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Race, Equity, and the Learning Environment The Global Relevance of Critical and Inclusive Pedagogies in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The recognition that students’ identities play a significant factor in learning has begun to impact university and college classrooms over the past few decades. In particular, there is recognition that racial identities of minority students and students of color shape their experience in the educational process. What has become increasingly apparent, and therefore in need of redress, is the lack of racial equity in pedagogical frameworks and practices. Race, Equity, and the Learning Environment: The Global Relevance of Critical and Inclusive Pedagogies in Higher Education brings these matters to the fore and argues that critical and inclusive pedagogies (CIPs) can, when employed effectively, offer a way forward. Such approaches are not new, but offer the promise of creating rich learning environments by “(a) prioritizing the intellectual and social development of students, (b) fostering classroom climates that challenge each student to achieve academically at high levels, (c) recognizing and cultivating the cultural and global differences that learners bring to the educational experience, and (d) engaging the ‘whole’ student (e.g., intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally) in the teaching and learning process” (2).
The volume contains an introduction and conclusion, and in between are eleven essays reflectioning on CIPs at the intersection of race and higher education. The essays are divided into three sections covering theoretical dimensions (three essays), practical implications (four essays), and assessment (four essays). I have chosen to highlight one essay from each section that is particularly valuable for the religious studies classroom.
In part one, “Pursuing Equity Through Diversity” (Bolitzer et al.) presents a series of valuable reflections on how student diversity can be used to encourage and achieve classroom equity. Using a multidisciplinary approach, the authors highlight three perspectives on diversity: as the intersection of identities and power, as fostering individual and collective growth, and within subject-matter learning. On this basis, they see diversity as a collective resource in the classroom that advances learning.
In part two, Koshino’s article explores the racial climate and experience of a small midwestern college through interviews with students of color. The results enable her to hone in on some glaring deficiencies in the campus culture for minority students and suggest strategies for improvement in these areas. Finally, in part three Ghabra et al. critique the white, heterosexual, male norm of university classrooms through a framework informed by CIPs and intersectional sexuality. They highlight their use of performance writing to evaluate classroom interactions marked by an ethic of responsibility, love, and care. The result reveals how students and professors can work together to create inclusive spaces.
Does the volume have value for the religious studies or theology classroom? Given the personal nature of religious exploration and study, the answer is a qualified “Yes!” I suspect teachers of religion will find the essays focused on theoretical issues of more value because of their broad application. However, the essays on practice and assessment also contain material that can be adapted to the religious studies classroom. At any rate, since race and religion intersect so dramatically (especially in the U.S.), CIPs offer a way for students to think critically not only about religion generally, but to do so in a manner that also affirms and values the perspectives of their fellow students. To the degree that these essays prompt deeper reflection on how teachers can engage students in these ways, they will prove a valuable addition to the religious studies toolbox of resources.
Designing Transformative Multicultural Initiatives: Theoretical Foundations, Practical Applications, and Facilitator Considerations
Date Reviewed: March 3, 2016
Sherry K. Watt has assembled talented “conscious scholar practitioners” to address the growing need to design university policies, programming, and classroom pedagogies that address difference. This book addresses both the theoretical and practical aspects of multicultural teaching. As the preferred term “conscious scholar practitioners” suggests, both aspects are vital for developing multicultural policies and teaching practices. Watt explicitly places the book within the model of radical pedagogy most commonly associated with Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and bell hooks’ conception of teaching for liberation. The challenge of the book is to translate the theoretical principles of this tradition into policies that shape institutions and to provide practical models for how these principles can be actualized on today’s university campuses.
The book is organized into four parts. The first part lays out the guiding principles for transformative multicultural initiatives. Here the main terms found throughout the volume are laid out clearly and the general theoretical ground is set. Part two moves to the practical question of design and provides helpful tools that should be used during the beginning phases of design as well as how best to evaluate such programs at their conclusion. Since assessment is often difficult to conceive of in the midst of radical pedagogical models, this section struck me as particularly helpful for navigating such a pedagogy within the managerial space of the contemporary university. Part three provides six case-studies in which conscious scholar practitioners present their own programs. This is a valuable section because of the examples given, but perhaps most importantly because they offer valuable lessons learned in their unflinching self-analysis of their programs. Part four provides important reflections on the institutional challenges that exist for those trying to carry out the programs advocated and modeled in the volume. While reading this chapter I had hoped for more constructive advice for dealing with the various forms of institutional and individual resistance to multicultural initiatives, but many of the stories in these chapters highlight the main forms of resistance to radical pedagogical models in the contemporary university.
This volume is not specifically directed towards educators in theology and religious studies. However, all of the chapters are intended to be adaptable to various contexts. For those scholars who want to deepen and center difference in their classroom and across their university this book strikes me as incredibly valuable. For departments of theology and religious studies seeking to form stronger links with other departments, staff members, and administrators, this volume can provide a common vocabulary and methodology. The volume may in fact be most valuable as a model that can facilitate interdisciplinary work as special attention is paid to multicultural initiatives within the physical and mathematical sciences. These fields are often neglected in radical pedagogy models, but as theologians and scholars of religion are encouraged to carry out more interdisciplinary teaching this volume may help frame such work within radical pedagogical models.