My thoughts on this week’s topic of inclusive pedagogy are somewhat all over the map. I read several resources for this week and found several quotes that have got me thinking. I’ll show the quotes first, and then make some comments to tie them together:
“Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.” How Diversity Makes us Smarter, Katherine Phillips
“…we all have bias of one form or another (or, likely, multiple forms). The appropriate question isn’t Who’s biased? but What are my biases, and what am I going to do about them?” Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship
“…racism isn’t something that was created by people of color. It isn’t something that is perpetuated by people of color. It isn’t something that people of color benefit from. When I think about solutions to racism, people of color can’t be the only folks doing the work.” Dismantling Racism in Education
At first, these quotes may seem unrelated (other than the obvious thread of diversity). One focuses on the importance of diversity in teams, one reminds us of how we must deal with our own biases, and one places the responsibility on each of us to recognize how to help others around us. But what I think connects these three quotes is at the heart of inclusive pedagogy: empathy. Recognizing the social diversity of a team as a strength leads to a certain level of empathy where we think more carefully about how we act so that we can help others feel comfortable and welcome in our team. Taking a moment of self-reflection to identify our own biases and make plans to deal with them appropriately requires some empathy to anticipate how our actions might be received by those who we may have biases toward. Finally, empathy is at work when we take individual responsibility to recognize the inequalities that groups around us may face and use our own social advantages to work toward a better environment for them.
All of this requires stepping outside of ourselves to understand how someone else may feel. I recognize that this may not be enough to alleviate some of the social injustices in our world today, but I believe that it is a good start for educators. In a classroom setting, if we can do our best to empathize with our students, show that we care, we can start to help the diverse students in our classrooms to reach their full potential. One final thought from Daniel Goleman to drive home the theme of empathy:
“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”