Just do your (art)work!

This week’s readings came at just the right time for me. I needed some validation and bucking up.

My students’ final assignment is to create a work of art — collage, photographic series, painting, song, sculpture. It can be anything, but it needs to represent work, labor, or the working class and connect with one or more of the themes we wrestled with this semester. They are also required to write an artist statement justifying their decisions and do a short oral presentation to the class. To me, this is a fun project. It has some restrictions in terms of themes, but it wide open to genres and interpretations. What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, I have a small contingency of students who are not enthusiastic. On Thursday, I asked them what their level of discomfort with the project was on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the most awesome ever. It’s a 1.5. They’d rather write a research paper. I almost gave in. Instead I ended up giving a spiel about the importance of humanities to foster critical thinking, yadda, yadda. I followed that up by mentioning the need for creative thinkers to solve problems in fields like engineering and science. I even heard myself say, “If you’re struggling with it, it’s probably good for your brain.” I LITERALLY just embodied my mother.

Needless to say, I found this week’s readings validating, but I have a few takeaways for future semesters:

  1. Dan Edelstein uses the word innovation. I should use that. Innovative thinking is a phrase that likely carries more meaning and weight to science-types than creative thinking.
  2. I need to be more transparent with students throughout the semester about the value of art, literature, film and music. I often expect students — as we talk about constructed narratives, social change, and the arts — to come to an understanding about how the arts shapes our lives in real and important ways. I need to be explicit.*

*Full disclosure: I said the phrase “Let me be explicit …” in class last week and they snickered at me. Then I made them look up the definition of the word on their phones. Then we talked about why it has come to mean graphic or offensive. This is an example of why I am not the cool one. So uncool.

  1. I need to stop thinking about the loftier reasons for humanities’ importance (citizenship! Empathy for others!) and learn to better justify it, like Edelstein says, in terms of professional success. I believe in the arts and in their importance. I should be ready to fight for them.

Critical Pedagogy in Practice (Not a word cloud)

A blog from Amy, Yan, Shadi, Kadie, Sevda, and Chris, with contributions from Dr. Nelson

I feel it is appropriate to tell the story of this wonderful drawing. As we were discussing what to do for our artifact, we heard the term word cloud thrown around by the other tables. We knew we could make the best word cloud out of any table, but we weren’t that competitive of a table.  How it came up, I don’t know, but we learned about why you shouldn’t buy berries when visiting Ukraine. Going down that rabbit hole helped us to realize that anything we do, there can be more to the story as to why. At this juncture we realized our artifact for critical pedagogy was going to be an example that shows how we all can engage with common thing/idea from our respective disciplines. So with that, we settled on this dwelling as a representation of how everyone can engage with an idea or object. Even the picture itself is a reflection on critical pedagogy, as we are only seeing it from the south side. Maybe we need to hear the perspectives of the people on the north side to know that there is a door into the building and a spacious patio for the community to gather on. Below the picture each group member will explain how they were able to engage with this idea from their discipline.

You might be thinking this about our picture.

I’m with Han. It may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts. Although, it doesn’t do 0.5 past lightspeed nor can it make the Kessel run in under a parsec.

Engineering impact (Amy H): In the renovation of the building and the development of the rooftop garden, it is important to consider the broader impacts of this project. Where is this building located? Why is it being renovated? What are the requirements, constraints, criteria, considerations in such a project? Who has access? Who does not have access? What is the broader impact on the local community?

Horticulture impact (Chris): In the creation of the rooftop garden, needs of the plants need to be considered such as sunlight, temperature, and precipitation. Likewise, if any from of cross pollination is needed, will the location of this garden inhibit that? Could we promote insect pollinators by using certain plant species. We also must consider the need for a rooftop garden in the first place. Is there a reason the residents need to be growing their own produce? Finally, we can say that the use of plants makes the building more aesthetically pleasing. While we can focus on the production value of our plants, there is a value to the greenery that is created.

