When bigoted teachers diversify their curriculum

March 8, 2018

People keep pushing for more inclusive learning environments where students read and discuss issues such as race, gender, and xenophobia. I used to be all for it until I started thinking about all of the well meaning but sexist, transphobic,and xenophobic TA's and professors out there teaching black and brown kids.

 

Many people, including myself, don't know how problematic they are. They think that because they understand that black people are oppressed or because they believe that our criminal justice system is shitty, then they are part of the solution. They think that because they can cite statistics about oppression or because they read a progressive article on the issue, that they are a good candidate to talk about these issues. More and more, I have come to see that this is not true. You can cite statistics and still operate and teach with an oppressive pedagogy.

 

There are so many ways in which one can teach an oppressive pedagogy. I will list a few that I have experienced in my life. This includes my primary and secondary education, along with my undergraduate and even graduate experiences. These experiences include situations that I have undergone but they also include things that I have witnessed teachers do to their students.

 

 

I've known teachers to discredit the anecdotes within assigned texts in a bigoted way. I've also seen teachers talk about the texts in such an abstract way that will make learning the texts unbearable. They might focus on really arbitrary things like the method the author uses or the way that the author verifies the texts. This of course, is a good teaching technique. Looking at these things can help get more insight on the author's message. However, it is possible for a professor to focus on this in such a way that the content becomes obscure.

 

 These are just a few ways that I have experienced teachers teach with an oppressive pedagogy. I am sure that other people have more creative and ingenious ways to take works on the primacy of struggle or works written by women and POC, and make them unbearable to learn about. 

 

I think it's important to say that teachers can teach with an oppressive mindset while giving great insight into the texts. They may present the texts in a wonderful and thought provoking way but fail to treat their students with respect. They can give insightful critiques about the texts that their students could benefit from and yet fail to make sure that their students feel a sense of belonging in the classroom. 

 

 The point of all this is to say that diversifying the classroom shouldn't be equated with an inclusive pedagogy. With all of this talk about diversifying classroom that people are having, I wonder about all of the black and brown students that will be let down when they realize that a change in content does not equate to a more inclusive classroom. 

 

How painful it will be to the black and brown kid to see that their roses are really bull shit.

 

How horrible it is for the white kid to take in what they say, believe it, and navigate the world using their disguised oppressive pedagogy.

 

 

To be clear, I am not saying that we should not try to diversify curriculum. It is imperative that students get to interact with a diverse range of texts. It's important that they read texts written by women and POC. I'ts important that they engage in critical theory, feminist theory, and Africana philosophy. We need to do a better job at pushing these works to the forefront to correct for the hermeneutical injustices academia has created. Significant areas of experience has been obscured from understanding because academic have not shared these experiences in their classrooms. We can start fixing this by diversifying curriculum and presenting our students with experts who are women and POC. However, this alone will not ensure an inclusive classroom. To understand what I mean just ask yourself the question, What happens with and between professors and students in the classroom?

 

I can diversity the curriculum all day but if I fail to present the material in a meaningful way, I will fail at inclusive teaching. And I think there are a lot of reasons to be worried about one's ability to have our students engage with the material in a meaningful way. Personally, I am not sure that I am qualified to be teaching about imperialism, the LGBTQ community, or the way in which America exploits developing nations through it's economic practices. I know enough to have small talk about the issues.

 

 

I can talk about how colonization has shaped prejudices and how it has led to oppression. I can talk about how our immigration system is inhumane. But does reading a chapter in Edward Said's Orientalism, sporatically keeping up with the news on these issues, and talking to a few people who have been harmed because of imperialism really give me legitimacy to talk about our imperialism?

 

I can explain why the transgender military ban or the housing discrimination transgender people go through is messed up. This does not mean that I have done my due diligence in researching and reading on the plight of transgender people.

 

It is the same with America's exploitation of developing nations. I can cite a few examples and explain how this is done because I have watched a couple documentaries and read a few articles but I don't know if I should be speaking to my students about it.

 

 

  While, I find these issues to be interesting, I would not call myself a good enough ally to speak on these things, especially in classes where the things that I say have more authority and legitimacy than they would normally have. I need to read more, empathize more, and really just think more about the issues. However, as an ally, I feel that it is important to tie the issues back to my class discussions. Maybe I'm wrong but I think it's better for people to talk about the issues, than for the issues to get erases. I am not sure if this is right though. Am I wrong to do this? 

 

I have been operating under the assumption that it is possible to to see your limits, notify students of them, but still have a class discussion about certain topics. But if I am fairly uneducated, or just biased and privileged, (I really don't know enough about/ haven't talked to many of the people whom my identity oppresses) and my students are also (oftentimes doubly times so), then should we really be talking about these issues?

 

  Having a group of uneducated and privileged people speak about matters that don't pertain to them doesn't sit right with me. At the end of the day I have been ingrained into a imperialist, capitalist, patriarchy. I have been conditioned to reason within these systems. I suffer from an oppressive mindset. I have assumptions that I don't even know that I have about whole groups of people. I have assumptions that reflect the oppressive structure of the systems that I listed. 

 

I am not sure if I have been allowed to do the sort of self-reflection that is required to overcome the type of oppressive mindset that I am talking about. (In the previous blog I said I would be talking about how the ways in which I have been trained has shaped me into the type of teacher that I hate. Here is my explanation of how the way that I have been trained has led me have issues with mastering inclusive teaching.)

 

Academics produce work. I am being trained to produce good quality work. I am not being trained to do the sort of thinking that would lead to any sort of transformative practice. And I damn sure have no idea about how I should go about implementing these practices within my classrooms as this is something that I have never gotten myself. I can't think of one undergraduate class that would have enabled me to do this. Most graduate programs have their students take certain required courses starting out. Trust and believe, the required courses are not focused on self-reflection. Their goal is not to help graduate students aka Teacher Assistant's to weed out the biases they are carrying. Their goal is not to teach them to counteract their effect so that they can learn and grow personally, and also make sure that their biases don't bleed into the classroom. Maybe I am wrong in saying this but I really don't think that academia supports the sort of critical engaging with texts that Socrates would call for. Academia, in my mind, does not support people in growing with texts in a way that would ensure introspection grounded in self-care. As such, many teachers don't know how to provide that for their students, and thus oftentimes fail at inclusive teaching. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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