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The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections From Social Justice Educators
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
There is a whole industry of administrative agents and auxiliary student service providers inhabiting the world of higher education bordering the classroom. Whether it is in the areas of residence life, student affairs, or service learning, practitioners provide social justice education (SJE). Inside the classroom, universities and colleges engage faculty to provide discrete courses, or enable interdisciplinary multicultural experiential learning for their students under the rubric of social justice education. Indeed, as this collection testifies, even student peer instruction can be key to unlocking conversations and attaining social justice learning outcomes.
The book’s multiple authors were brought together under the aegis of the ACPA-College Student Educators International Commission for Social Justice Educators. Faculty, administrators, development support staff, and students themselves contribute a variety of chapters focusing on the task of facilitation. As the title suggests, each gives a thick description of their context to flesh out the claim that facilitation is an art rather than an exact science. This is not a simple how-to manual.
The book is organized into four sections: Frameworks from Theory to Practice; Understanding Identities and Facilitation; Facilitation Design and Techniques; and Supporting Student Social Action. One might ask, “Why should teachers of Theology and Religion care?” One attractive answer is that SJE aims at transformation and action in relation to social structures of dominance and oppression. There are underdeveloped suggestions in the text that dominant religious assumptions need examining on campus and in wider society. Certainly the investment of religious studies and theology disciplines in the questions of race and whiteness, gender, sexuality, and broadly, identity -- however controverted -- means that awareness of the theoretical and practical bases of campus work for students is important.
To my mind, the most interesting chapters are those framed largely as dialogues between two authors. Where facilitating conversation, awareness, disclosure, negotiating triggers, and gaining empowerment is the topic, this mode of writing is immediately attractive for demonstrating what is being written discussed in a way that cannot otherwise be done.
The authors are wonderfully humane in addressing their own growth in awareness of the importance of social justice education, and their faltering steps to facilitate that growth along with their students or peers. Social justice education is about relationships and fostering learning that is transformative. Not all will agree with the account of justice that is drawn on in the book: Justice as inclusive individual identity rights procedurally secured over against hegemony is the framework. Certainly different ways of living religious traditions, with their thick accounts of the good framing what counts as just, will dispute some assumptions here. Nevertheless, or rather, precisely so, they are invited into the conversation that is facilitated. Teachers of theology and religion might take much of the wisdom accrued here into their class discussions, seminars, and workshops. Further, everyday teaching will be more attuned to the strivings toward justice in the wider higher education community.
I would have liked more discussion about ableism and people with disabilities. At times the thick description felt thin, given the constraints of what is communicable on a page: the experiential stories almost needed longer narration to draw in a reader who does not always inhabit the SJE discourse. What is in one sense a distraction for one jumping into the field -- numerous references to authoritative tomes unknown -- is at the same time a boon to the reader wanting to explore further: the chapter bibliographies are extensive and rich.
Teaching for a Culturally Diverse and Racially Just World
Date Reviewed: June 15, 2017
Eleazar S. Fernandez’s edited volume, Teaching for a Culturally Diverse and Racially Just World, brings together important voices in the study of religion and theology to explore issues surrounding racial-ethnic minority scholars. Fernandez writes that “‘marked’ identities” present challenges in all aspects of a scholarly career, from the classroom and research and publication to administration and institutional policy-making (2) and that even as racial-ethic minority scholars make great strides, the “racist system is cunning enough to do countermoves” (3). Willie James Jennings summarizes the crucial issue: “These teachers are measured against simulacrums, images of white male teachers, images of what women teachers ought to be, images of what minority teachers ought to be, and assumptions about which ideas and concepts should matter to women and minorities and which ideas and concepts are the proper domains of white men” (119), as David Maldonado, Jr. shows us the constraints and possibilities faced by racial-ethnic minorities across the institutional spectrum, including those in leadership positions. The purpose of this volume is not to complain, however, but to be constructive: it asks how institutions can re-form themselves, set “benchmarks” (4) to support racial-ethnic diversity, and, thereby, flourish.
Two strategies characterize the volume. First, it deploys metaphors to help the reader to understand, even to experience, the positionality of the racial-ethnic scholar. For example, Jennings presents modern theological education as “the master’s house built exclusively for his sons” (109), while Loida I. Martell-Otero and Elizabeth Conde-Frazier use spatial metaphors to talk about “teacher space” and where our teaching takes place, respectively. With these metaphors, the volume asks what it means to work and to learn as “foreign bodies” in such places: what does it mean to be both at war and yet in love with our disciplines? The volume does not forget students; Peter Cha uses the metaphor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beloved Community” to think through the experience of racial-ethnic students in theological education. The volume asks us to think metaphorically in our assessment as well; it uses, for example, the vocational cycle as a way of thinking through justice work.
A second strategy that characterizes the volume is the inclusion of the voices of allies. Paul O. Myhre and Nancy Ramsay offer valuable strategies and insights as two Euro-American colleagues who have accepted, as Ramsay puts it, “the pervasive influence of white supremacy and the recognition of the self-interested imperative for allies to leverage our privilege on behalf of institutional formation” (251). Using the metaphor of vision, Myhre asks us to expand our vision to see racism not as a singularity for racial-ethnic scholars but in its contexts, and to use the power of discernment to decide how to address the problem justly.
This very important volume includes contributions from many stellar teachers. Though it focuses on theological education primarily, it is valuable for religious studies. Its range − from the location of the scholar, to students, to administration, to issues of assessment − is wide, but deftly handled. It is both theoretical and practical, making it a work one can mine for different kinds of insights. The volume asks for alliances that generate small but significant steps. As Fernandez puts it: “Small beginnings should not intimidate us. We must remember that we are not called to everything, but we are called to do something” (20).
The time: November 9–10, 1938. The place: Germany. The casualties: More than 7,000 Jewish shops along with 1,574 synagogues damaged or destroyed. One hundred Jews murdered; 30,000 imprisoned in concentration camps. They were the first victims of a racial purge that went on to claim more than 6 million lives. Now, 76 years after Kristallnacht, I am ...