Landscape Architecture impact (Sevda): To create more equal environment for local community, we renovated a building and installed a rooftop garden on the top of this building. Because there are so many international people in that neighborhood and they have an access problem to their traditional food and also fresh and healthy food. This situation is called as food desert. Since this building is in an urban area and the soil is not suitable for most of the plant which we planted here, we installed rooftop farm even if we have enough garden space around the building. In terms of creating a better support for trees and shrubs, which we planted here, we installed intensive green roof system. To provide equality, whoever needs those plants in this community has a card to enter this rooftop farm. And the product is divided to each person equally. Local community can use this farm as an education opportunity as well. There is a small space in the farm, which people can come and plant themselves and learn how to plant and grow plants, how to maintain them. This application provides an education opportunity to everybody in the community. Instead of teaching sustainability, plants, and ecology, people have an opportunity to observe, have an experience, and learn by themselves. It can be seen as a part of critical pedagogy.


Physics (Shadi): We used solar panel to move one step forward to a sustainable lifestyle. Our sun is a generous source of energy which sends us 1000 W/m2 for free! The solar panels are designed to convert this energy to electricity through photovoltaic effect. Solar cells are made of silicon, which is a semiconductor. They are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer, which together create an electric field, just like in a battery.

When the light photons from the sun hit the solar cell it makes the electron loose and as a result they start moving due to the electric field provided by our semiconductor. The motion of electron is what we call the electric current.


Entomology Impact (Kadie): We captured the true essence of critical pedagogy and all worked together to create a project that incorporated all of our backgrounds. My background is in entomology. We decided to add a rooftop food garden to our renovated apartment building. This garden will help supply food into the community and is an optimization of space since this building is located in a city. As these plants grow and produce fruit/vegetables, they will become more attractive to insect pests. My background knowledge of working with agricultural pest management will be needed to keep pests away from our food. In addition, we have decided to make our rooftop garden a pollinator-friendly area and plan to include bee boxes. Our rooftop garden will be a model for future renovated structures to follow.


Critical Pedagogy and Disney

Kincheloe. Freire. Hooks. These three educators, students, facilitators, trailblazers, and HUMANS have been extremely influential in the growing field/ideology/movement of “critical pedagogy.” So, what is critical pedagogy? Countless definitions abound, but our group thought critically and worked collaboratively to create this definition: 

“Critical pedagogy is a humanistic, interactive process that challenges hierarchical systems of learning, and establishes the co-construction of knowledge in collaboration with educator (facilitator) and student.”     

 ~Arash Sarshar, Erin Heller, Sogand Mohammadhasanzadeh, Patrick Salmons, Hana Lee, Jyotsana Sharma, and Selva Marroquín, 2018 ~

So how did we get to this definition (Mulan – “Let’s get down to business)? We can’t take full credit for it of course (and when you think about it, can we ever take full credit for anything we create, as our thoughts are the culmination of countless interactions and experiences obtained through interactions with countless of the other people … but that is another blog), as we used the expertise and thoughts of the above three stated pedagogical sensai. Their writings all shared common themes of the importance of less clear boundaries between students and teachers (or the elimination of these boundaries all together) … teachers are students and students are teachers … and the importance of teaching should not be merely the transfer of knowledge but the sharing of concepts and the encouragement to think for oneself (remember everyone always says “think outside of the box!”) The idea that ritualistic memorization and regurgitation of facts is not truly learning and that we need to shift away from this outdated approach to “judging” the intellect of students. We need to encourage students to think about things that are not explicitly taught, to think about things never thought about (or verbalized) before, and to not just judge others on their ability to retell what has already be told. School should not be about Beauty and the Beast — that is “tale as old as time.” New ideas, concepts, and theories are the core of growing, developing, and learning. If students only learn what they are told, everything remains stagnant. That brings us full circle (Lion King – “The circle of life!!”) to define the different aspects of our definition of critical pedagogy:

Humanistic: the ability to be human and be vulnerable with students. As an educator being able to convey that one is not necessarily an expert and that knowledge is not an absolute but co-constructed by all the individuals in the classroom environment.

Interactive process that challenges hierarchical systems of learning: it emerged from the necessity of continuing to create an atmosphere of democracy in education because education follows political structures.

Co-construction of knowledge in collaboration with educator and studentWhen thinking about teaching and learning, it should not be understood as a simple student-teacher relationship. Rather what these readings demonstrate, and our own anecdotal teaching experience illuminates, is that there should not be an oppressive figure teaching what should be learned. Thinking about knowledge and its construction between multiple variables allows for diversity, opinion, and actual critical thinking. Opening up the conversation in a Hegelian fashion allows for facilitation by the educator.

