Friday, February 5, 2016

Lesson for my students: No, you are not God's gifts

As professors, students, researchers, we live amid incredible privileges.

These privileges are products of organizing structures of societies that enable and reward specific forms of participation while simultaneously undermining other forms of participation.

One of the outcomes of an identity-based education that is all too ensconced in apolitical identity politics is its inability to interrogate the politics of knowledge production.

As a consequence, in many of the classes we teach, we leave un-interrogated our own positions of privilege and the positions of privilege our students occupy.

By being in the classroom, our students occupy positions of privilege.

Especially so when access to education is a commodity, out of reach for large sections of the population.

I am often struck therefore by students who walk into the classroom with the deeply held notion that they are Gifts of God, that they are special.

An identity-based education that is propped up on the tools of empowerment, self-efficacy, and nurturing the identity of the student as consumer fails to take into account the privileges and deep inequities that constitute education. That the very production of, circulation of, and participation in knowledge is a deeply unequal exercise remains out of the view of both educators and students.

Part of my pedagogy of communication then is built on Dewey's notion of communication as community.

For Dewey, experience connects us to our communities, and communities both mediate and constitute our everyday interactions with our environments. To explore this link however is also to challenge the identity-based notion of communication as individual self-expression.

To cultivate linkages with communities we live in is to fundamentally interrogate the individualism that constitute contemporary academe.

To cultivate linkages with our communities is to come from a place of humility that opens us up to the possibilities of connection.

To recognize that one is not special, that one is not God's chosen one or God's special gift is essential to this transformation. That one does not arrive into the classroom simply because of her or his inherent qualities, but also as a product of socio-cultural-economic-political inequities is a starting point to the journey of turning to the other.

From this place of humility, we can start reworking education as a space for cultivating access, participation, and social justice.

To recognize one is not special is to recognize the limits of one's knowledge that comes from privilege.

To recognize one is not special is to turn toward communities, to explore connections, to explore the erasures constituted by knowledge as a tool of "othering." To recognize one is not special is an invitation to empathy, to communication as communion, the everyday interactions of connection that we find ourselves amid.

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