H-Diplo/ISSF Review Essay 61 on Pedagogical Journeys Through World Politics

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H-Diplo | ISSF Review Essay 61

Jamie Frueh, ed.  Pedagogical Journeys Through World Politics.  London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2020.  ISBN:  978-3-030-20304-7 (softcover, $29.99).

Reviewed by Eric Van Rythoven, Carleton University

Published 26 January 2022 | http://issforum.org/to/RE61

Editor: Diane Labrosse
Commissioning Editor: Andrew Szarejko
Production Editor:  George Fujii

Teaching is often treated as the ugly step-child of academia.  Unloved, undiscussed, and often hidden from sight on the third or fourth page of one’s CV, teaching is typically relegated to an afterthought at the start of one’s career—a fact reinforced by how many graduate programs provide little to no training on how to teach.  Yet as Pedagogical Journeys persuasively argues, teaching remains one of the critical responsibilities of IR academics and, as editor Jamie Frueh reminds us, “teaching well provides a better chance to make a lasting impact on the world than disciplinary knowledge work” (4).[1]  When one couples this with the very real possibility of being employed in an institution where teaching is a primary focus, questions of pedagogy take on a new urgency and gravity.

Pedagogical Journeys is a broad collection of essays on the practice, purpose, and evolution of teaching from 23 IR scholars who offer a range of different perspectives.  Each chapter is organized around a simple theme: what was the pedagogical journey of each scholar?  For many chapters this journey starts with graduate school and discusses how the authors were first taught IR, and how these experiences shaped their early perceptions about teaching.  From here the narrative progresses as the authors graduate, land their first (and sometimes second) job, receive tenure and are promoted, and embark on their career.  As the chapters unfold we see how their particular style of teaching developed and evolved in response to failures and successes in the classroom, along with professional and personal pressures.  The adjective ‘personal’ bears repeating here.  The volume takes an explicitly autobiographical approach, where each perspective on teaching is told through a highly personal story with all the personal emotions, struggles, and triumphs that perspective can entail.  The chapters end with broader reflective points—a looking back at the journey so far—where the authors convey their parting wisdom accumulated through years of experience.

While each chapter shares a common autobiographical structure, the content and character of the narrative vary significantly.  Some chapters offer deep reflections on the place and purpose of teaching in a liberal democratic society.  From Frueh we hear how “education is the social mechanism for producing good choosers” and that teaching succeeds when it produces citizens who “are knowledgeable, thoughtful, reflective, ethical, and wise deciders” (2).  For Felix Rösch the purpose of teaching is rooted in humanitas, or “the active and collaborative engagement in the public sphere” (104).[2]  Following Hannah Arendt, this kind of agonistic yet responsible criticality can serve as bulwark against populist fictions like Brexit.  Drawing on the work of Paulo Freire, Jacqui de Matos-Ala sees teaching IR in post-Apartheid South Africa as a process of transformation and emancipation (173).[3]  Other contributors are less sanguine.  In a light-hearted polemic Naeem Inayatullah argues that “teaching is impossible” (17).[4]  Yet an important message underscores this argument: we need to be radically humble in our expectations of what our teaching can accomplish and what are students are willing to learn.

Other chapters gravitate to more immanent, practical advice.  Kate Schick’s chapter opens with a broad overview of a “relational pedagogy” but the discussion quickly turns to how this translates into the construction “micro-communities” of 8-10 students, and how these groups can be employed for a variety of peer-learning activities (33).[5]  Both Kevin Dunn and Jeremy Youde’s essays make the case for using a diverse teaching repertoire in the classroom to stave off boredom and keep students engaged.[6]  Rosemary Shinko’s essay emphasizes the importance of iteration—“iterative course design, iterative assignments, iterative class applications and discussions” (125)—as way to create opportunities for practice and improvement.[7]  In an approach he calls “sneaky theoretical,” Paul Diehl shows how he sidesteps traditional discussions of the ‘isms’ and substitutes exercises where students are pushed to offer reasons for specific episodes of state behaviour (200).[8]  Gigi Gokcek gives a detailed explanation of her use of movies in the classroom, including the type of movies, as well as activities which connect movie themes to class material (227).[9]  Carolyn Shaw’s chapter relates how her institution’s Model UN Program unexpectedly became one her most effective teaching tools.[10]  If readers are looking to broaden their teaching repertoire, this is one of the central values of the volume.

