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The Pedagogy of Monsters: Scary Disturbances in a Doctoral Research Preparation Course


by Nancy Lesko, Jacqueline A. Simmons, Antoinette Quarshie & Nicki Newton — 2008

Background/Context: Although doctoral education is an important component of research universities, few investigations of doctoral education exist. Furthermore, with the push in education and in other disciplines to help beginning researchers understand multiple paradigmatic, epistemological, and theoretical orientations that define fields of study, few reports explore the attempts and their effects.

Purpose: This study sought to understand the unusually strong student responses to a new doctoral core course that aimed to initiate them into the competing theoretical, epistemological, and paradigmatic complexity of contemporary educational research. This study developed from the authors’ experiences with the course in an attempt to understand students’ conflicted responses.

Setting: A private urban graduate school of education was the setting for this study.

Participants: Participants were doctoral students who enrolled in the core course between 1999 and 2002. By virtue of the action research design, the authors were also participants.

Research Design: The overarching design developed from action research in that we sought to investigate a question that arose from our teaching practice. Our initial research question was, How can we understand students’ highly charged responses to the doctoral core course? The inquiry drew upon three traditions in qualitative interpretive research: action research, collective memory work, and deep interpretation and reflection.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected via three collective memory groups and through the sustained and collaborative sharing of the authors’ own varied experiences of the doctoral core course.

Findings/Results: Students’ stories of turmoil in the doctoral course are interpreted as disruptions that occurred when familiar ideas about knowledge and learning, identities, and social networks were breached. These disturbances—encounters with ambivalence, and the awareness of more than one way to interpret, categorize, and feel about phenomena—were related to instances in which their reading, perceptions, and identities were challenged. These disturbances were frightening, and students defended against the uncertainty and the attendant questions of their own competence by recuperating stable ideas of knowledge, self, and community through talk of authentic learning, noncompetitive peers, caring professors, and a harmonious academic community.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The doctoral core course took on a life of its own, like Frankenstein, achieving effects beyond the original intention and desires of its creators and its students. We now recognize some of the limits to the critical curriculum that we developed, revised, and enacted. We have sought to tame some disturbing aspects of the course and also to admit that teaching that interferes will always produce unpredictable and mixed responses.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 8, 2008, p. 1541-1573
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15152, Date Accessed: 12/10/2017 11:05:06 PM

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About the Author
  • Nancy Lesko
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    NANCY LESKO teaches curriculum studies and gender and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Current research interests include youth and sexual citizenship, popular culture and education, and South African higher education curriculum in the time of AIDS. Forthcoming publications include, “Talking About Sex: loveLife Peer Educators in South Africa” in the Journal of Inclusive Education and “Girlhood in the Time of AIDS: North American Popular Culture Representations” in the Encyclopedia of Girls and Girlhood.
  • Jacqueline Simmons
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    JACQUELINE A. SIMMONS is a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, where her research interests include the cultural studies of education, with critical attention to curriculum, youth, and identity. Her dissertation explores the media lives of urban teenagers and queries the pedagogical possibilities in conducting collaborative research with youth. She consults with several nonprofit organizations on education program design and curriculum development.
  • Antoinette Quarshie
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    ANTOINETTE QUARSHIE is a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a dean in an independent school. Antoinette is currently using poststructualist theories and drawing upon conceptions of biomythography to explore the ways in which her nomadic geography of self as a Scottish-born woman of color educated in the Caribbean, West Africa, and the United States complicates her investigation of gender discourses through collective biography/memory work conducted with middle school students. Recent publications include “Pleasures Within Reason: Teaching, Feminism, and Education” in A. Harris (Ed.), All About The Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity, and “Tales of Body/Space Invasions in School” in Qualitative Inquiry, coauthored with D. Connor, R. Newton, and A. Penisi.
  • Nicki Newton
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    NICKI NEWTON is an educational consultant and a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests are teacher education and math education. Her most recent publication is “Teaching in the Shadows of 9/11” published in Qualitative Inquiry.
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