I wanted to start this post by addressing a video I just saw: ‘How microaggressions are like mosquito bites‘. Too often, I find that discussions of ‘sensitive topics’ (or insert your other favorite euphemism) happen in this uncomfortable sort of somber monotone. As if the very nature of these topics somehow necessitates a level of caution, so we don’t step on anyone’s toes. What I loved about this video is that it said a big f*** you (don’t follow the link if you are offended by potty-mouths) to that notion of caution, and tackled the concept of microaggressions using the language of pissed off and frustrated Millennials. It also managed to capture the idea of microaggressions, with a half dozen or so examples, in less than 2 minutes. And the use of humor made it all the more memorable.
While I found this video to be extremely effective, I recognize that my positive feelings towards it would not be shared by everyone. And that idea brings us to today’s topic, inclusive pedagogy. The Teaching Commons at Georgetown University defines inclusive pedagogy as the creation of a space that works for all students. So while the microaggression video worked for me as an educational tool, it’s unlikely to work for everyone. Recognizing that we all learn and grow in different ways is an important distinction, especially as it relates to inclusivity in the classroom.
The Georgetown article discusses some evidence that marginalized students feel excluded from our education system. An important point made was that “techniques that help improve the academic performance of students in marginalized groups tend to benefit other students, too.” I should also note that one of the citations for this claim comes from one of VT’s very own [Haak et al. 2011]. This quote reminded me of a recent conversation I had with one of my faculty mentors. They were discussing diversity in higher education and made the point that there is often a false choice between hiring diverse candidates and excellent candidates for research positions. As if increasing diversity comes at a cost of quality… The Georgetown article provides a line of evidence to counter this all-too-prevalent belief, that in fact the recognition and value of diversity can increase excellence.
Perhaps at the core of inclusive pedagogy is what the article calls a growth mindset – “the belief that a student’s abilities, interests, and capacities can change.” I think inclusive pedagogy, like all authentic efforts to increase inclusivity, is itself an optimistic concept. If we can focus on teaching our students as individuals, and recognize that their uniqueness requires a level care and thoughtfulness, I think we can achieve a fuller and richer educational experience for everybody.
P.S. I feel like I always end these blog posts on an optimistic note and recognize my own loftiness and perhaps false sense of positivity. Maybe it’s because things are a mess at present [COVID et al. 2020], or maybe because I’m watching West Wing (a show which exists solely in a false reality when compared to the modern political climate). Either way, I’d appreciate any counter-points you might have to offer!