The Theoretical Impact of an Inclusive Classroom in Saudi Arabia

Currently, the classroom situation in Saudi Arabia is segregated between men and women. Women are the disadvantaged group, with less access to resources and more hardship endured while obtaining an education. But, what if the concept of an inclusive pedagogy were introduced in the Saudi education system?

Inclusive pedagogy, as I understand it, is a classroom where the students and teacher cater learning that reaches all students, despite background, style of learning, and ability so that the classroom is a social justice charged, supportive, open environment. The main objective is to create a classroom that allows students to feel like they belong and that they are all equally valued.

The first step towards introducing an inclusive classroom is through integration of the genders in the learning environment. Traditionally, women are not seen as equal in the eyes of society, as well as the law. But more recently has there been a push to bridge that gap and women have started to feel closer to equals with their male counterparts. However, there are still inequalities that women face, and one of those is education. By introducing integration in the classroom, women and men are able to interact, allowing for introduction of more idea exchange and enhanced discussions. The application of an inclusive pedagogy excels that discussion through more progressive ideology and the emphasis on equality for all students. Classroom integration, in theory, would prove vital in promoting social justice and furthering equality for women in Saudi Arabia.

Despite the beginning of bridging the gap between men and women in Saudi Arabia, there is still going to be traditionalist and conservative people who will be against the idea of inclusivity. The desegregation of the classroom would cause backlash from those against the idea, and possibly spark protesting, boycotting, and even extremes like intimidation and violence. This could prevent students from attending classes both because it goes against their beliefs or they are afraid to go to class.

The idea of an inclusive pedagogy in Saudi education could be beneficial and provoke further conversation towards social justice and equality. On the other end, there is still a lot of change that needs to occur in the traditional mindset and in the society, both in Saudi Arabia and the world as a whole to allow the ideas of social justice and inclusivity into not only the classroom, but into the culture.

Being “impartial” and how it has the opposite effect

This week’s readings and podcasts kept reminding me of that phrase you might hear someone say “I don’t see race; I treat everyone the same.” The idea of being impartial when applied to teaching students does seem great. All students are taught the same, they learn the same, and they are all given the same opportunity to achieve. Unfortunately, this is only an ideal case. Going back to Dr. Brandy Faulkner’s discussion of the null curriculum, by treating all students the same and ignoring their social identities (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and their intersections), we ignore what make each student unique, ignore the experiences the students have, and ignore how these experiences affect the way the students learn. In STEM fields, this mode of thought seems especially prevalent, as the material is viewed as being right or wrong with little grey area. Therefore, it is viewed as an area of education that can be taught the same regardless of the student’s identity, when that is not the case.

One concept I try to keep in mind for my teaching philosophy is that every student has their own “funds of knowledge,” or experiences, abilities, and past learned information that a student draws from in order to dissect, comprehend, and learn new material. I have typically seen this term applied towards English-language-learner students (I think I first read it in Vélez-Ibáñez and Greenberg, 1993), but I think it can be applied to any social identity or experience a student has. In terms of applying it towards teaching, it boils down to trying to get to know your students and what experiences they have had. This can be tricky, as not every identity is extremely salient/visible, you don’t want to just outright ask what struggles a student has had, and as mentioned int he Heinemann podcast, it shouldn’t be the responsibility of those of a marginalized identity to educate the masses. But I’ve found simple conversations with students before classes start or when they come to office hours can provide at least some insight. If one student talks about how they have been traveling home to work at the farm all the time, I can work a similar example into the labor management module of the class. Or if there are non-binary students in the class, including characters with gender neutral names and pronouns in case studies might provide some more engagement.

By being impartial and ignoring what funds of knowledge our students have, we will not be engaging them as well as we could and they won’t be learning as well as they could be. One concept that I’ve found appealing is the exact opposite: Multi-partiality. Instead of treating all of the students the same, an educator is partial to the multiple differences in their student population. In doing so, they can create more engagement in the classroom and build a stronger bond between the teacher and students. In larger classrooms, this can be very difficult, as we aren’t going to know everything about every student in a 400 person lecture. But small things that aren’t as specific but demonstrate you are inclusive of the diversity in the student community can go a long way. This could be including your pronouns on the syllabus, using examples from history that aren’t just white men, or providing time and resources to students in class to work on assignments to reduce socio-economic biases that are prevalent in the collegiate community. It’s probably unlikely we’ll be able to include every identity of every student and their intersection, but the effort to be inclusive will go farther than the effort of trying to be impartial.

