From Tired, to Hopeful, to Mad, to Empowered

There was so much goodness in this week’s readings. There was a whole lot of this going on during my reading.
Everything has just tied in perfectly to things going on in my life and world right now. If you didn’t read my blog last week I posted about how tired I was last week. I was exhausted from the pressure I feel to be a leader for my people and represent us well to the rest of the world. That was the beginning of the roller coaster of last week. We then had an amazing Tribal Leader’s Summit here on campus Wednesday & Thursday which was just amazing. It was incredible, moving, and also emotional. Then Thursday morning… This happened.

Needless to say, I moved from tired, to hopeful, to just plain mad. (I won’t rehash that transition here but it’s on my twitter if you’re looking for it. Haha.) I think I called my parents more last week just emotionally exhausted from it all then I have in a long time…
To then go from that to reading about Freire’s concepts and thoughts on Critical Pedagogy –
Every time I opened a new reading, I was like “YES! That’s me! That’s what I’ve been looking for! There’s actually research & practice that supports what I’ve been thinking about!”
I found this, “Liberation is akin to a painful childbirth that never completely ends, as oppression continuously mutates and morphs into unprecedented forms in new epochs. Thus, liberation is not merely a psychological change where an individual comes to feel better about herself. Freirean liberation is a social dynamic that involves working with and engaging other people in a power-conscious process.”
It’s never over.  Every day I have to put on my armor, rejoin the fight, and defend my existence not only to my oppressors but to myself. One of the readings explained “the oppressed, Freire frequently reminds his readers, have many times been so inundated by the ideologies of their oppressors that they have come to see the world and themselves through the oppressor’s eyes. “I’m just a peasant, or a hillbilly, or a black kid from the ghetto, or a woman, or a man from the Third World, or a student with a low IQ; I have no business in higher education.” This is actually part of what I was struggling with last week. Thoughts like “I have no business talking about this”, “I am not a leader”, “Is this really my place?”, etc., etc., etc…. So it’s not just outside influences that I am fighting against. It’s not just ignorance. It’s not just racism. It’s this internal inundation of what the world, centuries of assimilation, and generational trauma has told me what I’m suppose to be, do, or act like as a Native woman. I am reminded of something I heard Sherman Alexie tell me and fellow indigenous students here at VT when he visited – “Don’t give a shit about what other Indians think. If you can’t rebel against your own people, how can you rebel against the dominant culture?” So maybe the whole reason I don’t feel like a leader for my people is actually what makes me a leader?? Maybe the fact that I can leave my people, my traditional homeland, and pursue an advanced degree, that my ideas are a little different and a mix of contemporary and tradition, is actually what my people need of me?
So what does this look like in a classroom? It’s a classroom that doesn’t ignore, negate, or hide from the surroundings of the world. No matter what the subject, discipline, or setting. Too many times, engineering professors, at least in my experience, ignore what’s going on in the outside world for fear of it conflicting with the content or the “integrity” of the science/work. I have seen this for myself in the aftermath of the election in November. I had a graduate level, engineering class in my department at 9am Wednesday morning. A female classmate who I know identifies with the LGBT community quietly cried almost the entire class period and our professor just continued with class like all was normal, never acknowledging anything. This attitude has also been seen in the March for Science in their assertion that the march is NOT political and that these discussions – particularly in the area of diversity, inclusion, and the experiences of underrepresented scientists – are dismissed as taking away from the science itself. As I am not an expert on these topics and am just coming to the MFS game, I would direct you to Katherine Crocker, Isabel Ott, and Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos. They discuss these issues with the MFS at great length eloquently and I really appreciate their voices. Freire’s ideas of Critical Pedagogy explain how these attitudes can actually hurt the “science” and the learning process. Freire argues that “education is always political and teachers are unavoidably political operatives. Teaching is a political act—there’s no way around it.”
To ignore the outside world, we are just “depositing” tons of information into our students and perpetuating the idea that this knowledge is static, unchanging, and that their role as students is merely passive vessels, meant only to memorize the content we’re sharing. We’re missing out on showing them how dynamic the world really is, the knowledge really is, and what it all means for society. One of the paper’s I’m reading for my engineering education class this week talks about how first-year engineering students report “enjoying engineering less and viewed it as less important and useful than they did at the beginning of that first year” (Jones, et al., 2010). Could this be tied to our ignorance of the world outside our engineering classrooms? to our not tied these engineering concepts to current events and scenarios? to just dumping information or wanting them to just memorize things?

10 Responses so far.

  1. My brain is tired, so I hope my sentiment comes through. I feel you on your thoughts. While there are some elements I cannot personally relate to because I do not feel a particular connection to my heritgage, I completely relate to your mindset. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  2. Haoran Wei says:

    I think teaching is definitely related to politics no matter how the oppressors deny. The classrooms in democratic countries definitely are more free than the ones I experienced in China.

  3. A. Nelson says:

    Once again you’ve blown me away, Qualla. I’m sorry that the last week has been so painful (again!), but really glad that Freire resonates so powerfully with the work we all must embrace if the classroom is ever to really be an inclusive, empowering, and empowered space. So glad you’ll be helping with the MFS Teach-In here, which is definitely NOT going to work from the assumption that “science” can be separated from politics. Just as teaching is a political act, “[t]he idea that a protest can be “not political” and that science can be separated from scientists are both political ideas. (from Thank you so much for sharing this.

  4. Alex Jardon says:

    Qualla, Thank you for another riveting post. I was drawn to yours again this week after having seen the challenges present last week. I feel like I have so much to comment on in your post, but I’ll try to keep in concise. First, my wife is a huge fan of Sherman Alexie, and I also have a great appreciation for his work. Second, the counselor in me is SCREAMING at the professor who can teach while some cries through the class! That just infuriates me! Being a counselor educator, some of the most emotional and memorable classes happened the week of the election. I feel fortunate to be in a field in which the world outside of the ivory tower is often brought into the classroom. There is so much learning that takes place in processing events such as that, so I appreciate how you tied that concept to this week’s topic. It is also so insightful for me to hear how other fields handle education even when major events are happening in the “real world.” Thanks again for your words here!

  5. Brett Netto says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This post is phenomenal!!! There are so many things to consider in your post but I will focus on one. In your last paragraph, you discuss “depositing” information upon our students. I agree with you that this is inefficient for our students. There needs to be a time of processing and the ability for students to feel that they are taking an active part in their own education.

  6. Xin Ning says:

    Thank you for this post.
    I can feel your struggles because I have the same tough struggles as you. It is so hard for education to avoid any politics as any individual, whether it is a teacher or a student, has one’s own political voice. I once thought that we could build up a vacuum environment for our students to be away from any political critics. However, I realized that there is no possibility. It is not about whether we as teachers can choose to deliver political opinions or not, it is the fact that students can sense political existence and can choose the possible worse side of political standpoint if without proper guidance. Instead of avoiding the useless hiding, why don’t we stand up to acknowledge the existence of politics and to critically think of them? If we can face them without fear, we can teach our students to face them, without fear.

  7. Great post! I really liked how you were able to relate the readings to what is going on in your life right now but then also took time to talk about what this looks like in the class room. I am engineer as well and I agree that for the most part professors hate to bring up anything even slightly political even if it is relevant to our class. I did appreciate my one professor last semester who spent about 5 at the beginning of class the day after the election talking about how upset he was and what this could mean for us as environmental engineers. He started off by saying how he doesn’t typically like talking about politics in class (that he felt it was somewhat inappropriate) then he said “but wow…this is sort of a different thing I would say” and talked about how it has a major impact in our field (Environmental Engineering) and the environment in general. He was visually distraught and before he actually started to lecture he said something a long the lines of “and I hardly feel like lecturing today…but I’m going to…” and that was it. There wasn’t any discussion, we just went right back into the course work. While it was refreshing to see a professor show some emotion in an engineering class (something I don’t think I had ever seen before) it still wasn’t much. I think the whole class could have benefited from a discussion but as engineers I guess we are expected to stay on course to make sure we learn all the material laid out in our syllabus so we don’t have time to talk about real world events…and I think this is something that really needs to change in our field.

  8. Michelle Soledad says:

    Better late than never, I am so glad I went back and reread posts I missed when I was unable to come to class. Your reflections never fail to amaze me, and your experiences in the classroom are things I’ve been through as well. I do wish we could bring more of the world out there into the engineering classroom, especially since engineers are, more often than not, among the people that get thrown into infrastructure and technical issues that the world will face. It is a connection we should not ignore. You will certainly be a force in the classroom, future professor Ketchum. =)

  9. Lindsay says:

    I agree with Michelle–I’m really thankful I came back and reread your post! Outside of pedagogy there has been a lot of liberation work going on here at Tech (as you know of course!) and a lot of it has involved horizontal hostility and a long game of administrative hoop jumping. And as you name here, it’s a process–a hard, long, painful, WTF CAN’T WE JUST BUILD A BATHROOM, conversation, but it’s a conversation we have to keep having.

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