Teachable Moments

I’m teaching a 200 student lecture course entitled “Gender, Diversity, and Media” this quarter and for the past week, I’ve agonized about talking about masculinity, football, and Penn State in this class. We’ve read Jackson Katz, Tom Oates, and other critics of masculinity and sports over the course of the past eight weeks, but we’d moved on to new media, so I was worried it might seem like a tangent.

At least, that’s what I told myself at first. Really, I was worried about having to deal with the rawness and difficulty of talking about a topic like this on a campus where football is so important. On campuses where, to borrow Jennifer Wood and Thomas Oates’ turn of phrase,  to criticize King Football and the role that  the institution of football plays on this campus is tantamount to being un-American. Seriously, sometimes it seems like many who work here have signed some loyalty oath that encourages them to append “Go ducks” to the end of their email messages.

Another part of me knew that this would be a grueling conversation and that if you’re going to ask the questions, you need to be willing to hear the answers. If I didn’t have to run take a job candidate out for a coffee, I’d say more, but just briefly — I’m glad I did this. It reminded me why I like my students who really took this very seriously and listened and talked to one another. I think more importantly, it reminded me of the responsibility we have as teachers to model the kinds of debate we’d like to call into being: thoughtful, deliberate, and respectful.  More later.

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2 responses to “Teachable Moments

  1. i have been avoiding this topic myself, my students have read Katz and Oates, too. what kind of leading questions did you ask your students? i am so scared of the very real possibility that someone will make an excuse for Paterno in class and then…i just don’t know.

  2. Well, as I told my teaching assistants, if you’re going to pose the questions, you’ve got to be willing to hear the answers. And there was some of that in class, which is an expression of where some people are. So you take a deep breath, try to circumvent other students’ angry responses, and make the arguments that need to be made. So when people say things like the Penn State admin should have shown Paterno a bit more respect (e.g. not fire him by telephone), you need to point out that Paterno’s support for homophobic basketball coach Rene Portland and the absence of any response to Sandusky’s at least decade long predation are items that tend to undermine any calls for respect.

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