Okie. That’s all we got. Education should be like acapella singers — the culmination of ALL of our voices (thoughts) is what makes us great. Drop the mic.

Related image

A Visual Definition of Critical Pedagogy

As a group, we were challenged to come up with a definition of Critical Pedagogy as championed by Paulo Freire.  The following definition is what we came up with in words:

“An educational approach emphasizing strategies of critical questioning, classroom community, sensitivity, vulnerability, contextuality, pluralism, and democracy.”

We had a lot more to say, and we put our summaries into a word cloud highlighting the most important aspects of Critical Pedagogy:

We also wanted to try to describe this concept through visual aids.  Here is a potpourri of our favorite visuals connected to Critical Pedagogy:

Every child left behind?

Learning and knowledge is like an endless game of hacky sack.

Taking risks is necessary to achieve educational rewards.

… or at the heart of anybody transforming education.

Reject the “banking model” of teaching–students are not simply vessels to be filled.

It is important to think critically and not constrain students from thinking outside the box in the classroom.


Contributing Authors: Jacquelyn Prestegaard, Shaun Respess, Maryam Yuhas, Yousef Jalali, Matt Cheatham, Ernesto Acosta, Greg Purdy, Kristin Ulmer

If the stormtroopers weren’t all white

Well, I thought the title was funny. In a bit of Star Wars lore, the original army was of clones from a single person. After an uprising within the clones, they included more genetic diversity within the ranks to prevent future insurrections. Even the Empire came to appreciate a more diverse group of stormtroopers.

Following the Phillips’ article, I read one called “Three myths plus a few best practices for achieving diversity”. The article focuses on STEM fields, but it has a few points that I really like. When attempting to achieve a more diverse group, we succumb to the belief that there is prescription or a method for achieving this. I get where that notion may come from. In these types of fields, we seem to approach things very logically. If I do A, then B should happen. Or, there are procedures galore on how to do things. If that is how we approach trying to foster a more diverse workplace, are we truly seeking to do that or just doing it for the sake of numbers? I appreciate the approaches suggested.

The article suggests that rather than looking for a prescription for diversity, we should adopt certain practices that promote diversity. The three practices are to forget colorblindness, enhance belonging, and continue action. The one that resonates with me the best is forgetting color blindness. They suggest that we acknowledge the differences between people rather than pretending like they don’t exist. I appreciate that; but, this idea needs to be fleshed out more. I think there is a tension that needs to be held there. We need to appreciate the differences among each other, yet find a way to see everyone as equal. That sense of if we focus too much on our uniqueness, we forget the common things that bind us together. Yet, we don’t want to rob people of their identities. It is easy to say, but doing is harder. It will require lots of work, and there is no simple 5-step guide to achieving that balance. Much like it was suggested that to overcome our biases, we have to stop and think about things more.

Speaking of bias, I feel tricked by the bias test. However, it shows that even how unbiased we believe ourselves to be there exists some level of bias. I don’t feel we should beat ourselves up over that. These are things we have learned from a young age. I like the suggestion that we should think more about our biases, and why we have that association. It may sound a bit lame, but stopping and thinking seems to improve a lot of things. Maybe we just need to stop and think, what would others say about this? Even the “threat” of a more diverse group makes us better thinkers.

Brave Spaces Are Preferred

Arao & Clemens “seek to cultivate brave spaces rather than safe spaces for group learning about a broad range of diversity and social justice issues” (Arao & Clemens, 2013, p.141).  I agree with this approach because the term brave spaces “clarifies that these environments are challenging and that students are expected to participate within them” (Ali, 2017, p.8). Thus, I think discussions in brave spaces are more likely to be productive than those in safe spaces.

On a related note, I found out that the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) recommends brave spaces for class discussions. “Administrators, faculty, and staff can replace use of the term safe space, as it pertains to class-based dialogues, with that of brave space. By using the term brave space, faculty are able to distinguish an inclusive classroom discussion from programming on campus that commonly provides respite space for traditionally marginalized communities” (Ali, 2017, p.8).

