Pedagogy of Possibility Underlies "A Nun in the Toilet"
"nun in the toilet," a myth that many Catholic youths meet early
in their schooling experience, conveys the idea that there is
a nun lurking in the restrooms who can see and hear everything
that you are doing-so you'd better NOT do anything untoward. I
typically saw my friends whispering or smoking in a circle in
the middle of the restroom because they thought "the nun" would
have a harder time hearing their gossip or seeing their misdeeds.
Such myths help to sustain and perpetuate certain types of behavior.
Vasquez-Levy, Dept. of Curriculum, Instruction & Special
Curry School of Education
students similarly invent and reconstruct their behavior because
of myths. Recently while I was on the Ruffner bridge, three
female undergraduate students jogged by. Just as they approached
the steps with the "Z," they repositioned themselves to a vertical
formation almost as if someone had thrown a switch. They
jogged up the right side of the steps, , careful not to step
on any part of the painted Z. When I reported the incident to
my USEM students, chuckling broke out among the females, who
informed me about a myth that first-year girls are told by older
peers on Grounds. If a first-year female runs over a "Z" on
Grounds, she is certain to become pregnant before the end of
that semester. One wanted me to know that "even though [she]
realizes it's not true it's still something [she] pays attention
to." Like most people, she allows belief to shape one or more
of her everyday actions. Myths are a part of the education experience.
my USEM course, students examine the most notorious myths framing
their schooling experience, as introduced by Berliner and Biddle
in The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On
America's Public Schools (1997). While the text provides a foundation
for discussion and analysis, the students' actual work encourages
transformative experiences. My USEM ("A Nun In The Toilet: Myths
As Part of the Education Experience") is designed to help give
first-year students a leg up in navigating their U.Va. studies.
In general I assist students to strengthen their capacities
for judicious skepticism, regard for objectively reasonable
knowledge, and the treatment of information that comes in the
form of myth as hypothetical at best. The tasks I structure
for students include:
this introductory course to another discipline, an instructor
must simply create opportunities for student collaboration and
examine the knowledge and myths associated with his/her field.
on weekly readings and submitting an account of their thoughts
to a course newsgroup.
each other while being videotaped. When students review their
taped conversations they are genuinely surprised by their
lack of justification for implicit beliefs.
how to research databases that can facilitate their examination
of formalized knowledge.
- Taking a position of authority. This task requires students
to investigate the function of a position of authority, develop
a purpose for approaching an audience, and act on their knowledge.
and presenting social inquiry. Through this major project
students learn about the types of social science used by educational
researchers. In teams, the students plan, conduct, and report
on their social inquiry, creating a video documentary of their
social inquiry work. They thus examine their own actions
and the beliefs that bear on their research.
a class newspaper that frames what their journey in this course
has been about.
a listing of current University Seminars, please visit the USEMS