Beyond each chapter’s practical advice, however, lies another value: a story of what early career scholars can to expect when they start teaching.  Graduate school often plays a key role in imparting expectations over what counts as ‘good’ academic writing, research, and publishing—even if these expectations sometimes turn out to be mistaken.  Yet for graduate students the start of teaching is often akin to being thrown into the deep end of the pool: we are given few clear expectations over what good teaching can look like, how students will respond, and what problems periodically emerge in the classroom.[11]  Here the essays in Pedagogical Journeys can be read as source of insight as to what early-career researchers can expect, including anxiety and feeling like an impostor who is not qualified to teach (Jennifer Sterling-Folker),[12] frustration over the shockingly poor quality of student writing (Amy Skonieczny),[13] listening to colleagues denigrate teaching institutions like community colleges even though they can provide superb teaching experiences (Julie Mueller),[14] and discovering both that the marathon between hiring and tenure is more about professional survival than pedagogical reflection (Brent Steele),[15] and that one lacks the charisma to be a naturally engaging teacher (Samuel Barkin).[16]  The point is not that each of these is guaranteed to happen—every teacher and classroom is different.  The point is that early-career researchers can be better prepared and respond to these challenges if they alerted to their possibility.

In reflecting on the narratives in Pedagogical Journeys two themes ultimately stand out.  First, the degree to which failure is understood by the authors to be an important source of pedagogical growth and change is striking.  Dunn’s essay admonishes its readers to embrace failure—including “extraordinary failures”—as part of the experimental process of teaching.  When a classroom exercise breaks down, it provides the opportunity to discuss what went right, what went wrong, and even potentially humanizes the instructor in the eyes of students (61).  David Blaney’s essay laments his failure to connect with students and “meet them where they were” (93).[17]  Patrick Thaddeus Jackson’s essay opens with a vignette over how he failed to prepare for the right class because of how administrative tasks squeezed teaching time (42).[18]  The message from these stories is that even the most experienced teachers—including tenured faculty who have won multiple teaching awards—can and have experienced failure in teaching.  In other words, teaching failure may often come with the sting of embarrassment, but it is part and parcel of the academic experience and can even be positive when it catalyzes reflection and improvement.  This raises the question of whether or not there needs to be a more conscious effort in normalizing teaching failure in the discipline.  There are already efforts to normalize the experience of rejection in publishing, such as in sharing rejections in a kind of shadow CV.[19]  After reading Pedagogical Journeys I am left with the suspicion that the discipline could benefit from normalizing teaching failure as well.

The second theme which stands out from Pedagogical Journeys is the way in which the authors’ descriptions of teaching are shot-through with emotional language.  Inayatullah describes teaching as an encounter where students and professors “cry together, laugh together, [and] rage together” (21).  Dunn recounts crying in the class when discussing an atrocity (59).  Sterling-Folker explains her insistence that students wait one day before contesting a grade as a strategy to “prevent raw emotions from producing tears or anger” (82).  Rösch speaks about trying to strike a balance between challenging students and making sure they do not feel “emotionally or intellectually overwhelmed” (111).  Embracing a gameshow-host persona, Youde calls on prospective instructors to let their “enthusiasm be contagious” (134).  Many of these accounts stress just how vital emotional performances are to the art of teaching, and how managing the emotions of students is often central to the vocation. 

Both of these points are reminiscent of Arlie Hochschild’s understanding of “emotional labour.”[20]  Hochschild’s point was that many forms of modern labour—including teaching, presumably—require the performance of emotions as part of a task, such as in how the performance of the ‘cheerful’ flight attendant helps make air travel more calm and pleasant.  Hochschild did not think that these displays were necessarily cheap facades; they often reflected extensive training, discipline, and practice.  This is something IR teachers should bear in mind when they consider the emotional performances alluded to in Pedagogical Journeys.  Thus, a good teacher may look less like a scholastic genius and “more like a minister tending the intellectual and emotional needs of his flock,” as Sterling-Folker puts it (88).  But if scholars come to treat disposition as an afterthought to dispensation, then they risk underestimating the time, energy, and practice these performances can require.

Pedagogical Journeys is a challenging book to critique.  It offers no grandiose claims, no cheap tricks, and no simplistic visions.  It balances advice with caution, optimism with criticality.  It speaks with a frank honesty over how becoming a great teacher is hard work that requires enormous investments in creating content, learning environments, exploring new techniques, workshops, pedagogical literature, and beyond (70).  And yet, in reading the book I could not help but notice a conspicuous absence, namely that of adjuncts and other precariously employed teachers.  It is no secret that the use of adjunct labour is growing, not just in the United States but in other countries as well.[21]  Given the financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not difficult to envision a future where the majority of IR classes are taught by the precariously employed (if that has not happened already at some institutions).  How does this future of adjunctification square with the advice offered in Pedagogical Journeys?  Not always well.  Consider Inayatullah’s exhortation to embrace failure in the classroom:

“If the course is failing, do not rescue it. Only the possibility of failure can produce collective success. They expect the rescue. Make them believe you will not save the day. This is an everyday principle. If the conversation is going badly, let it go badly. We are not performing brain surgery. There is always another day. Think of the long term.” (23).

