Blog 84

What’s in a Name? Course Design Bootcamps and the Need for a Non-Violent Language of Pedagogy

Markus Reisenleitner, Department of Humanities

Figure 1: U.S. Army recruits practice bayonet fighting skills at Fort Benning, Georgia in March 2004. Photo: U.S. Army PFC David Foley. Public Domain. Source:

Figure 2: Officer Candidate School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. 8 July 2009. John Kennicutt, U.S. Marine Corps. Public Domain. Source:

Boot camp

1 : a navy or marine corps camp for basic training

2 : a disciplinary facility or program in which young offenders are forced to participate in a rigidly structured routine

3 : a place or undertaking that resembles a military boot camp especially by requiring one to endure intensive training or initiation


This blog post stems from an email conversation I had with Celia Popovic when the Teaching Commons announced their “course design boot camp” for Dec 6, 2017, “an intensive workshop … [on] the process and principles of good course design, assessment and feedback, active learning and engagement strategies” ( Coming from a country where military service is still compulsory and having undergone military boot camp as a conscripted teenager, this description — a pedagogical event as a boot camp — not only conjured up somewhat distressing memories (which, I am fully aware, pale in comparison with others’ experiences with the military and armed conflict). The invitation to this event also made me aware that I would never attend something calling itself a boot camp and motivated me to challenge the use of this metaphor in an educational context and advocate for questioning aggressive language in pedagogy in order to actively promote peace education.

A military bootcamp, the vernacular reference to basic training, is designed to shape the behaviour of recruits and facilitate the exertion of violence towards designated enemies. It involves the suppression of individuality and personal space, development of physical skills, and insertion into strictly hierarchical structures of command, a model that has also been used in correctional contexts. Obviously, it does not describe what constitutes the educational context of a university.

One could argue that the word has now lost its military connotation and been applied to a much wider context. Apple calls its software for booting Windows on a Mac “Boot Camp”, Queen’s University is offering “dissertation bootcamps” (, and the term is widely used in fitness and computer-training environments. However, language is not innocent, and words and metaphors are not separable from their lineages and connotations. Arguably, both the fitness and the coding contexts use boot camp precisely because of its associations with a macho culture of toughness and aggression that connects it to its military origins. Used in an educational context, such metaphorical use of language would seem to promote an imaginary of teaching as training that privileges intensity, efficiency, strength, behaviour modification, and outcome orientation over dialogue, empathy, and attention to individual concerns, circumstances and speeds of learners. A critical pedagogy that is based on principles of dialogue and empathy needs to be not only cognizant and sensitive to metaphors of violence and aggression but, I would argue, reflect on the wider implications of such metaphors becoming widespread and commonsensical in a global context of nations displaying their power in military parades and promoting a rhetoric of brawn and toughness while showing disdain for marginalized and less privileged groups. A sensitivity to the language of violence, and the violence of language, is a crucial and necessary step towards creating safe educational environments that are conducive to nurturing mutual respect and the appreciation of difference and diversity, and in which military and colonial metaphors, such as “conquering issues”, “being at the front line”, or “attacking problems”, have no place, or at least give us pause.

I noticed that the Teaching Commons is no longer using the term boot camp, and I appreciate that it takes interventions seriously. I also appreciate how difficult it is to avoid using terminology that is widely used and becomes part of discursive formations. We all find ourselves using phrases whose implications and connotations we are not fully aware of. Training oneself in the hermeneutic suspicion of the language of the everyday, and challenging it when needed, is an ongoing, but necessary process.

Return to blog homepage

3 comments on “Blog 84

  1. Excellent! Thank you for this. I have no actual military experience, but my imagination is sufficient; and every time I hear these military phrases used in relation to teaching I definitely get my back up. Another phrase I often hear in this regard is “in the trenches”. I much prefer your image of dialogue and empathy to that of faculty and students as enemies.

    1. I don’t think I, or any of my colleagues in the Teaching Commons, ever think of, or position, faculty and students as enemies! The term ‘boot camp’ is often used in training and professional development circles in the same way that the term is used in personal fitness circles – to indicate an intensive focus on something. Once Markus pointed out that this could be regarded as an offensive term we stopped using it. I thought his point was so interesting that I invited him to write this blog. That is the wonderful, and challenging, thing about language – connotations and inferences can differ between different people depending in part on experience and perspective.

  2. Thanks for this. Using military terms so casually really contributes to making activities like “boot camp” seem like a good, even an admirable thing – classic process of normalization.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *