In finishing the 2018 pedagogy course, it’s great to re-affirm the role of people-feelings within the realm of academia, be it research or instruction. It’s easy to become lost to the allure of pure, cold logic, the belief that things have definitive beginnings and definitive endings, that facts may be readily discerned with absolute certainty. Yet reading Parker Palmer’s piece shows an entirely different side to explore. Research and instruction alike are both voluntary and fallible: what may be discovered is forever limited by time and technology, what may be learned by the limitations of focus and recall. It’s important then that we draw our gaze as much to why as we would to how, that we shine our narrow vision on those gaps most worth knowing. It’s important then that, even when limited by institutional directives, we remember our true, original spirit of study, that which we dreamed about as children and which survives within us today. There’s much momentum in life which cannot be resisted, but all can be guided, and by integrating emotion into the driest, most tiring of fields, we can find and share that which is worth knowing and steer the course of the development of worthwhile knowledge for those the follow us in time.

Humanities and Real-World Needs!

I was reading Dan Edelstein’s piece about how humanities can contribute to knowlege economy. He argues that increased innovation and entrepreneurship skills are two main practical results of studying humanities. While he tries to justify how humanities can be beneficial to the real-world economy and development, I believe without humanistic training most of our solutions to problems will be technical and very likely “unsustainable”.

To support my argument, I provide an example from development world. Consider a situation in Afghanistan, where experts (from medical and engineering fields) find out that in a certain village, access to tap water is limited and women have to come out of their houses for washing dishes, clothes and etc. SO the experts say: They do not have access to water, we will give them tap water! With the help of international funds and thanks to their expertise, the NGOs provide every house in the village with clean tap water.

After a week or two, the NGO members observe that women are again frequenting to the wells instead of using the water at home! After investigating and interviewing with the “final users” the experts understand “finally” that going to wells, is the only way for these women to communicate with their outside world. These women do not want to use the tap water by paying the heavy price of missing the opportunity to go out of their houses and to mingle with other women! In this example, if the NGO leaders and experts had integrated people with humanities background, the process would have probably taken another form. One would have probably asked in the first place, what is the “problem” and from whose perspective? Based on the real consumers’ culture, history, religion and even language how we should address such problem.

In conclusion, I believe more than enhancing entrepreneurship and innovation as Edelstein mentions, humanities practical value in real-world projects is in their close and deep understanding of “humans” as the final goal of many projects seeking to bring “positive change”/ increasing quality of “life”!

Evolving Critical Pedagogy

Below is a culmination of a Jigsaw Activity about Critical Pedagogy from Freire and Hooks texts. This blog post is a group activity from authors: Mary Nedela, Luisa Burgos, Alireza Farzampour, Armin Yeganeh, Brittany Hoover, James Schlitt, and Britton Hipple. DEFINE: Critical pedagogy is the ability to teach dynamically, collaboratively, and innovatively to humanize students … Continue reading Evolving Critical Pedagogy

Are we all good ol’ racists?

While reading a piece about Shankar Vedantam’s new book “the Hidden Brain” I was thinking “NO! This is wrong! I was not at all racist when I was 3… cause there was no other race in Iran…” To be more precise, we (Iranian students) usually have a hard time understanding what race is when filling out application forms for US universities (I sometimes categorized myself as Asian and sometimes as white)! But after a while pondering about racism, I thought well, we do not have racism in its classic meaning of othering the other ‘races’, BUT we do have many discriminatory behaviors (and policies unfortunately) toward a large number of minority groups in our country namely Afghan Refugees”.

The point is, even if we have not formed the associations between certain groups of people and the concepts about them (simply because we have not had the chance of it), it does not necessarily means we are not bigots, as a Persian proverb says “He doesn’t see any water; otherwise, he is a skilled swimmer.”

I totally agree with Shankar when he emphasizes on taking back the control of our brain by unlearning our mental associations consciously and conscientiously. This would be a difficult process for everyone of us, since as we grow up we lean more and more towards our autopilot brain functions and as Shankar puts it “… the hidden brain is much more in charge of what we do than our conscious mind’s intentions”. This, in my view,  is everyone of us responsibility at individual level.

What I find lacking in this article, is how society as a whole should move towards eradicating racism. The structural inequalities must be addressed in order to give back minorities and the oppressed their voice and power. When world powers, their policies, media and social structures at national and international level are constantly shaping an unequal, prejudice and hateful global culture (e.g. toward Muslims/Jews/Arabs/etc.), do individual efforts suffice? I say NO!

Red Queens in Inclusive Pedagogy

Inclusivity is a challenging subject to discuss at times as societal morality presents a constantly moving target. The common playground insults of yesteryear become the room-silencing slurs of today. In turn, technical terms for uncomfortable subjects segue to playground insults and require routine maintenance every couple of years. This is largely great, it’s becoming more and more taboo to label individuals by aspects of their self beyond their own personal choice, and I’m sincerely curious how long it will be until pejoratives describing rural populations fall out of favor. As morality shifts more and more, we suddenly come to view each previous generation as selfish and barbaric, casting ourselves as the temporary heirs of a more civilized age. Inevitably, these positions too are shown to be folly and morality will generally continue forward as we realize and communicate more of our mistakes. As such, any statement specifically anchored to the accepted morality of a given time and circumstance runs the risk of coming off extremely tone-deaf in short order. In writing this, I question if tone-deaf is even an appropriate term.

No matter how woke you may (desire to) be, you have to run as fast as you can to stay where you are. And in a world where real, actual Nazis exist as a cultural force once more we need to keep up the pace. The notable social progress in our discourse in the last five years has triggered an equal if not greater retraction in opposition. Per the cliche, everyone is the hero of their own story, and many find it just so much easier to see oneself as a steadfast hero of free speech, beset on all sides by snowflakes than to see themselves as out of touch with time and society.