When all that separates an adjunct from losing a course and good portion of their income is a bad set of student evaluations they do not simply have the luxury to “let it go badly.”  There may not be “another day.”  And for all of the volume’s embrace of failure and experimentation in teaching, these decisions take on a certain existential character for people in adjunct positions in ways that are simply not shared by tenure-track and tenured faculty.  These disparities extend far beyond the risk of failure in the classroom.  Yes, going to pedagogy conferences is an important way to improve teaching.  But what if departmental funding for non-tenure track faculty is zero?  Yes, switching from rote-memorization quizzes to structured writing assignments will improve analytical skills.  But is the added grading feasible for someone teaching eight courses across three colleges?[22]  Axel Heck’s chapter rightly acknowledges that institutional incentives often limit scholars from investing in their teaching.[23]  What is missing from Pedagogical Journeys is a sense of how these limits are felt much more acutely at the bottom of the academic hierarchy than at the top.

Ultimately Pedagogical Journeys is an important and timely book. For those who are starting their careers, it will serve as a valuable source of advice and as a key touchstone in articulating their own teaching philosophy. Those who are already in the middle of their careers—or at least beyond what Steele calls the ‘survival’ stage—will find that the book serves as a useful reference point in reflecting on their own teaching.  For others the book is still well worth getting because, for most academics, “teaching well” offers the best possible chance “to make a lasting impact on the world.”

 

Eric Van Rythoven is an instructor in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.  His research focuses on the politics of security, emotion, and International Relations theory.  His work has been published or is forthcoming in International Theory, International Political Sociology, Journal of Global Security Studies, European Journal of International Relations, and Security Dialogue among others.  He is also the co-editor (with Mira Sucharov) of Methodology and Emotion in International Relations (Routledge, 2019).  He teaches International Relations, Globalization and Human Rights, and Canadian Foreign Policy.

 

Notes

[1] Jamie Frueh, “Introduction,” in Jamie Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys Through World Politics (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2020), 1-16.

[2] Felix Rösch, “Pedagogies of Discomfort: Teaching International Relations as Humanitas in Times of Brexit,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 103-114.

[3] Jacqui de Matos-Ala, “My Metamorphoses as an International Relations Teacher,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 171-184.

[4] Naeem Inayatullah, “Teaching Is Impossible: A Polemic,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 17-26.

[5] Kate Schick, “ Pedagogical Micro-communities: Sites of Relationality, Sites of Transformation,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 27-40.  See also the discussion of base groups in the chapter by Frueh.

[6] Kevin C. Dunn, “Things I’ve Learned from Failure and Friends,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 55-64; Jeremy Youde, “’Come on Down!’ Pedagogical Approaches from The Price Is Right,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 127-136.

[7] Rosemary E. Shinko, “I Love Teaching: It Is Fun!,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 115-126.

[8] Paul F. Diehl, “An Individual Odyssey in Teaching International Relations,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 197-208.

[9] Gigi Gokcek, “Swimming, Not Sinking: Pedagogical Creativity and the Road to Becoming an Effective IR Teacher,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 219-232.

[10] Carolyn M. Shaw, “The Unexpected Gift: ‘Oh, and You’ll be Responsible for the Model UN Program’,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 243-252.

[11] On the sink-or-swim introduction to teaching, see the chapter by Gokcek.

[12] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, “Confessions of a Teaching Malcontent: Learning to Like What You Do,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 77-90.

[13] Amy Skonieczny, “Teaching Writing as Social Justice,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 149-158.

[14] Julie Mueller, “Oh Yeah, There’s Always Community College,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 186-196.

[15] Brent J. Steele, “Journey to the Unknown: Survival, Re-awakening, Renewal, and Reformation,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 279-292.

[16] J. Samuel Barkin, “Strategies of a Boring Teacher,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 233-242.

[17] David L. Blaney, “Teaching in Capitalist Ruins,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 91-102.

[18] Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, “Time for Class,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 41-54.

[19] See, for example, Steve Saideman, “Rejection Is the Name of the Game,” The Duck of Minerva, 21 November 2015, https://www.duckofminerva.com/2015/11/rejection-is-the-name-of-the-game.html.

[20] Arlie Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983).

[21] See the discussion of the higher education system in Germany in Axel Heck’s chapter.

[22] On the workload of adjuncts, see Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, “‘It Keeps You Nice and Disposable’: The Plight of Adjunct Professors,” Washington Post, 15 February 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/it-keeps-you-nice-and-disposable-the-plight-of-adjunct-professors/2019/02/14/6cd5cbe4-024d-11e9-b5df-5d3874f1ac36_story.html.

[23] Axel Heck, “‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’: Teaching IR in Germany,” in Frueh, ed., Pedagogical Journeys, 267-278.