After our tea party on Tuesday, we set up a Google doc to discuss different aspects of the project. The Google doc format allowed us to individually express our thoughts (we realize that it would be inappropriate to turn in one tiny paragraph for all five of us) and to react to each other.
Although I was rather disappointed that a large amount of the class did not get to taste my delicious Cantonese tea, the fact that many chose not to participate speaks volumes. Perhaps, as Bill said, it would take an even bigger disruption (with better staging, directions, costumes and music) to entice more tea drinkers. The environment of our classroom, where everyone is out for his or her grade and generally chooses not to interact with others unless it benefits his or her utility, proved incredibly hard to disrupt. This characterization is true about the Duke undergraduate environment as a whole. As Andrew and I said later on Tuesday evening, Duke is a place so entrenched in egoism that it might take an action as drastic as burning down the Chapel to get people to change behaviors.
One thing I noticed and spoke to Will about was how in spite of our critique of the hierarchic structure of the classroom, Bill and Pedro still articulated the terms of the tea party — when it began, how the conversation transpired, when it ended (1 hour later!?!?). Likewise, some people still refused to participate in the project, again reinforcing the egoism and unwillingness of the classroom.
Will and I were talking about some of the failures, one of which suggests that the transformation we want to gesture toward is maybe not possible in a physical space but must deeply intervene in the culture at large. Similarly, we agreed with Bill’s criticism that aesthetically our work was limited.
Ultimately though, the work was successful as a consciousness-raising exercise. I await your thoughts!
I agree with what Andrew wrote. While we did break certain conventions of the classroom (i.e. food in a computer lab, open movement and discussion), we still were very much constrained by the space. I think one of this ways this was clearly articulated was in the fact that, in most cases, those who chose to participate in the tea party were the students who sat at the tables with us. Others that were sitting on the periphery of the room seemed to be those that were more skeptical of the project and declined the invitation to take part. I think to some degree this was a misstep on out part. While we did control the aesthetic of the 5 central tables, we did nothing to engage the entirety of the room. Had we created some sort of arrangement in which all students were on an equal level (all at covered tables) I think they would have been more inclined to participate.
Bill and Pedro did ultimately control the course of the tea party. An interesting aspect though is that they chose to alter the entire structure of that days class to accommodate our project. In this regard the tea party was successful to some degree in subverting the predetermined schedule of the room. The class was supposed to split into two and then have critiques but this ended up being impossible due to the fact that most projects were visual and because our group spanned the alphabetic range of both groups. I think the project successfully provoked the sort of discussion we hoped for, one that engaged the majority of the class and brought up this idea of ritual, engagement/disengagement, and egoism, among others. Ultimately, in the end I felt that we were successful in our endeavor but it felt as if we could have gone a bit further to radically effect the classroom space (perhaps by engaging the entire physical room in the tea party?).
The goal of our project was to intervene on the hierarchical, egoistic classroom setting and foster a more inclusive community experience in which the learning process could take place. Some people willingly joined us at our five tea party tables before we explained the project, yet few actually partook of tea and snacks, or of a conversation with their tablemates. It was not until Pedro asked, “Can we start?” that the tea party really was allowed to begin. At that point people began drinking and eating.
I do not think that people’s hesitation to participate marks a lack of success on our part. As we said in class, people’s decisions to join or not join are what help make the piece. Watching how the tea party transpired was research, even, about how such a rigidly utilized space, with its unspoken rules of behavior and etiquette, can be very hard to change. The altered space had little effect on those who chose to reject it and instead attend to their laptops or cell phones.
Creating a true difference in classroom interaction may not be possible simply through changing the way the room looks and where one subsequently sits. It would be interesting to attempt different kinds of interventions to see which had the greatest effect on behavior. Setting the room up as a living room with sofas, easy chairs, and lamps would force people to be closer to one another, but would it change their behaviors?
I agree with Bill’s comment that we could have done more with the work aesthetically. It would have looked better if each table had a more fleshed out “theme” or environment to it, rather than a collection of cups and snacks on a tablecloth.
The project provoked a discussion that ended up consuming almost an hour of class time, and overall I think it was a success because it challenged students to not only behave differently, but to think and talk about why they do certain things in certain environments.
In my opinion, the tea party accurately reflected the egotistical environment of the class. While some students chose to participate, many abstained, indicating existing tensions between students unwilling or unable to branch out and communicate with one another. In terms of the aesthetic of the piece, I feel that each tea setting reflected our individual tea rituals. Some settings were more elaborate, and some were minimalist, but the point of the exercise was to provide a forum for communication within the classroom, and in this, it was successful. I talked to two students whom I had never met. I believe that with a few more tries, this exercise could lead to a more relaxed, comfortable classroom environment that would cater to deeper individual expression.
First, I don’t think it is useful for us to look at our project in this success/failure binary. I know I have contributed to some of the rhetoric, but the project is too multifaceted to be summarized in a totality.
I do agree with Anne that some student’s failures to participate mark a point we were suggesting, as does Bill and Pedro’s articulation of the project. In this sense, we cannot judge these aspects as necessary failures or successes but research interests and hypotheses proven or not proved (in this case, proved) (but even this binary is too strict). If we view our project as research, then it was a process of discovery. But obviously our different approaches to this help frame our understanding of the project and we should all be careful to note our differences in approaching the project.
Andrew is exactly right. Just because not everyone participated does not make our project a failure. In fact, the result is arguably more interesting because so many students chose to not take part in our ritual. This project is just the tip of the iceberg, really. To further our research (as Andrew put it), we could conduct similar rituals in our different classes (Economics 51, anyone?) or even better articulate our vision for a tea party in our class.
5 different colored tablecloths
2 teakettles (portable)
Cranberry Orange Scones
1 Cantonese tea set
Finger sandwiches (homemade)
15 tea bags
10/31, 1.00 pm, Smith Warehouse: Rehearse tea party in classroom setting.
11/1, 2.00 pm, Super Target: Purchase any outstanding supplies
11/2, 2.30 pm, Smith Warehouse, Arrive early to set up tea party
11/2, 2.50 pm, Smith Warehouse, Begin tea party ritual