Philosophy of Teaching
As an instructor my aim is to motivate students towards a more comprehensive personal exploration of themselves and the world in which they live. This happens as students are empowered to read, reflect, discuss, and contemplate a) their individual and collective location within concepts, constructs, and possibilities b) history as it presents itself, c) ideas and action as they manifest. I anchor my pedagogy in three principles. Where do you come from? Where are you going? What makes for a good life? In my classroom we are all students and we are all teachers. Each one of us has a perspective that can inform and advance the other’s point of view. Building on conceptual understandings of the classic classroom text, individuals bring traditions, practices, and habits informed by family and community. I am asking students to turn the lens inward and establish context for the way they receive and interpret content. Only by understanding (and embracing) oneself with a clearer eye can one understand the social construction of the world at large, and only by participating in that world can one hope to exercise a true and lasting (positive) influence.
Where Do You Come From?
Critical thinking requires practice, but this is only one of the skills we focus on throughout the semester. In order to think critically about something individuals and collectives must observe the location from which they are situated. For example, if a student says, “Muslim women are oppressed,” we would first inquire from what position are you viewing Muslim women? Are you American? European? Male? Female? What is your religion? Have you met any Muslim women? Rigorous and repetitious acts of self-inquiry form patterns that facilitate self-awareness. By becoming more aware of patterns, habits, and emotional responses, the student’s intellect begins to blossom and expand. The first step for any sociological inquiry (or I argue any inquiry whatsoever) must be to actually see one’s situational perspective. The goal is not to annihilate positionality but to recognize it. Once the eyes begin to open the mind can turn to more expansive ways of thinking. Throughout the act of “noticing” it is important to emphasize the connections and associations we forge in addition to the disagreements. Weaving associations between diverse ideas is as powerful a skill as critique analysis. Therefore our goal is twofold–to see and be open to connection, and then to critique. We are constantly engaged in the practice of viewing the thing from all sides. We do this by continually examining our “position” through response papers, guided discussions, small groups, and oral reports.
Where Are You Going?
Before one can determine where one is going there must be general exposure to multiple locations, possibilities, and intellectual fare. The class becomes a new community from which to learn. In this environment we generate an atmosphere of respect, support and enthusiasm. Using traditional texts, discussions, films, YouTube, blogs, and social media, students are engaged in the act of observing the theory and practice of a subject both in the world and in the academy. Together we explore current and classic topics from multiple perspectives. This is the metaphorical map that reveals pathways that will have appeal for some, while different tracts will appeal to others. But, in this phase we will all be exploring together. Our books will be open, our flashlights on, our computers lit, and collectively we will weave our way through the great histories of thought. I use works of performance, art, and visual interpretations to enhance literary texts. We are continually asking — where are we now, how are gender, race, and class enacted, who is saying what, what is their position, what is my location?
What Makes For A Good Life?
School is the place where we theorize about how we will practice our lives. Through repetition, exploration, and evaluation individuals determine how the humanities, presented in the interdisciplinary forum of the academy, will impact future decision-making. The question becomes how do I want to live my life, and what constitutes a good life? As students grow in responsibility and accountability, they will use their comprehensive capacity to enact these future experiences. I advocate that one should remain a student throughout life. I argue that asking questions, engaging in thoughtful discussion, forging connections while thinking critically about one’s engagement contain the ingredients for a happy and meaningful life. I encourage students to take their knowledge, the knowledge body we have created together, and that they have internalized, and turn it towards creating good in the world.
Throughout the semester students have been sensitized to their “origins of place” within the world, including emotional, traditional, familial, regional, gendered, race, and class perspectives. They have practiced examining these, and they have been exposed to classic theory, and been asked to examine this theory through a connected/critical lens. Finally, through practice– presentations, community action, written word, discussion, and evaluation, they are poised with the tools they will need to remember how their conscious actions contribute to the creation the next generation of an active and engaged humanity.