This week, Inside Higher Ed, Salon, and Slate reported the story of Shannon Gibney, an English professor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. While giving a lecture on institutional racism, a student interrupted her to ask why this topic continuously came up in class. Three students from the class then filed a discrimination complaint against Gibney. This situation provides an example to start a discussion about whether instructors should infuse social justice issues into their curriculum. I recently participated in a panel discussion at the National Communication Association titled “Social Justice in the Basic Course: Connecting Content and Citizenship.” In this entry, I will summarize our discussion and try to show the importance of teaching with change in mind in light of the potential consequences. At the top of the page, you will see a link titled “Teaching Resources” which will feature documents and articles which work towards prejudice reduction and community involvement.
Holly Gates, ABD
When determining what content should go into a course, Ms. Gates asks herself, “What are the things students should walk away with?” When answering this, she considers how to take this approach without overloading her students and making them feel shame. In order to do this, she builds trust through dialogue and personal examples. When students disclose things about themselves, she responds with a story to match their experiences. In class, Ms. Gates uses these strategies to help students use rhetorical theories to better understand identity, audience, hegemony, and diversity. To help students talk through issues, she gives readings, lectures, and discussion to build the necessary vocabulary. Another approach she uses is to tie in current media and pop culture. The additional resources Ms. Gates uses can be found under the Teaching Resources link.
Dr. David Kahl
Dr. Kahl tries to integrate critical communication pedagogy into his classroom as much as possible. The speeches and assignments in his course focus on marginalization and hegemony. The process he uses is to work through conscientization. The steps are 1) Raising awareness 2) identifying avenues for praxis (actions for change) 3) Responding through praxis (taking action) Research topics students can use are homelessness, poverty, hunger, or lack of education. Students are encouraged to focus on issues in their own community.
Dr. Kate Ranieri
Dr. Ranieri encourages critical thinking and discussion through watching and making documentaries. She recommends Banished (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0912574/) and Two Towns of Jasper (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0303411/) to change student’s perspectives. Oftentimes students are afraid to talk because they do not want to hurt someone’s feelings so she has to push them by playing devil’s advocate.
Dr. Cindy Vincent
Dr. Vincent spent a summer doing research with an organization focusing on arts education by homeless and poor people for homeless and poor people. The approach completely altered her teaching philosophy and she approaches her courses in a way students don’t expect. She provides an environment where everyone is equal. Instead of teaching in front of the classroom, it is conducted in a circle. All of the examples for providing concepts to students use social justice issues. Additionally, she requires community involvement by having them complete service learning projects. During class discussions, Dr. Vincent teachings about resistance, stereotypes, marginalization and its benefits for privileged groups, and objectification in the media. She recommends students read “Los Viajes.” Another project she assigns is about citizens’ media; she has students create and enact their own media.
Ms. Walker taught at a technical college where the student population is different than that of a four year university. Students at a technical college are often marginalized and have experienced the issues she addresses. Her lesson is adapted from one created by the Greater Mankato Diversity Council. Her approach is to infuse issues of social justice into a lesson about audience analysis. Students are then assigned a quiz to assess their learning. Ms. Walker utilizes Michael Heck’s Communication Theory of Identity. Students choose a group part of their identity and then talk about stereotypes related to that group. During a discussion students discuss where these stereotypes come from and how it leads to discrimination, marginalization, and privilege. Ms. Walker’s recommended readings can be found by clicking the “Teaching Resources” lack.
How should instructors set up the class so students understand the tenets of critical pedagogy and the vocabulary to talk about social justice issues?
One approach is to encourage students to read Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed which explains the banking concept of education. Then, make parallels between the concepts and the community students belong to. These parallels help students make the connection between power, hegemony, and their own lives.
Another approach is to frontload the class by introducing specific theories. Assign readings and give students the key terms they should understand after they have read the article.
Students can also learn about the issues softly. Throughout the semester, sprinkle in discussions of race, class, gender, ableism, etc. and then at the end of the semester introduce the concepts of power and hegemony.
One way to help students relate and buy in is to be approachable and relatable. Students may be more likely to trust and believe what instructors are saying if they are liked and recognize their own mistakes.
Finally, bring in examples from popular culture and show them how advertisements and media present heteronormativity and privilege.
How do you deal with students who have strong biases?
Instead of using examples that are close to home use international examples and relate them to the situation in the United States. It is not as personal if the issue is seen abroad first. Alternatively, when a student says a stereotype, talk them through historical examples in the United States. Dr. Vincent found explaining and discussing the genocide of Native Americans provided a framework in the discussion of English as the national language.
When students say something racist, homophobic, etc., say, “Help me understand how you came to that.” Often students with strong biases to a topic have an underlying issue. Students come to class with different experiences, and as teachers we can give them the information. Not everyone will be convinced in a semester. Explain to students listening to alternative arguments helps make them a better writer.
How do you set up classes so you have the time to talk about the content and social justice issues?
First, speech topics and assignments can have a social justice slant. Give students prompting questions to guide their reading. Students could complete an assignment arguing both sides of a topic to see an alternative viewpoint.
To save time on content, go through the textbook and assign specific paragraphs which focus on concepts instead of an entire chapter. This makes any lecture more concise and provides time to apply the material to multiculturalism and inclusion.
Alternatively, we can flip the classroom. Students are assigned the readings and should understand the concepts before coming to class. Then class time is student focused with students taking control and relating concepts to their own lives.
How do you get students to read?
Provide reading prompts to students. If they’re not reading and answering the prompts, give students pop quizzes. If they are still not reading, give students an assignment to teach the class. Students can also have an assignment to create a pitch to sell the class and the concepts they should learn.
Why should classes include social justice content?
The critical approach avoids the banking method of education. Additionally, as there is increased globalization, students need to understand multiple perspectives. It also encourages active engagement as citizens and increases critical thinking.