Coming out to your class
I have a pedagogy question and I am hoping that you cocooners can offer some insight.
Last semester as part of a digression in a philosophy of language course I taught, I was trying to explain the concept of common knowledge to the class and, off the cuff, I said something like the following. “Consider the following two scenarios: Scenario 1) I ask each student in this class to visit my office separately. When each of you arrives I tell you that I want to share something personal. And I do, but I ask you not to repeat it to anyone because it is personal. The next day you are all sitting in class knowing something personal about me. Scenario 2) During class in front of all of you, I tell you something personal about me.” I tell you “I am X” [Pause] “Now you are all sitting in class, each of you knowing my secret. What is the difference between the two scenarios?”
Now, I did not say “I am X.” I actually stated something personal, or at least something I would rather not everyone in my class know about me.
The first student response to my scenarios was “Really?, you are an X?” (as in, are you being serious or is this just an example?) to which I responded with what I hope was a mysterious expression that indicated that “you’ll never really know, will you?,” and continued discussing common knowledge.
This was, as I said, spontaneous. I did not plan this example, or plan to even talk about the topic that day. But it did make me think about coming out to a class in general. For those of us who have a race, religion, or sexual or gender identity, or other status you think might be surprising to your students, do you “come out” to your classes? If so, do you find it to be pedagogically useful when discussing those topics? Is it useful for certain courses? Is there a good time in a course to do it? Is there a bad way to do it? What are the pedagogical concerns?
Telling the class about one’s racial background, sexual orientation, class background, religious beliefs and practices, previous employment, political affiliation, disability, criminal record, nationality, or anything else some students might find unusual could create a supportive environment for students who are similarly situated. It may gently prod them to ask questions that they might not have asked otherwise. It might make them feel OK to raise certain points. But could it backfire? Will it cause students to be too scared to ask something for fear of being perceived as offensive or ignorant of something obvious?
I’m completely in the dark here. Good idea? Bad idea? Neutral? Any thoughts cocooners? Feel free to leave anonymous comments.