Ali, D. (2017). Safe Spaces and Brave Spaces: Historical Context and Recommendations for Student Affairs Professionals. NASPA Policy and Practice Series, 2, 1-13. Retrieved from https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/Policy_and_Practice_No_2_Safe_Brave_Spaces.pdf

Arao, B. & Clemens, K. (2013). From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice. In L. M. Landreman (Ed), The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators (First ed.), (pp.135-150). Sterling, Virginia; Washington, DC;: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

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.

Stir the emotional pot on the first day

As a professor of record, assistant, associate, or full professor, we can face the same dilemma every semester. How do you engage students so they are interested in your subject. You could be a professor who doesn’t care if students are interested and engaged. But then why be a professor if that’s the case? Well it could be that you are employed at an R1 university and research is your primary reason and teaching is a thing you do to get a paycheck. I won’t rant about that this time but will instead pretend all professors care about the student and write about how to get the kids to keep their eyes and ears open for that grueling hour long class.

EMOTIONS………………………..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Those strange things that get people mad, sad, happy, giddy, and all sorts of feels get folks moving. Main emotions I want to discuss are the knowledge emotions discussed by Paul Silvia of UNC Greensboro. The four specific emotions are surprise, interest, confusion, and awe. One can understand using interest and awe but how about surprise and confusion? Well, surprise and confusion lead to attention and desire to learn. That is the goal of teaching any course at any level, isn’t it? If every student were fully interested and in awe of learning, teaching would be easy. So easy, anyone could do it. But alas, we know that not every student is fully vested in the class subject and only there because the course is ‘required’ to graduate.

When does the process of stirring up these emotions begin? How about on day one! Syllabus day. The waste of 45 minutes covering what any student should be able to read for comprehension but for legalities sake, we will be the reader for them so they don’t miss a detail. The syllabus is that tree killing thing handed out on day one and then forgotten for the rest of the semester. Know why I won’t respond to your email……..BECAUSE IT’S ON THE SYLLABUS!!! Well maybe we could provide a reading that the students want to revisit throughout the semester. Make the syllabus exciting with great descriptions of the course. What will they learn, list all the cool ways they will be shown new information. Don’t threaten with grade scales and attendance policies but create surprise and interest. “This class will cover the fundamentals of foreign policy and diplomacy.” Well isn’t that just great, I figured that from the class title, you know the one called Foreign Policy and Diplomacy. Instead, get them emotionally invested through interest, surprise, confusion and awe. “This class will engage your mind as we travel through the tangled and twisted mazes that states use to create a foreign policy and the forms of diplomacy employed to get others to believe them.” Hmmmm…tangled and twisted mazes? Is this professor the guy from Saw? Getting others to believe them. What does that mean?

Let’s break the routine of a cookie cutter syllabus and get students excited from day one and keep them excited until they graduate. Then let the world deal with them. lol.

Can I REALLY Be My Authentic Self While Teaching in the Classroom?

This week’s subject talks about being our authentic selves while teaching in the classroom. I spent lots of time reading and re-reading Professor Fowler’s The Authentic Teaching Self & Communication Skills and several of the points that they mention in the article. Within the outline, I looked deeper into section one, the authentic teaching self. This section posed some tips and questions about what does it mean to be authentic in the classroom. All of the suggestions do make sense to me. However, I’m curious through what lens and worldview this article was written. Does the author take into account the positionality and world view of the different types of teachers? Does the author take into account the campus climate and campus politics? I’m not implying that the author doesn’t, however I do wonder.

Growing up, I knew my skin color was different fro my peers but it wasn’t until I began college that I was a woman and it certainly wasn’t until graduate school that I realized that I’m a BLACK woman. How I show up to spaces and how I convey my message to my students, while I may mean well, it could be taken in differently if I sound passionate about a topic. There was an incident last semester in which tone of voice and passion in the classroom (& really in general) came into question. some students responded saying that they don’t respond well to that type of interaction. When a topic means something to me or causes one or more of my identities to come into question, I become passionate (read: raise voice) when I speak on the topic. I’m not going to apologize for that. This conversation did make me question though, is there a way for my to still convey my disdain/dislike about a subject matter in the classroom while making sure that those around me understand that this not a personal attack against them? This same question makes me think, can I truly be my authentic self in the classroom, if part of my authentic self is sometimes being passionate about which I speak?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be belligerent and in-your-face with my comments. Just because something makes me upset doesn’t mean that I’m always going to get passionate or bent-out-of-shape about certain topics. BUT I also want my peers/colleagues, students and professors to know and understand what means the a lot to me. What makes me uncomfortable, what makes me think twice and unnerves me a bit.

