The issue of inclusiveness is an extremely important one. Diversity within the classroom and society is a reality, and as educators it is our job to education all of our students. Obviously, we cannot eliminate every struggle that our students have that make it difficult for them to learn. However, Claude M. Steele in Whistling Vivaldi makes a strong case that there are many things we can do to reduce one type of struggle: stereotype threat, which many of our students may suffer from.It is interesting and convenient that many of the things he mentions as being effective against stereotype threat are good teaching practices in general, such as having “positive relationships with students,” and “child-centered teaching.” I also found it very helpful to hear about some of the ways our TA’s and professor for Contemporary Pedagogy reach out to students to assure them that their class will be an inclusive space.
In addition to how we interact with students and manage our classrooms, we can also emphasize inclusiveness through our course material itself, at last in some disciplines. Steele mentions including class material that reflects the experiences of different identity groups as a possible remedy to stereotype threat. This may not be very relevant in some classes, but I am in a social science field (applied economics) and I can see how economic theory may turn some students off due to its rigidity and lack of multiple viewpoints. Economic theory has a tendency to emphasize rational decision making, efficiency, and individual actions over all else. For a student who has experienced discrimination or comes from a low-income family background or simply sees the many ways in which our lives are dominated by factors outside of our own personal actions, it may be difficult to reconcile his or her experiences with this view of the world.
In reality, the field of economics is evolving and a lot of economic research examines discrimination, inequality, and other issues that all types of students may find interesting and relevant. But, students rarely learn any of this until upper-level undergraduate courses, at least. I think it would be better for earlier students of economics to hear criticisms of theory, varied applications of economic tools, and ways social institutions can be included in economic models to make them more realistic and relevant to all students’ lives. They should also be exposed to research and theories by people of different genders, race, religion, etc. Currently the only names anyone hears in at least the first five semesters of econ are of dead British guys.
I believe that this is important for several reasons. Many students take one or two econ courses as freshmen. Many of these students will hate economics based on these classes, or see its many faults without seeing its usefulness. By teaching in a more inclusive way and opening up discussions to differing viewpoints and criticisms, more students will take an interest in economics. This could lead to greater diversity within the field, which would mean better and broader research and theories because they would reflect a greater range of experiences and interests. It would also broaden the minds of even the students that never take another econ class.
This brings us back to many other themes we have explored in this class and that I have explored in my blog. Emphasizing inclusiveness in our classroom is not only morally the right thing to do (in my opinion), it gives our students a better education and helps address the question “What is the purpose of education?” Is the purpose of school to teach you to do well in the workplace? Well, workplaces are becoming more diverse so students need to be able to work with diverse groups of people. Is the purpose of school to enrich your life? Well, exposure to more perspectives offers better opportunities for this. Is the purpose of school to teach the future generation how to fix the world’s problems? It seems to me that, in order to fix the world’s problems, we need everyone on board. As teachers, it’s part of our job to make that happen. It does our students, and our society, a disservice to include only a few voices in our classroom.