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Book Spotlight: Creating Captivating Classes: A Guide for Kink, Sexuality, and Relationship Presenters

The Why

I purchased Creating Captivating Classes: A Guide for Kink, Sexuality, and Relationship Presenters by Shay and Stefanos Tiziano for several reasons. First, the table of contents suggested a huge range of teaching topics covered throughout the book. The depth and breadth of topics captured my attention because many introductory teaching books I see focus on specific areas of teaching, but rarely cover all the topics one would want. I have yet to see a catchall guide to teaching that seemingly accounts for every aspect of teaching. Second, many of the contributors to the book were familiar to me from other books, online articles, podcasts, and social media. I wondered what perspective these individuals could bring to how I thought about the theory and practice of teaching. Third, I wondered how kink/relationship/sexuality instructors approached and discussed the perennial hot topics (in academic circles, at least) of trigger warnings, consent, and relationships with students. Lastly, I enjoy books tackling pedagogy from perspectives well-beyond the teaching of literature or writing. I believe in the sound pedagogical advice of beg, borrow, and steal good teaching ideas from anywhere– an idea I saw posted on Twitter, where I stole it. Plus, the nearly 500 page book is a steal at around $15. 

Audience and My Own Bias

I’m not the intended audience for Creating Captivating Classes. I’m an academic with extensive experience teaching writing and literature. I tackled the book like an academic with a teaching interest. (I tackle all my books in the same way.) I paged through the book. I examined the book’s structure by reviewing the chapters and their subheadings. I explored the notes, sources, and listed additional resources. Immediately I noticed the cited sources didn’t get into the weeds of pedagogical theory. PALS readers will not see many of the sources we might think of canonical. Yes, the absence of such works made me tilt my head with caution. Sure, a few pieces from the Chronicle here and there. Pedagogy of the Oppressed appears in one appendix, along with several works on anti-racist pedagogy, anti-racist topics, and resources on inclusion and diversity. There, you’ll see some well-known recent works on those topics, too.

My initial head tilt eventually reminded me of one reason we started PALS. Much of Creating Captivating Classes draws from the first-hand experiences of the authors and interview contributors. Teaching scholarship often exempts first-hand classroom experience. Often the privilege of classroom expertise derives from semester after semester of teaching. Yes, our contributors’ work roots itself in pedagogical theory, but ultimately the source material for our posts comes from what we tried, what worked, and what did not work. In my initial examination of the Creating Captivating Classes I forgot one of the core philosophical elements of why we created our site. PALS privileges first-hand experience by providing a space for it, and acknowledging the value of that first-hand experience. Also, in the year of our lord the Long 2020… Let us not forget that not everyone had access to a research library, let alone databases, with troves of pedagogical scholarship. And by us, I mean me.

Our readership appreciates PALS because of our personalized takes on the classroom experience. The more I read of Creating Captivating Classes, the more I saw why people appreciate that forward and honest approach we take. The interviews included in Creating Captivating Classes, more than a dozen stand alone interviews, on top of pull quotes liberally sprinkled throughout the book, situate topics within each contributors’ teaching and lived experience. The personal aspect gives power to subjects like cultural appropriation, land acknowledgments, anti-racism, consent, trigger warnings, and trauma-informed teaching.

Audience and Purpose

Creating Captivating Classes serves as a guide for educators presenting on topics related to kink, sexuality, and relationships. The book tailors itself towards individuals turning that teaching into a full-time or part-time career. The book covers topics beyond the fundamentals of the instructional and classroom experience. Creating Captivating Classes is one part practical application of the mechanics of all facets of the classroom experience, and one part professionalization guide. As a whole, the breadth and depth of topics covered by Creating Captivating Classes receives better holistic coverage than books assigned in any of the introduction to graduate studies, research methods, or pedagogy courses I took as a graduate student.  

Audience with a Difference

The authors note that differences exist between kink education and vanilla education. I think it worth quoting their words on the topic: 

“There are definitely ways in which ‘vanilla’ (nonkink/nonsexuality) teaching expertise can behoove you, but there are crucial differences between the types of presentations we’re focusing on in this book and classes in a traditional school or work environment. These include the level of entertainment expected, factors specific to kink and sexuality demonstrations and hands-on activities, context, length, and environment.” (10-11). 

Yes, there is an element of apple and oranges in comparing vanilla teaching with the teaching covered in this book. However, after reading the book I say that an orange and tangerine comparison is more on the mark. The more of Creating Captivating Classes I read, the more connections I saw between vanilla teaching and the teaching covered by the book. The biggest difference that I saw was the openness of the authors’ consideration of teaching as firmly rooted in work. Work that deserves compensation. We teach for a job, for money. We don’t often acknowledge teaching is done for a paycheck. The openness with which Creating Captivating Classes addresses compensation and work reflects the biggest difference in audience. The authors created a book focused on educators teaching for compensation. Economic considerations should inform the choices we make about teaching, too.  

Additionally, the authors note that vanilla teaching differs from the teaching discussed in the book because of the role played by “edutainment.” The authors go with the assumption that their audience is creating courses for people that want to be there. The “edutainment” perspective does color the teaching advice in Creating Captivating Classes, but it did not undercut the soundness of the book’s teaching advice. In fact, college instructors might find it helpful considering the role of edutainment given the outsized influence of the student as customer model infecting higher education. Hell, look at the questions common to teaching evaluations, which often reflect a customer mindset. 