Inclusive Pedagogy

I have listened to podcasts and read the articles about inclusive education, while I thinking about what I am going to post on this topic I realized how it is difficult to write about any topic related to racism. I found out a great tendency to avoid writing about this topic. Isn’t it interesting? I am making up my mind about what to write about why the education system needs to be inclusive; and at the same time, I have the fear of not to offending some people and the uncertainty of whether I am exclusive as well!!! Maybe some part of my fear is due to what  Shankar Vendantam explains in “The hidden brain” and I afraid that deep down I have some racial preference. Also, it might be due to the cultural difference between my country of origin and the U.S. as a multi-cultural country. Or maybe I have to study more about the boundaries and depth of inclusiveness to reduce my uncertainty.

Here is what I wanted to write briefly: I believe having a truly inclusive system requires time and consistent effort to be able to gradually change the unconscious biases of people. This cannot be achieved in a single day but a long investment is required to educate fair instructors to teach children how to deal with their unconscious preferences, which can be based on gender, race, abilities or even attractiveness. Meanwhile, the system has to protect individuals against others who take advantage of the privileges for both minorities and majorities. And this is what I do not know how can be actually feasible.


Week 8: Inclusive Pedagogy

The podcast “Dismantling Racism in Education” had a section at the start where one of the authors Cornelius goes into the constituent parts of the learning system and provides the example of “if only writing counts as work, the kids that are culturally predisposed to speaking…nets less in that system.” He goes on say that your particular culture and/or racial or ethnic background doesn’t allow for success. This reminded me of an experience I had as an English as a second language speaker back in grade school.

I started in the English Speakers for Other Languages program in the 1st grade and went to the ESOL classes that were scheduled a few times a week. I was stuck in this program until I went to middle school. As a quick learner, I was proficient in English very-quickly, but I felt that I was chained to the program. I excelled at the subjects taught whether it was history, science, math, or even English. I yearned for more to learn and more to do, but was unable to fill that void. This would have been offered by the “Gifted and Talented (GT)” Program at my school, but I was unable to join it. The reason cited for this was that I was still in ESOL and that I could not succeed or do well in it…It took me a long, long time to realize that this had even happened to me.


Shifting gears a little, as a teaching assistant and educator, I loved reading on open-minded, inclusive materials and how to utilize those. I am terrified about trying to incorporate these “difficult conversations” that may arise in my classroom from utilizing such material. Although there are tips provided on establishing guidelines and ground rules, a big fear of mine is that I will say something inappropriate without meaning to, or a heated argument will occur.

Understanding Diversity and Inclusion

As I started going through the readings assigned for the week to understand and dismantle the terminology “diversity and inclusion”, I am reminded of my experience of studying social sciences in India.  During my master’s education in India at the Tata Institute, several of my classmates were from various diverse backgrounds: gender, socio-economic,religious, linguistic, and historically marginalized communities and cultures. These students came from different geographical locations of India. Throughout the master’s program in Rural Development studies, we were required to talk about various socially sensitive issues which could result in emotive responses.

During the first week of the classes, to prepare us a class to grapple with socially sensitive issues we were both individually and in the groups, made to go through various “sensitivity” workshops. At that time I could n’t understand the rationale behind undergo these mandatory workshops, etc. After I have started teaching as an instructor in the U.S. who is a woman of color, petite, and has a foreign accent, I realize the importance of those workshops and my master’s education. These “sensitivity” workshops made me understand the criticality of knowing and understanding diversity. They played an integral role and set up the tone for the entire class during the Master’s program and for sure made the difference on our learnings as we grapple complex social issues. These learnings went with me a long way and contributed both personally and professionally in my growth.

We at Virginia Tech have tried to make our classes as inclusive as we can. We attend courses, workshops, scholarly talks, etc. which helps us to assemble various strategies and methods to make us class inclusive and better handle the sensitive issues in the class. These learnings have been very useful for me as I teach my classes as a woman of color with a foreign accent. But my experience of teaching also has made me realize the importance of the sensitivity workshop I had to undergo as a student during my Master’s program. Having said that, I strongly feel Virginia Tech has a large population of international students and so, considerable diversity. The onus of making a class inclusive should not be just on the instructor but also on the students. As a small suggestion, we should take a step further to make students enhance their learning experience by teaching them to cherish diversity on the campus. Maybe more workshops, seminars, and discussions around the university can help immensely both the instructor and the student to enhance their education.

(Lack of Understanding leads to Fear,) Fear leads to Anger, Anger leads to Hate…

Through our class readings (and listenings) this week I must say I really enjoyed some of the perspectives Mahzarin Banaji shared in ‘The Mind Is a Difference-Seeking Machine’. With most things, I often believe people’s thoughts/feelings/predispositions can be explained by better understanding either their experiences or how they look at and interact with the world around them. I think the same can be used, to some degree, to explain why people exhibit racist ideals or fail to practice inclusivity.

I kept finding myself thinking back to a cartoon I saw a few years ago made by Zen pencils illustrating a quote by Mark Twain, see below. Here an individual trades their idealized symbols of hate for momentos after traveling the world and expanding their narrow world-view through experiences and understanding. I think the last part is especially important, as understanding breaks barriers and builds bridges.

