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Integrating Mindfulness into Anti-Oppression Pedagogy: Social Justice in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
In the classroom, faculty often rely on a singular way of knowing -- allowing minds to enter the classroom while leaving bodies, spirits, emotions, and experiences outside the doors of the lecture hall or meeting space. Professor of ethnic and women’s studies at St. Cloud State University, Beth Berila imagines something more effective and embodied. After receiving tenure, she enrolled in a yoga teacher training program. She realized the contemplative practices of yoga and meditation could better her teaching, particularly in the area of social justice. Mindfulness could create a space for interrupting oppression and begin “the dynamic process of unlearning” that which may contribute to oppression (x). In each of seven chapters, Berila presents a theoretical framework, reflection and application for classroom learning, practices to cultivate mindfulness, and extensive bibliographic references.
Berila’s project aims to recognize oppression and unlearn its destructive internalization for both the oppressed and the oppressor. Mindfulness, Berila argues, can dismantle privilege as well as dislodge internalized oppression. The practices she incorporates into her teaching prompts readers to reflect on their own educational techniques as potentially contemplative and communal spaces for learning. She offers introspective activities like pranayama (a form of breathing), journaling, and mindful awareness of the body. She also offers corporate activities that invite interaction and group discussion. Through both the introverted and extroverted approaches she acknowledges the possibility of triggering dissonance, trauma, and resistance. Berila is a skilled teacher and astute author; she knows well the risk and rewards of the activities she engages. The practices she advocates are new, thought-provoking, and stimulating.
Berila is not unaware of the critiques that can be made of pedagogy shaped by mindfulness. She addresses particular concerns directly and then nudges the critics to consider the positive benefits of this method: building empowered communities, fostering compassion, changing oppressive systems, claiming full human dignity and equality for all people, and prompting institutional change. Accomplishing this requires attention to the knee-jerk reaction of shenpa, the Buddhist term for “the negative gut reaction” (109) behind our charged reactions. Disrupting that shenpa is one of the aims of mindfulness and here Berila offers techniques for navigating the complexity of reactions that can occur within individuals and classrooms when that charge occurs.
Integrating Mindfulness into Anti-Oppression Pedagogy would be great summer or sabbatical reading when time allows deep contemplation. Her work invites reflection on those moments we wish we had handled differently in the classroom while offering helpful steps forward for future instruction. While integrating mindfulness does not require a teacher to be a master practitioner, Berila prompts small steps we can all take toward integrating body and spirit, emotion and experience into a deeper embodiment that moves beyond our mechanized minds. Plan to read this fascinating book twice. Once in a time and space where you can “pause and breathe” (29), allowing the content to become embodied. And then second, with pen in hand and syllabus in the other, ready to take note of how to incorporate these practices into your next semester of teaching.
The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World
Date Reviewed: December 1, 2015
The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World has the potential to complement and advance efforts of educational institutions and educators who grapple with becoming more inclusive. Dena Samuels’s work will convince those who have not begun this work to begin. Even more, it will equip them to do so.
Agreeing with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s claims that “education is the civil rights of our generation” and that “great teaching is about so much more than education; it is a daily fight for social justice” (116), Samuels’ work demands both self awareness and institutional struggle. Because a “social justice journey is a marathon, not a sprint,” a training plan is required. This book is one such training plan.
For the individual educator, Samuels offers numerous tips, including an extensive not-to-be missed list of inclusive educators characteristics (108-9). Yet, for all the difference individual educators can make, in order to make the deepest impact, this “bottom up” approach (e.g., addressing microagressions in the classroom) must be combined with a “top down” commitment (e.g. recruit and retain diverse faculty and administrative leadership, develop inclusive curricula, demand rigorous assessment of diversity trainings). Samuels stresses institutional diversity practices instead of relying solely on “individual champions who come and go” (76).
Samuels is hopeful even as she admits that becoming culturally inclusive educators and educational institutions is a long-term and, at times, difficult venture. She speaks from the experience of investing in the process.
I have learned that my skin color . . . represents something, whether I want it to or not . . . when I become aware of my easily manifested entitlement, I tangibly feel the sting of inequality, even as the recipient of unearned privilege. It is important that I have deeply felt this pain, not as White guilt, but as a reminder that these systems of inequality affect us all, obviously to different degrees, and that my objective is to dismantle them (90).
Some readers will be introduced to new vocabulary such as microaggression, noun-based identifiers, nondominant (instead of minority), meritocracy, and code switching. Others will be surprised by research results. For example, studies have found that voluntary inclusiveness trainings may produce more inclusive behavior than mandatory trainings (43), and that training faculty when they are in graduate programs is more beneficial than when they are in their teaching positions (44). Yet others might be surprised to hear that faculties and institutions are not as prepared as they think they are (24). Minimally, readers will gain much from the extensive bibliography, helpful appendices, and references to various survey instruments.
Other than a desire to read more about instances of institutional and classroom success, I am satisfied with this book’s ability both to convince me that my own “minor actions can make a major impact,” and to encourage and guide me toward amending my practices and the practices of our educational institutions.
Teach students where they are! This forthright adage is deceptively difficult. The question becomes – where are they in proximity to my own location? In other words, what does it mean for the effectiveness of my teaching if the cost of locating my students is heart wrenching? I am invested in ...
