Embracing Inclusive Pedagogy in MY Classroom

The biggest hurdle for me to overcome in adopting inclusive pedagogy is how to holistically integrate the principles into my class in Animal Science in a meaningful way. I will concede I like the idea of implementing “ground-rules” related to creating a brave space for the classroom community, but I am concerned that starting conversations on tough subjects, not explicitly course content will detract from the sense of community within my classroom. One such example is addressing the history at our own institution.  At VT the Smithfield Plantation used to keep slaves, the university does not openly discuss this painful fact. Yet there are locations on campus – mainly near the farms on plantation road- that have names in homage to the old plantation such as the Smithfield Horse Center (where many of the students in the department of animal and poultry sciences will visit during their degree program). If I were to start a dialogue with my students about why the center is named as such how does that benefit my goal of teaching students about the science of managing equines? I understand and applaud the goal of making students into better citizens of the world by facilitating discussion around the history of VT and embracing the discomfort of acknowledging the horrible legacy that plantations have on individuals of color especially in the realm of agricultural sciences- but I struggle with how can I meaningfully integrate these principles into my class. I know that I could always post a historical information page or document onto my canvas page and have students read it and discuss it but is that enough to truly prepare students to become citizens of the world? Will it mean anything to them?

I fully appreciate the values embodied in the theory of inclusive pedagogy, but I struggle to rationalize how to integrate them within the existing framework of a typical Animal Science curriculum. The more I learn about pedagogy and reflect on my own experiences the more I realize that I want to throw out the handbook when I reach the point that I am able to teach and ideally create my own classes.

-SE

6 Replies to “Embracing Inclusive Pedagogy in MY Classroom”

  1. Thank you for sharing your dilemma, @Cloftse. I totally understand the conflict you are facing. I think you do need to share this vital piece of history with your students. I say this because, if we don’t learn the mistakes from history, we are doomed to repeat them (paraphrased quote by George Santayana). In this context, I think you can share the unfortunate events that occurred at Smithfield plantation and make a point that slavery is inhumane. More importantly, you could also point out that the times have changed and that the university welcomes students of all races and backgrounds – which I hope will create a safe/brave space.

    I’m not an expert in humanities, and I understand that my view might be impractical for reasons that I’m not aware of. I’ll be glad to know what you think about my opinion.

  2. I love this post, because so many teachers have had the exact same thoughts as you. As a previous high school math teacher, I would have never intentionally brought in conversations about difficult scenarios or hard topics into my classroom (unless they were super pressing or relevant) because they didn’t relate at all to the standards that I so desperately needed to address. I mean, that’s what history class is for, right? Now three years out of the high school classroom and relatively deep into the literature on pedagogy, I am so sad for my students that we didn’t have more conversations that were difficult and represented societal problems. There is nowhere in the math standards that claim I need to teach students about contextual elements that may lead to difficult conversations or that I need to prepare well-rounded citizens, but my lessons should’ve been integrated in culturally relevant context enough to bring in some societal conversation. I actually think that bringing these conversations into the classroom (when done in an effective manner) builds community and prepares students to have articulate and respectful conversations. Not to mention it helps with logical thinking – super important in math. So long story short, I have had many similar doubts to what you expressed above, but I absolutely think talking about the context around the various problems/things discussed in class, especially when they are difficult, is crucial and prepares students to be better citizens (and better students in the respective class for that matter). I also think that when teachers set a precedent that it is okay to discuss the societal context within the class (i.e. slavery at Tech), then they feel more comfortable bringing other difficult or challenging topics up in class later.

  3. This is a very interesting post. Thanks, @Cloftse for raising this issue. I agree that discussing difficult topics not relevant to the course may be difficult because of many reasons – limited time to complete teaching being an important one. That said, I feel that every professor can on a daily/weekly basis keep some time aside in the classroom for discussions on current issues, facts, incidences around the world, and others. I liked that last year during the course on ‘Preparing Future Professoriate’, Dean DePauw would start the class by asking all students for any good/bad news, concerns (personal or otherwise), and initiate some difficult discussions herself. This gave courage to everyone to speak on topics that might lead to difficult discussions – protests in Ecuador, India, and other countries, critical decisions in the university that not all may agree to – why pay comprehensive fees, closing of EM undergraduate course, etc. Once she brought up the topic of celebrating Columbus Day (Indigenous Peoples’ Day). Thus, these topics can be brought up in some way into a classroom so that students become aware of varied issues and these discussions can make them better and aware people.
    The recent student protests in the USA for gun laws, student-lead protests in Hong Kong indicate that if these discussions are conducted in the schools, students can lead to positive change in the country. Thus, even though these topics may not be relevant to what we are supposed to teach, we should bring these topics up and make students better citizens aware of their surroundings.

  4. This is very interesting post. On top of this dilemma, I think it is very hard and important to stay neutral when are talking about sensitive topics. For instance, you may start a conversation and take a position that seems obviously right to you, but hurt feelings of many students in your class.

  5. I really like this post. I often have the same problem, because my problem is in the dairy science department. I think that you should mention it to your students. Although it might not seem initially useful to them and you might not get a great response, things like this can plant a seed in people’s head to facilitate more complex thoughts and help shape their role as a citizen.

  6. Interesting post. I have one suggestion that might be able to be implemented which doesn’t directly relate to discussion in class but that still represents one aspect of inclusive pedagogy. I think they also talk about this in one of the articles for class, but providing content from other voices/points of view can be helpful. This would be the source material you use for your class like any papers/books/assignments. I’m not sure if this wholly applies to your discipline but reading academic articles, opinion pieces, or literature from a variety backgrounds (gender, race, ethnicity, etc.) might be one step in the right direction aside from in-class discussions on which others have commented. I didn’t really think about this until reading about inclusive pedagogy and I’m going to try it out myself.

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