Our commitments to radical teaching rely on long-standing pedagogical traditions with a strong concern for social justice; they also require a readiness to let go of agendas, to pierce the skin of the classroom, recognizing (for instance) the gaps between subjects and objects, goals and outcomes. (That such a prospect can be scarily unsettling may account, in part, for why so much schooling is organized to assess what is already known, rather than to explore what has not yet been recognized.) In this companion website and book, we tell stories of learning in multiple contexts, hoping to constitute an on- and off-line community that will expand current notions of teaching inside and outside of classrooms.
Published now by punctum books, Jody Cohen and Anne Dalke simultaneously reflect upon and enact pedagogy in Steal This Classroom: Teaching & Learning Unbound. This book is available in print and digital open access at punctumbooks.com and stealthisclassroom.com.
Jody Cohen and Anne Dalke construe “classrooms” as testing grounds, paradoxically boxed-in spaces that cannot keep their promise to enclose, categorize, or name. Exploring what is usually left out can create conditions ripe for breaking through, where real and abstract reverse and melt, the distinction between them disappearing. These are ecotones, transitional spaces that are testing grounds, places of danger and opportunity.
In college classrooms, an urban high school, a public library, a playground, and a women’s prison, Anne and Jody share scenes where teaching and learning take them by surprise; these are moments of uncertainty, sometimes constructed as failure. Digging into and exploding such moments reveals that they might be results of institutional pressures, socioeconomic and other diversities not acknowledged but operating and entangling individuals and ideas. Classrooms are sometimes “stolen” by the complex systems surrounding and permeating the activities that take place there; Jody and Anne explore ways to steal them back. Examining what is hidden but present in such moments can turn them into breakthroughs, powerful learning for educators and students—revealing how failure itself might not be what it seems.
Moving back and forth between micro and macro in a continual interplay across individuals, groups, and institutions, and organizing their experiences and philosophies of teaching under the rubrics of Playing, Haunting, Silencing, Unbecoming, Leaking, Befriending, Slipping, and Reassembling, Anne and Jody try out alternative tales, exploring a pedagogical orientation that is ecological in the largest sense, engaging teachers and students in re-thinking learning and teaching in classrooms, and in their larger lives, as complex, enmeshed, volatile eco-systems.
Jody and Anne weave through their own voices those of students and colleagues, demonstrating the complex playfulness of collaborative and transdisciplinary forms of teaching and learning. Not solving the contradictions, but abstracting from the immediate, they offer a dialogue, telling hard stories and funny ones, involving others’ stories in response, demonstrating the complex playfulness of collaborative and transdisciplinary work. They make concrete suggestions about how academic and other structures might open up; they also remain porous and interactive, inviting reader-participants to join in transfiguring what spaces of teaching and learning are and can be-and-do.
For nearly two decades, Anne Dalke and Jody Cohen were colleagues at Bryn Mawr College, where they co-wrote and co-taught cross-disciplinary classes on campus, and worked with a number of their students to establish a reading and writing program in a local women’s jail. Now Jody teaches Language Arts at YouthBuild Philadelphia, a school for young people who have been out of school. Her students write about experiences in their homes and communities, about education and the criminal justice system, and about making change in their own lives and in the world. An education researcher and activist, Jody writes about community-based engagement with education policy and practice.
Anne now volunteers with The Petey Greene Program, The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, and “Let’s Circle Up,” a Restorative Justice project. She works with readers and writers in Philadelphia county jails and Pennsylvania state prisons, where they search for personal, political and transformational responses to their shared questions about accountability and equity. A prison abolitionist and Quaker with a particular interest in resistant teaching practices, Anne is the author of Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach: Meditations on the Classroom (Peter Lang, 2002) and co-editor, with Barbara Dixson, of Minding the Light: Essays in Friendly Pedagogy (Peter Lang, 2004).