The benefits of inclusivity in academia are clear and can be selfishly justified with no presumption of altruism. We take the best and brightest from all over the world and pay them a bare necessities salary during 2-5  of the most creative, most hardworking years of their career. The question then becomes, how do we conduct inclusive pedagogy to reach both sides of the aisle, all the while functioning within our own implicit biases? For this I lean heavily upon two simple rules: don’t be a *jerk, and understand that you just might not get it, and that’s okay.

I take don’t be a *jerk from the Team Rubicon code of conduct. Team Rubicon is disaster relief organization that’s built upon a beautiful lie – that their primary business is disaster relief. While they perform admirably well in serving disaster afflicted populations, their true, unspoken mission is to rehabilitate afflicted service members. Team Rubicon deliberately recruits veterans struggling to re-adjust to civilian life and gives them a high energy, high adrenaline environment where their martial skills and dedication are useful once more. By pairing new members working to get well with elder members who have been there before they create a natural support group for those carrying hidden wounds. Given such preconditions, I was really surprised to see what a memorable and timeless code of conduct they chose to unite under. We might not realize all the ways we’re beings jerks, and no system of rules can ever keep up with our increasing awareness as a society, but if you start simple, it’s easy to maintain and build a solid foundation.

Second, is that sometimes, I just wont get it. This I take from an episode of South Park in which Stan repeatedly tries to apologize for the blunders of his father, growing more and more off-message with each attempt. Finally, after failing in every attempt to understand and right this wrong, Stan finally realizes that he’s failing because he just doesn’t get it, and he never will. There’s a lot of beauty in layers to this. From the ivory tower perspectives of academia, it’s easy to imagine that all knowledge is tangible and may be readily extracted given the right hooks. Falling into this line of thinking with regards to inclusivity risks discounting one’s entire lifetime of lived experience and private struggles. At the end of the day, somewhere in our selves, we all have some deep wound, some pernicious injury, some hole that we will spend the rest of our lives trying to fill. We can never truly understand what experiences one is carrying looking from the outside in, it’s showing that we’re willing to listen, to accept, and that we care enough that we will strive to do better, even though we don’t always get it.

These rules are simple, they don’t cover everything, but they are robust and generalizeable. Following these has led me well as a framework, and they contain a pure and simple enough truth that they may be disseminated readily – please do.

*Not the original wording.


Dismantling Racism in Education

For this week’s bog, I listened (and read the transcript) the Dismantling Racism in Education podcast. This podcast resonates with me on so many levels. The interview takes place with Dr. Cornelius West & three Heinemann Fellows (Sonja Ahmed, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Cornelius Minor).

While this entire transcript is mesmerizing and memorable, the part that sticks out to me the most is the section that states,” Racism looks like teaching children that race doesn’t matter when in fact race does matter, to borrow from Dr. Cornell West. When we teach kids these sort of canned narratives that race doesn’t matter, we’re all the same, we’re all equal, there really needs to be a paradigm shift where we’re teaching our children race does matter in this society. It shouldn’t, but it does. And for some of your peers and for some citizens, they’re having a very different experience because of the color of their skin. In our household, we see that as unjust and unfair and we are pushing back against that, but it’s important for you to know that as you are going to school and celebrating the uniqueness’s of your peers. That racism is real and it does matter in this society because there are people who make it matter. I wish that was the narrative that parents were taking in their homes and then teachers can pick up in schools, in developmentally appropriate ways to help kids understand this.” (source: Dismantling Racism in Education)

This resonates me on SO MANY LEVELS! As a child, I was taught that in order to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as they (read: white) people are. I didn’t understand this thought until my senior year of high school where I was told that I should consider trade school or community college but don’t expect to advance any further than that. (side note: and now here I stand about to graduate with a MASTER’S DEGREE! Look at me now!). I didn’t understand what it meant to be a Black woman in today’s society, particularly in higher education, until I began my collegiate career. The ivory towers are not built for me, in fact, they’re built to keep people who look like me out. So much of the word that I live in, the 21st century, is not built to support me and my salient identities. Race does matter unfortunately. If it didn’t matter, many of the hardships and trails that we as African/African American/People of Color face would’t be real challenges for us.

I always find it interesting to listening to my white peers and colleagues discuss their experiences both in the academy and in the world. Often they face their own set of trails, but I’ve never heard of them not being served at a restaurant in 2018 simply because of the color of their skin, or being pulled over and handcuffed while their possessions are searched, or being declined a job interview once the interviewers realized that they were a person of color. As much as we may want to turn a blind eye to racism and say that it doesn’t exist, it does. And the people in power (read: politicians, college presidents, CEOs/CFOs, etc.) who have the opportunity to change this, don’t. Why? I don’t think there’s one clear cut answer, but from my experience, a lot of the thinking is that this is the way that it’s always been done and as such, why rock the boat?

As higher education professionals (bth student affairs professionals and faculty), I believe that we can begin to dismantle the system from within the ivory towers. We have a responsibility to our students to engage them, teach them, broaden their horizons and perspectives. We cannot allow students to remain the same as they did when they walked through our doors. Although we cannot control the outcome, it is our responsibility to at least have a call to action for our students. It’s our responsibility to bring in the omitted narratives, to bring forth the truth in our classroom, to stretch our students minds. Often, college is one of the few if not the only place this is allowed to happen. I challenge my peers to think about what they can do to disrupt the system and begin to dismantle racism in the academy and in education holistically.

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