I say all that I said above to ask the question, can I REALLY TRULY be my authentic self in the classroom? At this exact point and time, no I don’t necessarily feel like I can be consistently. And the moments in which I am myself, I feel like I’m being judged. But maybe that’s me being too critical on myself. Maybe I’m too concerned about someone else’s view of me, something that I have no business worrying about.

Okay. I feel like I’m rambling and rant so forgive me. If you made it this far with me, I appreciate you sticking it out and I look forward to reading your thoughts and answer to my main question (read: 3rd paragraph, first sentence).

Sarah Deel gets me, she really gets me.

I’ve been asked what I teach, how I teach it, what my teaching philosophy is, but I’ve never been asked, “What kind of teacher are you?”

I’m “self-reflective,” “passionate,” “dedicated” and “nerd-funny.”

I can’t express the number of ways Sarah Deel’s “Finding My Teaching Voice” resonated with me (Seriously, we’d have so much to talk about). I, too, am from a small liberal arts college. The largest classrooms I’ve ever been in (either as a teacher or a student) was this past fall as a GTA for RLCL Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There were 70 students. This semester, at 40, I am teacher of record for the second largest lass I’ve ever experienced.

When I first started teaching in 2008, like Deel, I looked to the professors that I loved most, but many of those professors were sages on the stage. Their lectures were powerful, interesting and insightful, but I knew that I am atypical in that I learn well listening to a lecturer. I’m happy to curl up and read for hours or listen to a long podcast. Most people don’t learn like that anymore. Fortunately, I started out teaching Freshman Composition, which lends itself to group projects, collaborative writing and discussions. I was cast out to sea and left to figure out what swimming strokes worked before for me.

The challenge I face this semester in HUM 1324 is finding a way to navigate the space. It is a small classroom in McBryde with 40 students crammed into rows with aisles so narrow they have to navigate them sideways. There is no room to circle into groups, no room to make a large circle that I can join in for discussions, and the impact is apparent. This has been one of the hardest classes I’ve had to facilitate discussions. And, honestly, facilitating discussions is my strongest suite as a teacher — asking the right questions, waiting patiently for responses, teasing out a student’s point when they’ve rambled, noticing when a student wants to say something and needs the encouragement of being called on.

The space is also challenging for me when I lecture. There is a giant lectern beside a table where computers are connected to the projects beside a shorter full-sided desk.  When the projector is on, I have a path behind the lectern that is about three feet wide to move in or else I’m blocking the power point. And there is no room for a path between all the furniture and the desks for me to come out and walk in front. It is challenging. Generally, moving around helps me feel stronger and more in control, and it keep my voice upbeat and strong. (*I have a tendency to have a weak voice, more about that later.)

So, most classes I have a short lecture, we might listen to a podcast or watch a short video, maybe there will be a short group assignment (with them working only with those they sit beside, and then some discussion). It is working, but it isn’t working really, really, well. I’ve been considering places I can take my class outside on beautiful days, which I hope will help better facilitate the discussion portion of the class.

*I want to mention vocal health because it is something I find really helpful. I’ve always felt like my voice was really weak, maybe too high to be taken seriously. So, I often speak in a lower-than-natural register when I’m teaching or public speaking. In the past when I was teaching three courses, working a job where I was talking to (interviewing) people, I found that just an additional long phone conversation could make me completely lose my voice. Last summer I talked to my brother about his. He’s the Director of Choral Studies at University of Louisiana and is the vocal health guru. He pointed out that when I drop to a lower register, my sentences often trailed off into vocal fry, which is very stressful and bad for your vocal chords. It was that strain that made me lose my voice so often. (There’s a lot of say about vocal fry and gender i.e. why so many women have it and are hated for it, but that’s an entirely different can of worms.) So, I’d inadvertently trained myself to speak in a way that was harmful to my vocal health. It has become so ingrained that I have to consciously speak in my normal register…and it’s been a journey of accepting my natural voice and asserting authority and confidence in my natural higher, more feminine register. #NoMoreVocalFry #AuthenticVoice

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