Jane Addams in the Classroom
Date Reviewed: April 23, 2015
This book’s eleven essays propose ways in which educators might apply Jane Addams’s approaches to education and community engagement. Each essay offers a historical examination of Addams’s writing or work, followed by lessons in the practical application of her efforts to “socialize democracy” (13). With the exception of two Jane Addams Hull-House Museum affiliates, all contributions come from high school and university English instructors. Their general approach, however, applies to all educators, including those in religious studies and theology. As Petra Munro Hendry proposes, Addams’s work can inspire us to understand “teaching as a form of social ethics” (48).
The book’s central message emphasizes the need to listen to and understand the experiences and worldview of one’s students and community. Concluding that the intellectual approach of our educational system fails to meet the needs of most citizens, Addams designed an “experiential, participatory learning” environment for the diverse immigrants of Chicago (62). She believed that accepted methods of cultural and social improvement for the working class merely reinforced the distance between social classes. Contributors to this volume interpret her approach as a challenge to teach social justice and engage the diversity of students’ experiences. Essays by Lanette Grate, Susan C. Griffith, and Erin Vail recount their successful classroom efforts to engage their students with local social justice issues, using Addams’s method of allowing current events to guide their work. Jennifer Krikava argues for the necessity of balancing the goals of outsiders (like standardized testing) with the need to equip students with skills that will enrich their future lives. Darren Tuggle agrees, demonstrating the benefits of reciprocal learning through his program that acclimates high school students to college life while providing learning experiences for university students training to become teachers. In these ways, educators address the unique needs and experiences of their students while simultaneously introducing them to the necessity of engaging their community and its social needs. Lisa Lee and Lisa Junkin Lopez explain how administrators can facilitate these processes through community programs.
David Schaafsma and Todd DeStigter frame all these approaches as contributions to Addams’s efforts to “support democracy” (17). Retaining such a consistent focus unfortunately resulted in considerable repetition – several authors drew similar meaning from Addams’s account of the “Devil Baby,” for example. Greater variation and critique of Addams would have expanded its contribution and my confidence in the book’s historical interpretation.
Schaafsma and Hendry’s essays offer sound critique, however, of current scholars and Addams’s contemporaries who dismissed her work and narrative-style writing as “sentimental” and “nonscientific” (190). The reformer’s methods reflected her ultimate point: dictating social change from a distance is undemocratic and at best ineffective, if not damaging. Reformers and educators must reject the dichotomy of benefactor and subject to embrace the contributions and participation of all people affecting a relationship, including those extending beyond the immediate contact. We can all use a reminder of this lesson, and this book suggests how to apply it to today’s educational system.
Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education
Date Reviewed: March 5, 2015
As a non-Latina author, I was moved and enlightened by this compilation of twenty-two writings, weaving complex narratives from across the Americas with heritage(s) in US-American, Cuban, Mexican, Colombian, Guatemalan, Panamanian, black, Dominican Republic strands and more. Jennifer de Leon states her purposes: to dispel stereotypes of Latinas, fend off their isolation in higher education, invite activism toward social justice, and offer opportunity for each contributor to share her unique voice and wisdom (4-5). I myself stand in a line of women writing for change – Women Writing for (a) Change, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, with affiliate sites across the country – so these stories drew me all the way in. The book contributes well toward its aims, though the challenge remains for the reader to make the necessary transitions from authors’ narratives into concrete action for change. This is a liberationist text for cultural and women’s studies, college freshman seminars, educational ministries, and various creative and essay writing courses in postsecondary education.
Wise Latinas locates itself well within feminist, mujerista, and liberationist reflections on higher education, specifically in the areas of pedagogy and narrative. I was reminded of True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Stories Out of School, edited by Susan Gubar (W.W. Norton, 2011), though de Leon’s compilation expands horizons by attending to “rooms of their own.” The organization of the work into four sections holds the reader’s attention in a persuasive arc – Worlds Apart, Rooms of Our Own, Inside These Academic Walls, and In Tribute, In Time.
Each section touches themes of voice (lost and found), body, family (especially daughter norms), virtue, worth, intellect, belonging (and socialization away from belonging), hospitality (often unwelcome or misunderstood in fragmented, highly mobile US contexts), gender, orientation, race, and more. Unable to do justice to each essay, I offer only a couple observations. Celeste Guzman Mendoza offers a bold, integrative writing in bilingual prose – “Las Otras” – relating her surprise at the commonalities across ethnic identities while holding to her own distinctive communicative medium, a mix of English and untranslated Spanish. I loved the demand to confront Spanish (or ignorance of it) in the reader. In “Rapunzel’s Ladder,” Julia Alvarez offers a stinging summary of higher education’s disempowerment of cultural traditioning (by schooling) and asks crucial pedagogical questions for social justice education. Chantel Acevedo’s reflections name the difficulty for a woman leaving home for school before marriage – Cuban ‘exile trauma,’ she calls it – which prefigures a difficult journey in the often nomadic academic life. One painful paradox arose in several writings: substantial parental pressure to succeed in school simultaneous with their great displeasure upon daughters leaving home to pursue said education. Throughout, the strengths of Latina wisdom arise out of hard won experience and culturally-rooted heritage awash in a world that can overwhelm.
Wise Latinas is a good read, with narrative essays, poetic dialogues, and creative expression of the journeys many Latinas in higher education have travelled. One intention was to combat the isolation Latinas face there. A happy side effect is that outsiders are invited to listen and learn, attuned to this distinct expression of an existential isolation that higher education – as currently configured – seems to insure.