I believe Ms. Banaji agrees, as she commonly discusses how a lack of understanding leads to misconceptions and even hate. Taker her example from an Eastern European country where ‘a survey was done where they were given a nonsense name of a group and asked, “How much do you hate them? How much would you like them not to come to our country?” They got large numbers of people saying, “We don’t want them here, we really dislike them, they’re filthy and mean and nasty.” And they didn’t exist. That was a made-up name.’ A lack of understanding and familiarity allowed this made up group to become something to be feared and avoided, even though they didn’t exist.

I think it is human nature, some leftover survival mechanism, to be wary of the things we do not understand or are unfamiliar with. I also do not think it is inherently bad to be hesitant, as danger does exist. The same idea applies to why you don’t get in a car with a stranger, or why some people carry pepper spray with them – not everyone’s intentions are pure. I do not think anyone would disagree that terrorists (whether domestic or foreign) are bad people and are to be despised. The problem is when a minuscule fraction of a group is used to shape an opinion on the whole.

People like to put other people in groups, I think it’s just a rudimentary way of keeping track of things. People I like, people who root for x team, people who drive y make of car, people who like to hike, people who voted for z political party and so on and so on. I do not think the action is necessarily wrong or right, it just is. However, a problem arises when these groupings are used to shape ones larger world view and attach judgements to people who we ‘think’ fit into various categories.  Ms. Banaji pointed out an example of the power of these groupings in how you dissipate fear, stating “we discovered is that fear reduction is deeply based on who that other is. You will reduce your fear towards previously fear-producing others if they are members of your group. For whites, you lose fear to white faster than to black. To black Americans, you lose fear to black more quickly than you would to white.”

To me this circles back to understanding. We are more ready to accept and forgive (and to some extent re-categorize) what we understand than what we do not. Quite simply, most of us fear the unknown and to quote some wisdom from a well-known green master ….

Inclusive Pedagogy: Noticing the Subtle Differences in the Classroom

For me, the article on inclusive pedagogy resonated the most with me. As recent as last year, when I hear of inclusiveness in the classroom, I think primarily of race and gender. However, sometimes last year (I think April, 2018), I attended a Networked Learning Initiatives (NLI) on differentiation in the classroom that changed my perspective on differences in the classroom. This was an interesting 2-hour session that was worth every second. I learned many things and I will share some of them in the paragraphs that follow.

To start with, I learned what differentiation in the classroom is. Simply put, differentiation in the classroom is being aware of the differences in our students. Differences could range from almost imperceptible challenges such as learning disability to more blatant ones such as race and gender. When I registered for this NLI session, I had the later in mind. However, I soon found out that the term ‘differences’ was more nuanced than I had imagined. In fact, during the session, one of the participants shared an example of a student in her class who was always having bad grades. She thought it was due to lack of efforts, only for her to later realize that the student had a learning disability, which made comprehending course content difficult. Unfortunately, the student was not even aware of their disability. This really made me reflect and I thought to myself: “In what ways could I have been insensitive to such minuscule differences in my classroom?” “could there have been someone in my classes with challenges such as learning disability that I failed to notice?” How many times have we tagged students as lazy while they may have been suffering from a learning disability?

Needless to say, after this NLI session, I decided to be intentional about looking out for such subtle differences in my classroom going forward. However, it is not enough to be aware of differences but we need to take necessary steps to accommodate students with challenges that we might not even be conscious of. The way we design our instructional materials is crucial. For example, when preparing lecture slides, we should ask ourselves if it is legible enough for students who might have difficulty with reading. Or if we want to play a video, we should make sure it is subtitled, in case there are students who might have hearing difficulties. There are several other examples of how to be intentional about inclusivity in the classroom, however, I will stop this blog post here.

I think my eureka moment about inclusivity in the classroom was this NLI session, and since then I have strived to be a more inclusive teacher, and I am still striving. This diagram below presents a good summary of inclusivity in the classroom.

Image result for inclusiveness in the classroom

Men are better at Science than women : a case of gender bias in Academia

Imagine a scenario of an aspiring woman Physicist,  attending a workshop on gender issues and underrepresentation of women in Physics and an invited speaker gives a talk on how women are worse at Physics than men and that Physics was invented and built by men. How would that woman and many others sitting in the audience feel? This is what happened last year in October when a prominent Italian scientist, Alessandro Strumia,gave a talk at one of the biggest Physics facility in the world, CERN,  claiming that women are underrepresented in Physics because they are “under-performing” to a group of women starting their careers in Physics. 

One of the major claims he made were that Physics is not sexist against women, but against men. He produced various half-baked studies claiming that women were hired and promoted in positions unfairly and that women scientists receive less citations for their publications as compared to male scientists which prove that males perform “higher quality research”. 

