By MATTHEW C. BRONSON, associate professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology and the chair of the CIIS Integral Education Committee
We’ve talked for many years in our integral education meetings about how we as faculty can deepen learning and engage the multiple ways of knowing that are often left out of the typical “chalk and talk” classroom experience. In this regard I have rediscovered a classic technique, surely familiar to everyone from their elementary school days--show and tell.
My first implementation of show and tell was in a weekend intensive workshop, co-conducted with Shoshana Simons of the Expressive Arts Therapy program, on the theme of language and sexuality (a burgeoning and lively realm of inquiry currently). On Friday evening, after orienting the students to the purposes of the course and starting them on their individual inquiries, we asked them to look around their homes and personal spaces for objects that touched on some aspect of their sexual and romantic lives. Their assignment was to reflect on their own sexual identity socialization in light of the class material, and to bring these objects to class on Saturday, prepared to share with their classmates. We told them we would assemble their objects in an altar.
That same night, I started the altar by sharing three artifacts of my own. I began with a small lavender plastic figurine of Tinky Winky, the infamous Teletubbie with the triangle antenna on his head who was “outed” as gay by Christian Fundamentalists. Tinky Winky was a gift from a friend and immediately gained a place of honor on my personal altar at home.
I told the class that, for me, he represented the power of queerness to bring the dominant into an obviously irrational frenzy simply by the tiniest hint of refusing to conform to heteronomativity. I loved the irony that a television program for 2-year-olds was now being seriously presented as a means of recruiting homosexuals. This tiny little figure ignited a firestorm among Evangelicals, and yet, Tinky Winky continued to show up on the TV each week to “work” in his bucolic green meadow under a smiling sun unscathed by the controversy swirling around him.
I explained that Tinky was a model for me as a gay man in his perseverance and power, and even if he were only questioning--understandable given his missing genitalia--I would count him as a queer little brother and fellow sacred clown.
You might imagine what I shared about a picture of my mother and father as two beautiful young people in love (my mother a virgin), embracing just after taking their vows (and years before their subsequent divorce when I was only two). A picture of me and a former Brazilian lover dressed as Carmen Miranda was fodder for reflection on gender as performance. I enjoyed showing up as a teacher and as a whole person with a history, and felt that this in and of itself was a kind of intervention in the business-as-usual of college teaching.
On Saturday morning we began with 12 students and two instructors in a small windowless room with the chairs arranged in a circle. One young woman brought a condom and shared what it had cost her to be prepared for safe sex. Many men she dated had been doubly surprised when she had whipped out a Trojan Magnum condom at the critical moment—first that she was apparently ready for sex, and second owing to the extra-large size of the prophylactic in question. This was enough to end the encounter in some instances. She spoke of the contradictions inherent in being socialized as a sexually active woman who was not supposed to want sex.
A young gay man brought a gold wedding band and explained how he had at one point intended to give it to his partner as part of a commitment ceremony. Then, gay weddings were legal in California for a while and there was the possibility of the band becoming a real wedding ring. Before the couple could consecrate the marriage, the law changed; he then broke up with his partner.
The man asked us to look at the ring: “It’s a wedding ring, it’s not a wedding ring, it’s a wedding ring. This is the story of my life as a gay man.”
A woman in her 30s who had only recently committed to a relationship with a woman brought photos showing various aspects of her butch and femme personas. She shared her struggle as someone who was learning how to talk and behave like a “good lesbian.”
Each story and object shared had a tremendous impact on the group, and the effect of the ensemble was truly remarkable. We arranged the objects in a corner of the room and left them there for the duration of the workshop. We would dip into them from time to time for a new story, providing a thread of coherence throughout our time together. I found that the possibility of going deep was fully present for us as a group after the initial round of sharing. There were many additional benefits: people introduced themselves and bonded without the usual delay; there were many ready examples to draw from as we explicated the theoretical approaches in the class; the material presence of the objects reminded us of what we had been talking about and energetically charged the room with their storied presence.
I had a similar experience conducting the show and tell exercise with colleagues in CIIS’ Teaching and Learning Group. I asked them to bring objects that represented their personal relationship with teaching. We each presented our object, then observed the assembled altar, wrote about what we saw and heard, and debriefed as to what we had learned about teaching and learning.
We witnessed: a family picture book with pages ripped out, a farmer doll, a pair of eyeglasses, a stone with the word “nothing” engraved in it--nothing is written in stone. My colleagues reported that it was particularly helpful to have been looking for the objects in the two weeks prior to the meeting. It caused them to think deeply about their work and sort through what was really important to them as teachers and learners. They remarked afterwards on the moving quality of the stories and the glimpses into each other’s intimate worlds that would not otherwise have been afforded.
This activity could be adapted to a wide variety of audiences and purposes as a way of getting beyond superficial classroom routines. It has the potential to establish a more intimate rapport among members of any learning community and a more personal and critical engagement with virtually any academic content. To be fair, this is nothing other than show and tell in the 17th grade.
Some of the best teaching still seems to come from the elementary level, in my experience. Our colleagues in kindergarten can remind those of us in higher education how to enroll the storied things of daily life as our co-teachers.