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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.
The gaze. eager sparkle – happy batting of lashes – signaling “…go!”; cautious, diverted looks – at the floor or just “away”— ….no!-- down caste/mostly shut eyes, maybe even the downright defiant stare – fixed & cocked….Occasionally the gawk – sheer incredulity & clench. When I think of being a transformative teacher, ...
Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2015
Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, by Richard Arum, professor in the Department of Sociology at NYU and senior fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Josipa Roska, associate professor of sociology and education and associate director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at the University of Virginia, is the much-anticipated sequel to the authors’ celebrated, often cited, and hotly debated Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (2011), which documented in great detail the academic gains – and stagnation – of some 2,300 students of traditional college age enrolled at a range of 4-year college and universities. In the 2011 report, students were measured on gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and other “higher level” skills taught at college, and the results were not encouraging. The most often-cited findings included: 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college; and 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college. The main culprit for students’ lack of academic progress, the authors claimed, is lack of rigor, particularly with respect to critical reading and analytical writing.
Aspiring Adults Adrift tracks the same cohort of undergraduates out into the working world into (what should be) adulthood, and documents their struggles to make the transition to traditional adult roles. The results of this follow-up study are no more inspiring: 24 percent of graduates living at home with their parents; 74 percent of graduates receiving financial support (in some cases quite substantial) from their families; and 23 percent of graduates in the labor market who are unemployed or underemployed. Despite these discouraging findings, however, the authors report that these graduates are quite optimistic about their futures, 95 percent of them reporting that they expect their lives to be better than their parents. The authors set out to determine what accounts for this optimism.
One compelling argument put forward by Arum and Roksa is a theory given recent prominence by social psychologist Jeffrey Arnett in his notion of “emerging adulthood,” a new demographic identified as the period between eighteen and twenty-five years of age, a period of “self discovery” and “self exploration” during which adolescence is extended; a period in which these aspiring college-educated young adults struggle with identity exploration, instability, and self-focus, often do not live independently, are un- or underemployed, and do not have the income to be financially self-sufficient.
Arum and Roksa put the blame, fairly or unfairly, largely on institutions of higher education, and their commitment to “promoting a personnel perspective that celebrate(s) self-exploration and social well-being” (11) – put more bluntly, that caters to the ethos of consumer society, and a broader “cultural adoption of a therapeutic ethic” (9): “both the students and institutions have put such a high focus on social engagement as a key component of higher education that the students have come to believe that it’s those skills and networks that are going to be critically important for their lifelong success.” The evidence, however, suggests otherwise; that the emphasis on social “engagement” at the expense of academic rigor is not achieving these results. “Widespread cultural commitment to consumer choice and individual rights, self-fulfillment and sociability, and well-being and a broader therapeutic ethic leave little room for students or schools to embrace programs that promote academic rigor” (136). It is, the authors contend, ultimately a mutually-reinforcing race to the bottom: “This may reflect the self-centered nature of emerging adulthood,” they write, “or the education system’s decreasing emphasis on preparing individuals for participating in a democratic society. Whatever the underlying causes of this tendency, colleges could adopt a more productive role in the development of values and dispositions for greater engagement with the world at large” (113). In essence, the responsibility is ours, as educators, to reject consumer satisfaction as “a worthy aim for colleges and universities” and “do more to help students develop the attitudes and dispositions they need to reach their aspirations” (134). Wherever the solutions lie to the oft-cited “crisis in higher education,” the authors of Aspiring Adults Adrift have once again contributed significantly to the centrality of educator-led reform.
Adult Education and Learning in a Precarious Age: The Hamburg Declaration Revisited (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 138)
Date Reviewed: February 26, 2015
In 1997, the International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA) crafted the visionary Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning and Agenda for the Future (UNESCO, 1997) claiming that adult education could contribute to “a world in which violent conflict is replaced by dialogue, a culture of peace based on justice . . . and the creation of a learning society committed to social justice and general well-being” (2-3). What is the value of an idealistic treatise like the Hamburg Declaration? And what does it matter to theological education?
Religious education faculty want their teaching to impact student learners and to make a positive difference in their global communities. In an ever-changing world, it is essential that theological educators situate their teaching within the larger sociocultural milieu, recognizing how contextual realities inform and shape both the process and content of adult learning. The Hamburg Declaration demands that educators heed its call and answer its pedagogical implications.
Contributors to this current volume were invited to provide a critical analysis of the Declaration’s core themes, particularly in light of political, social, economic, and cultural transformations occurring throughout the world today (4). They chronicle the challenges and opportunities that adult education has had in issues surrounding democracy, women, literacy, work, environment, technology, international policy, and economics – particularly in the years since the declaration was published. While today’s pressing concerns may differ from those in 1997 – for example, the changing nature of work and unprecedented advances in technology – nevertheless, a review of these themes may be instructive for how educators might examine related issues within the context of religious and theological education.
The Hamburg Declaration follows from the emphases of adult educators such as Brookfield, Freire, Hooks, and Illich, who affirm the political nature of education. Political and social realities do indeed shape the context of student learning. In cultivating appropriate pedagogical strategies to address the most urgent global issues, Adult Education and Learning in a Precarious Age suggests that we pay heed to the process of framing problems and how these inform solutions. Reiterating the emphasis in Hamburg, co-editor Welton affirms an “ethic of dialogue respectful of the different moral and spiritual options” that is “best able to promote the learning process” (17). Such dialogue is essential as teachers engage students in critical reflection of relevant global issues. Yet, the preliminary analysis by the authors of this volume invites further interaction from an explicitly theological perspective.
Although one may question the actual progress made on the concerns identified in the Hamburg Declaration and the role of adult education, this work still serves as timely inspiration for values-driven religious educators who are motivated by the pursuit of truth, justice, and ethics; who long to foster transformative education with impact beyond the classroom. As Nesbit, this volume’s co-editor, asserts, “What is possible is shaped, in part, by our visions” (98).
Am I the only one who didn’t learn to read until graduate school, or possibly until I started teaching? A convergence of things brought me to this realization. My current institution’s most recent alumni magazine included a feature on our New Media Studies program. It started only two ...