Yesterday, Barack Obama shared an extensive remembrance at the funeral of John Lewis, legendary civil-rights advocate and long-time member of the U.S. Congress. For one brief moment amid the effusive praise for Lewis’s storied career and boundless hope, Obama lamented a loss. Not the loss of his mentor, John Lewis, but the widespread social loss of beliefs Lewis held through his last days.

“He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, that in all of us there is a longing to do what’s right, that in all of us there is a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. So many of us lose that sense. It’s taught out of us.”

Barack Obama does not place that loss at the feet of teachers; he does not accuse us of teaching those beliefs out of people. He censures society for dispossessing us of a belief that otherwise could be more widely held. By sidestepping an accusation of teachers, he leaves room for a challenge: If society teaches those beliefs out of people, could teachers teach them back in?

In Teaching Community, bell hooks talks with Ron Scapp about the hope teachers can engender in students and in society. In that conversation, Scapp asserts the power of education to support social justice. He tells us that “enabling students to think critically on their own allows them to resist injustice, to come together in solidarity, to realize the promise of democracy.” As the combined challenges of disease, civil unrest, and economic collapse leave uncertain nearly every element of our future, Scapp’s broad confidence offers motivation for us to realize the full potential of our work as educators.

This is no small feat, as our work together this week reveals. The work of teaching is complex, difficult, and intensive. But also, the work of teaching is essential. Democracy starts with self-empowered citizens, as John Lewis hoped, filled with great courage.

But we are not teaching democracy. We must start by changing the nature of teaching, for as hooks explains in Teaching to Transgress, “to educate for freedom, then, we have to challenge and change the way everyone thinks about pedagogical proc­ess.”

It is our hope that this week has challenged and changed the way you think about pedagogical process.

Today’s activities ask you to look back at the work of the week and look forward to the work ahead. How will your thinking of pedagogy change, and how will those changes manifest in your role, your aspirations, your sense of self?

Select a project that lies ahead at work — something giving you the opportunity to apply what you have learned and discovered this week. How can you enact the activism we explored yesterday, or develop student agency and preserve their capacity for great courage?


Discussion Starters

  • How does the project you’re working on embody (or allow for?) the kinds of activism we’ve discussed (or you’ve conceptualized) this week?
  • What values are embodied in your project? What intentional change are you promoting in that project? What other means are available to you?

Reflective Project: Personal Artifact

Think of some professional artifact that no longer seems to fit you based on the work and thinking you have done this week. Revisit that document and revise it to accommodate your new perspectives. Suggested documents include your teaching philosophy or a course syllabus, though the choice is entirely up to you.

Consider posting your revisions online, writing a post about those revisions, or both.

Why Sheets

Digital Pedagogy Lab has at its heart critical imagination. In this, its promise is its challenge: as we consider an educational otherwise that better supports the values from this week, that we see a need to do so suggests that we’re swimming upstream. This tension between dominant practice and an emerging “this might just work” asks of us a dedication to openly communicating not just what we hope to accomplish (yes, that), but also why we have a reasonable expectation that our chosen practices will bring those hopes to fruition. One of the promising possibilities we see in accomplishing this task, as mentioned in the original course description, is Alfie Kohn’s idea for “Why Sheets.” Though Kohn foregrounds the exercise as time-saving, and a guard against fumbling an explanation in the moment, we think the reflection inherent in committing your rationale to the page is still more useful.

So. We invite you to create a “why sheet” of your own. Maybe it’s the why of your (un)grading practice, maybe the reasoning behind a particular assignment. Equally valid subjects are the choice of tool or platform (over another), the setup of your office hours, the structure you bring to classroom facilitation, use of Creative Commons licenses, offering childcare in a library. As originally conceived, these communication tools would provide a brief list of citations, situating educators’ decisions within larger conversations about effective practice.

Two last suggestions: this project may be (is likely to be?) ambitious. If we were on-ground, we would schedule half a day’s time, and even then our hope would be a solid start and not a finished project, so adjust your expectations accordingly. Second, this is an opportunity for collaboration; before starting, post in the Daily Projects Thread with a list of topics that interest you to see if anybody else in our cohort would like to co-create one with you.

~ Read next post in reflection ~

The Madness’s Method: Pulling Back the Curtain on Our Course Design

Posted by Chris Friend

6 min read