His talk was condemned widely worldwide and CERN issued a statement describing his talk “highly offensive” and that CERN stood for diversity. First thing that came to my mind was how he was allowed to give the talk at the first place. After reading more about it I realized that the organizing committee did not have access to his slides beforehand and his talk was supposed to be on gender bias in citations which was an important issue to be addressed.

He himself told in his talk that a woman with considerably lesser citations than him was given a position which he believed he deserved which makes me think that this talk was more a result of anger. Then the main basis of his talk was the number of citations. Citations are not a good measure of scientific performance as number of citations depend a lot on peer-review and there have been numerous studies suggesting that peer review process is biased against women . This blog in particular examines how his claims regarding citations were wrong.

There have been similar incidents in the past and there might be more in future but I think inclusive pedagogy is something that can play a big role in reducing these biases and addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEM. There needs to be an inclusive culture in classroom which can help women believe and trust that they are as good as everyone else and that Science is above all these biases. Everyone can do science and nobody should feel excluded by gender. To end this post on positive note, one of the most ironic things that happened in the same week as this CERN incident was that a woman scientist, Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2018. This shows that good work will continue to be recognized even if these biases exist.

Inclusive Pedagogy

Shankar Vendantam argues that colorblindness is not rooted in psychological reality since our hidden brains will always recognize people’s races. The better approach is t put race on the table and to unpack the negative associations and superficial judgment. I agree with him and I think the issue is not with race but how we deal with race. Race does exist and it is natural to recognize it. However, racism is socially constructed and as educators, we need to educate ourselves and students to be aware of our implicit biases. Taking the implicit bias test might help in this regard. Another way that might help is to engage with people from varios backgrounds and reflect on our personal judgment and expression. During my master studies at Arizona State University, I had the honor of co-founding an organization called “Better Togather” to create positive, meaningful relationships across cultural differences. Through this organization, we fostered knowledge and appreciation of diverse traditions and inspired collective action for the common good. My engagement in Better Together taught me to embrace differences in culture, ethnicity, identity, religion, and ideology. Also, I learned about my implicit biases in many aspects and it challenged many stereotypes that I had.

Teaching inclusiveness, respecting diversity in our divided and full of conflict wold is very critical not just to foster creativity or increase financial gains of companies as mentioned in Phillips’ Article (even though these are good important gains). The shooting event in New Zeland mosque reminds us that hatred and discrimination could end innocent people lives. As educators, we should advocate and struggles for inclusive pedagogy inside and outside classrooms as fundamental educational value and basic human right issue.

Let us stay away from prejudgments!

I am a 29-year-old woman from Iran.  As far as I remember, I have witnessed several evidences of “difference seeking” which I want to share with you, as well as my current believes about how to deal with this universal phenomenon, specifically its reflection in educational environments.

Back to Iran, there are barely international communities who live there for long time. While significant number of tourists visit Iranian heritage sites yearly, not many choose to stay as immigrants,  particularly in the past 40 years.  Well, this may bring about a picture of a quite uniform country with quite similar people of the same nation, skin color, culture and history. This is not really the case, though; in facts, driving from north to south and east to west, one meet totally different individuals. Due to modern urbanism,  many people have been moving to  big cities, such as Tehran the capital city of Iran, where suddenly they find new accents, lifestyles and looks.  And then the “difference seeking” engine starts generating prejudgments:  Turks are this, Kurds are that, Balochs are this, Arabs are that, blah blah blah.

During the past four years of my life in the US, I have experienced another level of living in a multicultural country. The appearance differences are substantially significant,  so that not only all Iranians are grouped in one cluster, but also many times people of our neighboring countries are added to our group, and we make a larger cluster called Middle Easterners! And, again, the same story repeats: Whites are this, Blacks are that, Asians are this, Browns are that, blah blah blah. This time, just the prejudgments are applied to larger groups of people with remarkable visual differences, but the essence of such statements are the same:

  • We have a backpack of features specific to each cluster. Simply, whenever we meet a person who looks like a member of that cluster, without having a enough knowledge about his/her background, we assign those feature to that person.
  • We feel excited to share our backpacks with fellow citizens, and make it updated!
  • After a while, we become even more expert and make small bags in our backpacks, e.g. eastern and western Europeans bags inside the Europeans bag.

Academic environments are of the most diverse places where local/international scholars get together. It is definitely very crucial to train students, faculties and staff of such environments to learn more about (1) the “hidden brain” which implicitly generates the above prejudgments, (2) techniques to terminate/dilute these thoughts, (3) polite yet frank dialogues to deal with discriminating conversations. What if we consider the whole community as one organ whose members endeavor to LEARN, and all speak in one language called SCIENCE? Is not it a more respectful, inclusive and effectual alternative?

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