What I have been proposing is a profound respect for the cultural identity of students, a cultural identity that implies respect for the language of the other, the color of the other, the gender of the other, the class of the other, the sexual orientation of the other, the intellectual capacity of the other; that implies the ability to stimulate the creativity of the other. But these things take place in a social and historical context and not in pure air. Freire, 1997.
All people define situations as real; but when powerful people define situations as real, then they become real for everybody involved in their consequences. Mehan, 1999
All education is political and no teacher is objective. In keeping with Lorraine Code’s (1991) question, “From whose subjectivity does the ideal of objectivity come? (p. 70),” I identify my teaching agenda as changing the way students see themselves in relation to the world around them. I want to enable students to see more complexity in their social arrangements and to recognize themselves as positioned in dynamic relation to their social environment. It is my hope that from this deeper vision will come more complex questions and accordingly, more complex analysis and courses of action. Thus my goals as a teacher are to help students develop the competencies of critical self-reflection, multicultural awareness, and interpersonal skills that may enable them to act against social injustice and promote greater inclusion in their lives and professions.
Understanding how sociopolitical power differentially shapes development builds a framework for our exploration. We start with the self and move outward, rather than studying the “other”, a practice that objectifies others and reinforces a sense of neutrality and normalcy in members of dominant groups. Using a feminist theoretical perspective, our emphasis is less on whether or not something is true, but rather on how the questions we ask function socio-politically. This approach hones critical thinking skills and opens access to alternative discourses.
Given that the courses I teach primarily address power relations and ask students to locate themselves personally in these relations, I have found it critical to lay a firm and supportive framework for class discussions. Seeing myself as a facilitator as much as a teacher, I do not foster an environment in which students debate one another’s perspectives. Instead I use a set of behavioral guidelines that are designed to encourage dialogue. I also address the emotional dimension of learning and promote the use of emotional responses as maps for self-awareness. I have found that laying this groundwork enables us to challenge dominant discourses in ways that are most constructive for all.
We each view the world through the lenses of our multiple social locations, and I understand myself as personally engaged in a learning process alongside my students. I strive to think and work collaboratively, utilize the resources of my colleagues, be open to new pedagogy and be willing to make mistakes in the pursuit of my growth as a teacher. I have extensive experience teaching in diverse teams and find that team teaching is a very effective model, for it challenges instructors to: practice collaboration across different social locations; provides students with a wider range of perspectives and expertise and; calls upon teachers to model the values of multicultural practice. However, whether I am teaching alone or with a team, I strive to practice what I teach and utilize the classroom as a dynamic learning space for all.
Code, L. (1991). What can she know?: Feminist theory and the construction of knowledge. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the Heart. New York: Seabury.
Mehan, H. (1999). Oracular reasoning in a psychiatric exam: The resolution of conflict in language. In A Jaworski and N. Coupland (Eds). The discourse reader.Â London: Routledge.