ names for others to see and use. When he saw it, he smiled and said, “Good, that’s the way to do it.”

Some aspects of communalism, a major theme in African thought, uplift me and support my teaching. In the texts of John Mbiti and Desmond Tutu, they discuss their attitude toward personhood in communalist societies. They live this adage, “I am because we are, and because we are, I am . . . I am because I participate.” Mzee Lasana Okpara and Jonathan Scott Lee add, “[I]ndividual identity is grounded in social interaction, in the life of the community.” Years back, I embraced and adopted these beliefs, to supplant René Descartes’ — ‘I think therefore I am.’ Their interdependent attitude also aligns with dispersal theories in a limited but important manner. “If what we do to others, we are doing to ourselves,” as Nick Enfield suggests, then our “capacity for distributed agency allows us to dissociate social units, ‘agents,’ from the borders of the individual.” He goes on to explain, “One reason agents do not equal individuals is that the elements of agency can be divided up and shared out among multiple people in relation to a single course of action.” Therefore, the horizon of my pedagogy is the variety of ways that agents transform, reside, represent and influence the world.

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