Good Teaching Practices are Good Teaching Practices

As far as a comprehensive teaching guide, regardless of subject focus, the book is one of the best I’ve seen. Creating Captivating Classes covers many important practical topics neglected in my pedagogy classes. Hell, many of these topics went unaddressed by mentors when I shadowed classes. I’m not saying there isn’t a handy all-in-one reference for teaching, but I’ve yet to see one single book that hits the range of topics Creating Captivating Classes addresses. Much of what I learned on the fly over the years– picked up from conversations with fellow teachers, picked up from blogs, or picked from Twitter– often picked up by chance and never part of my professional training as an instructor– sees coverage in Creating Captivating Classes. The openness and honesty of the topics covered stands out, not only the range. The book addresses subjects that we don’t often see discussed honestly with a well-deserved vociferousness. Conferencing considerations? Sure. The drop occurring after teaching? Yes, that’s a thing. The difficulty of reading course evaluations? Yes, the book speaks to that subject, too. In our focus on theory we often don’t discuss these elements in a pedagogy class. These considerations might become second nature to many of us… and thanks to the curse of expertise (a concept, yes, covered in the book) we might not even mention these topics when acting as mentors for graduate students shadowing our own classes.

Creating Captivating Classes roots itself in good teaching fundamentals. The book covers concepts, ideas, and logistical classroom considerations that I wish I knew long before I set foot in the classroom. Topics that I didn’t know about or think about until years of reading blogs or hanging out on Twitter? Yup, Creating Captivating Classes covers that subject matter, too. Here are a few examples of the book’s areas of coverage. Backward design? Sure. Scaling classes based on their size? Sure. Dealing with problematic students? Sure. Creating a course title and description? That’s covered, too. The authors address countless examples of the “I wish I knew” nuts and bolts of teaching.

Some Topics Aren’t Debate

Teaching and ableism. Teaching and gender. Pronouns. Land acknowledgments. Considerations of race. Considerations of privilege. The ethics of teaching. Meaningful Conversations about these topics were never part of my formalized pedagogical training. The book is not the last word on these topics, but all these subjects, and more, receive coverage in this book.

And those subjects aren’t for debate. Yes, nuance exists regarding certain scene specific aspects, even between the interviews included in the book; the problematic use of Master/slave, for example. However, the subjects commonly serving as academic clickbait fight fodder in major higher education publications or on Twitter, well, those topics are not debatable. There is no hand-wringing. 

Perhaps these subjects aren’t a debate within this book because of the stakes involved within kink. For example, look at how Creating Captivating Classes frames their opening on trigger warnings. The authors note: “It’s important to include trigger and content warnings as applicable to your class content.” (145) The authors don’t open with are trigger warnings a good thing? It isn’t even a question because trigger warnings are a given. Trigger warnings are a responsible thing. Expected. Framing trigger warnings in this way gets to the heart of one way that (responsible and ethical) kink teaching differs from vanilla teaching: Academia still fights bad actors with reasoned arguments. Really, we should cut them out and cut them off. We put up with too many assholes in academia. I found it refreshing to read a book where topics are fundamental givens and not up for debate.

Don’t fuck students. Another foundational ethical element not presented as debatable in Creating Captivating Classes. Still, too many academics struggle with not engaging in intimate personal relationships with students. Consent and safety undergirds successful and healthy kink relationships, and consent and safety informs the framework of Creating Captivating Classes. Reading this book prompted my thinking about how the larger idea of consent works in the classroom, too. For instance, consider managing classroom discussions. College instructors often think of the quiet class as a problem in need of solving. Often we might consider solving that problem by drawing on our authority as instructors, often by leveraging punitive methods. I found the section on managing class discussion refreshing because it didn’t consider it as an adversarial problem that needed “solving.” If students don’t talk, then pivot your instructional mode based on that moment in the classroom. There can be many reasons why a class might not talk. We aren’t owed explanations of a person’s interiority. I think college instructors could benefit from considering many common classroom management situations within the context of consent, and that doesn’t mean compromising the work we do as instructors.

Standout Topics I Wish Someone Told Me About When I Started Teaching

I don’t want to cover everything in the book, but I do want to highlight several topics Creating Captivating Classes covers. Because I really wish I knew about them when I started teaching. Some of these topics apply to the classroom, presenting at conferences, and aspects of professionalization. Excuse the bullet point list!

Closing Thoughts

Creating Captivating Classes covers a wealth of teaching and professionalization topics. I wish that I could make mention of all of them. I am not the audience for the book. Our PALS audience is not the intended audience for the book. Regardless, this book stands out for all of the topics it covers, and the way the authors and the interviewees thoughtfully engage with the book’s subject matter. My new kink is wishing that one day we might see a comprehensive book like Creating Captivating Classes written expressly for teaching in the humanities. I highly recommend the book, I know academics aren’t the target audience, but if the book sounds of interest to you, then consider getting a copy.

Note: Creating Captivating Classes can be purchased through Wicked Grounds and Amazon. Also, check out Stefanos and Shay on this episode of the American Sex Podcast. The episode is an excellent overview of their book. Their interview features extensive comments on topics like teaching (of course), compensation, ethics, the value of introductory classes, some PALS love, kink, and more.