The Inherent Intentions behind Inclusive Pedagogies

Two years ago, when I heard the words “diversity,” “equality,” or “inclusion,” my mind immediately went to including people of minority backgrounds on the table, or reaching the “number” that would “solve” underrepresentation in any fields or settings, or focusing on accommodating minority to help them succeed. Only after I started reading about critical paradigms in social science research that I realized how off the mark those thoughts were.

The thought above popped into my head when I reflected on inclusive pedagogies, because how could I not? Inclusive pedagogies, to me, signify two loaded concepts: 1) we live in a place where realities are shaped by power structures that oppressed those who are not of the majority, and 2) our educational systems are rooted in those power structures, effectively refuting the notion that schools are apolitical.

The first concept ties directly to the first paragraph. My perceptions of the world and realities transformed when I started engaging in critical literature. I thought I figured out what racism was because I grew up in an environment where racism is clearly displayed on papers that dictate how one should behave in the society. In the said environment, everything about racism seems to be about playing the “numbers” game, including people in settings, and constantly “accommodating” to minorities with ad hoc policies and rhetorics. Essentially, it was how I experienced racism in Malaysia.

I brought those thoughts and experiences with me to the States ten years ago. Living in this country revealed to me a deeper and more disturbing layer of racism that I wasn’t aware of. I knew something was off about the situations, but I could not express or articulate it. Two years ago, I started reading about critical paradigms in research, and things finally clicked. It was then I learned of the words “power structure,” “oppression,” “minoritized,” “privilege,” and “systemic,”; the language that I can use to talk about the realities that I see and some of my friends experience. It was then I learned of how the society is structured based on race, gender, sexuality, ableism, religions, and many others that humans construct to differentiate among each other. It was also then I learned of my privilege that I hold and have benefitted from over the years, and how I have experienced the States very differently than some people who are perceived differently. Confronting all these is difficult yet important for me to make sense of the world we live in.

These discoveries, along with literature and readings, led to another realization: our educational systems are political institutions embedded within the power structure that shapes the society (the second concept). Schools, colleges, educational programs are also operating within the system, many have argued that these educational systems have been implicitly reproducing the social oppression and inequity that are the outcomes of the power structure, as many of the learning and teaching seem to revolve around the “norm,” “standard,” or benchmark” that are shaped by the majority. Though some may argue that schools should be neutral, they are not, and not acknowledging the political nature of education, I argue, can do a lot of harm to our society.

Inclusive pedagogies, thus, become an appropriate small step for instructors to embrace in addressing the two systemic issues that I just espoused on in the classroom settings. I think inclusive pedagogies can compel an instructor or facilitator to confront the world we are living in and situate themselves while designing learning environments. In other words, instructors who employ inclusive pedagogies are comfortable and well-equipped to facilitate difficult conversations in their classrooms (setting up ground rules and challenging students to think beyond their comfort zones). They also are mindful of the power dynamics that may occur in their classrooms based on the social constructs that have differentiated humans (designing team-based projects and activities that are mindful of social constructs). In addition, they constantly think about how to ensure the learning environment is safe for their students (constantly check in with students on the classroom climate and act on those comments). These are some of the essential parts of this pedagogical lens, and I think they can contribute, however big, toward addressing the systemic issues I see in this world.

I strive to constantly be mindful of the power dynamic that occurs due to differentiating social constructs when I design learning environments. I strive to constantly check in with my students to make sure they feel safe in the classrooms. I strive to be better and prepared to facilitate difficult conversations among my students in the classroom. I strive to embrace inclusive pedagogies as an instructor in the future. It will not be easy, but it is necessary.

6 Replies to “The Inherent Intentions behind Inclusive Pedagogies”

  1. I appreciate you sharing your experience in Maylasia and your perspective on the importance of inclusive pedagogy. I agree with your thoughts on “educational systems are political institutions embedded within the power structure.” I think in the current state of the world, more people are aware of the systemic racism that has existed for hundreds of years. Many people have become “woke” to the power dynamics which have oppressed and marginalized so many individuals. If we as future professors provide the space to allow people to share their lived experiences and truth, it may facilitate a continued awakening to bring people together in understanding and promote conversations to mitigate the hostile and unwelcoming environments. Inclusive pedagogical work that is intentional and explicit may shift the power dynamic that has existed in educational institutions. It may facilitate an empathetic renaissance out of these dark ages.

    1. Hi Anaid,

      Thank you for your comment, and I agree completely with your thoughts that we need to provide space for those with different lived experiences to thrive. In addition, I think having those who have been privileged within this power structure to potentially seek out literature and knowledge on systemic oppression of minoritized groups may be helpful. After all, education, in my opinion, is a co-construction of knowledge, and those who engage in learning should be open-minded and willing to be challenged.

  2. Great post KJ! Your journey of reflection and understanding really resonated with me. Even as someone who grew up in the United States, I had not critically challenged my world views or understanding of our society. Until college, I had considered racism something that occurs at the individual level. The more I started to read and learn the more I realized how deeply rooted systemic racism is in our society. I highly agree with your point that our educational systems are political institutions embedded within the power structure that shapes the society. I think sometimes professors and students like to think that universities are apolitical, however, in my opinion, that would be near impossible. Many individual’s mere existence is political in the current day and age (considering BIPOC, the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled community, etc.)

    1. Hi Sophia,

      Thank you so much for your comments! I think everyone’s journey is highly different and individualistic, yet intertwined with their surroundings and the people around them. I think this is where the important thinking should happen: How we acknowledge our situation within the power structure, and how we navigate that to address systemic oppression of minoritized people. I think being part of the educational system warrant us being reflective of the system, and how we can leverage those components to push for changes.

  3. Your blog is refreshing to see how someone can immigrate to the U.S. and make connections with how racism has been manifested in this country. As you identified the various ways that we are diverse, I think it’s worth noting we then need to understand how the intersections of our identities impact how we engage with concepts of inclusion and diversity. We teach according to our intersections and students are impacted by our teaching because of their intersections.

    You stated, “instructors who employ inclusive pedagogies are comfortable and well-equipped to facilitate difficult conversations in their classrooms.” I would like to challenge how we think about the difficult conversations happening in courses structured on hard facts like STEM-related courses. Where do we see cultural conversations and intersectionality fitting into the various university departments?

    1. Hi Amilia,

      Thank you for your comment, and I appreciate that you raise the issues of intersectionality of identities impact how we think about diversity and inclusion. I admit that I still tend to think of certain people as part of monolithic groups, ignoring the idea that many of these identities intersect, and have nuanced impacts on individuals’ realities. Thank you for raising the importance of considering intersectionalities in the larger conversation on systemic oppression.

      I would also like to thank you for challenging me to think about how to have difficult conversations in STEM classrooms. As I am part of the engineering education community, I have the responsibility to constantly challenge myself in practicing what we are talking about here. In the engineering contexts, one way I can see such conversations happening is to engage students to think about the larger impact of engineering practice on the society, and how engineering practice is inherently rooted within the power structure that shapes how different individuals are affected by discriminatory social constructs and the intersections of such constructs. I will make sure to constantly remind myself of the challenges ahead, and make a point to address them.

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