So my class has been buzzing along in their groups of six, there are three of them. Two groups work together in absolutely lovely fashion. I could just sit and eavesdrop all day when I listen to them working through issues. The last group has all the most difficult, ideologically driven personalities in the class. Which I initially thought might be awful, but I can see how having them end up in one group has meant that these folks cannot be in the other groups running roughshod over the more amenable personalities in the class. Instead, each meeting is sort of like a clash of the titans which also replicates dominant gender ideology. The women in the group say they want people to be more respectful in their evaluations, the men say they think the group works really great, but admit they need to stop thinking they are right about everything. But nothing changes.
But only one group was able to come up with a research agenda and project that they could implement after four meetings. I have to say I have been really surprised at how the students are taking this on. They now meet outside of scheduled time. Last week, I was getting sick and trying to get them to wrap up their sessions so I could crawl home and go to sleep, they simply took their evaluation forms and sent me home, they didn’t want to be rushed in their IF meetings. “I hope you feel better soon Professor McBride, don’t worry about us, we’ll take it from here.”
I guess this is where the course content and its connection to the IF process has started to seem more crucial, as the IF process is allowing them to build course content themselves. But I don’t think this would necessarily be the case. This course is unusual in that it also has a lecture series attached to it, so my students spend some weeks doing IF, other weeks having speakers, local folks who come and talk about different issues facing San Francisco. Amazingly, the university also provides a budget for me to take speakers out for dinner with a few students every visit, so I have asked them which speakers they want to meet with, and I am starting to see how the students are strategic, using the outside speakers as a resource for them in their projects.
The way the schedule worked out, we had five weeks of Intensive IF process at the start of the semester, and the idea was that the students would be able to generate a collaborative research project from these sessions. Then we have five weeks of speakers during which time they will conduct the research they designed, followed by five more weeks of IF at the end of the semester where they take their research and turn it into a product that will be exhibited in the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Center. But using the IF process to generate collaborative research, not just discussion, has been an interesting twist and I think has meant that the students are more actively generating course content than they would otherwise. They have discussions, and then identify when they need more information, divide research tasks, then meet again the following week and report back on what they have found. But I now spend significant amounts of time every day posting resources that they have found on our class blackboard site.
Another really interesting thing happened in terms of course ocntent at the end of last week. We had a heated discussion about proposed sit/lie legislation in the city designed to give police another tool to curb some really outrageous behavior by street gypsies in Haight Ashbury, a few blocks from campus. It was a highly charged conversation, people positioned themselves with the anarchists (there is a very strong anarchist group in the student body at USF…) socialists, property owners, police, all the sudden you saw the true spectrum of opinions in the class. I have assigned them thought essays that they hand on every other week, and reading them over the weekend, I saw judgment of others opinions in an entirely snarky way, ideological rants….I was so upset. But then I picked up one more essay, and it was someone who was questioning the IF process and if the group might be abusing it. It was incredibly critical but thoughtful and I realized it could all be a teaching opportunity. These essays have turned into a more substantive self evaluation than the little forms I designed. I never intended it that way….
So I went to class yesterday and said we were hitting the wall in our IF process, in our thinking about the course issues and that we needed to understand that democracy and citizenship and public space are the constellation of issues in the course. Democracy isn’t easy, and citizenship means understanding the limits of our perspectives and respect for others. I did not mention names but called people to task for being closed minded, faces around the table blushed. It turned into a great conversation about how the unwritten MUSTS people bring with them to the table need to be transcended, the unwritten rules of the city that say some people are more important than others need to be challenged, the particular importance of public space in providing access and a forum where people can confront their own self imposed limitations. Then we talked about how the IF process was their opportunity not only to research the city but see exactly what democratic engagement takes.
I’ve gone on too long, but I gave them a few minutes to talk in their groups at the end of class, and lo and behold, obstacles seemed to have moved and the last two groups had their plans in place in just a few minutes. Stay tuned. There may be a backlash against my strong arming them.