- Objective One: To enhance teaching comfort and effectiveness in the areas of diversity and social justice by sponsoring a university-wide lecture for faculty, staff, and doctoral students entitled “What Makes Our Teaching ‘Anti-Oppressive’?: A Critical Overview of Research and Practice.”
- Objective Two: To provide advanced strategies for teaching social justice and diversity content in social work courses by sponsoring an interactive workshop for School of Social Work faculty and doctoral students entitled “When Students Resist: Troubling Views of Crisis, Uncertainty, and Progressive Change.”
The national expert who conducted the lecture and workshop was Dr. Kevin K. Kumashiro. Dr. Kumashiro has worked as a teacher and teacher educator in various public and private elementary and secondary schools and colleges in the United States and abroad, and has facilitated workshops and served as a consultant for schools, school districts, universities, and state and federal agencies. Dr. Kumashiro is Senior Program Specialist in the Human and Civil Rights Division of the National Education Association. He is also the Director of the Center for Anti-Oppressive Education, which prepares resources for members of educational communities interested in creating and engaging in forms of education that challenge multiple oppressions. He is the author of Restoried Selves (2003, Harrington Park Press), Troubling Education (2002, RoutledgeFalmer, received a 2003 Myers Outstanding Book Award), Troubling Intersections of Race and Sexuality (2001, Rowman & Littlefield), Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Towards Social Justice (forthcoming, Routledge). Additionally, he has published several scholarly articles on anti-oppressive education.
Descriptions of the lecture and workshop that Dr. Kumashiro conducted are below.
For decades, educators and researchers have theorized and engaged in approaches to teaching and learning that address differences, challenge inequities, and work towards social justice. They have developed an increasingly wide range of anti-oppressive perspectives and practices. However, they have also suggested that no approach is without limitation: any approach is helpful for certain goals and not helpful for others; any approach is partial. While some educators view this partiality as a problem to overcome, others suggest that this partiality is exactly what can help make our teaching anti-oppressive. This lecture presented a critical overview of several popular approaches to anti-oppressive education, including approaches from liberal, multicultural, feminist, critical, postcolonial, and queer traditions. It suggested that "anti-oppressive education" needs to be recast as a process much more paradoxical than common sense would have us believe, and offered conceptual and curricular resources for rethinking our own teaching. The program was transmitted via video simulcast to allow participation of the School of Social Work faculty in the Northern Virginia program.
Teaching and learning in ways that address differences, oppression, and privilege often involve significant discomfort and resistance among students (and even teachers), and this should not be surprising given the uncertainties and contradictions involved in any approach to teaching and learning. In this interactive, experiential workshop, we examined the notion that anti-oppressive change is made possible not when we teach students the right/better/progressive thing in the right way, but rather, when we critically examine the disconnect between whatever we teach and whatever they learn and the political implications of that disconnect. We experienced and analyzed a sample lesson, and then devoted time to exploring the usefulness and immediacy of these ideas for the participants' own classrooms and curriculum. The program was transmitted via video simulcast to allow participation of the School of Social Work faculty in the Northern Virginia program.
The School of Social Work and the University share a strong commitment to teaching and learning about diverse populations. By bringing a national expert to the university, the Social Justice Curriculum Content Group was able to realize a goal that we have been discussing for some time: to involve the larger University community in thinking about and discussing educational experiences and processes that may be oppressive and counterproductive to learning versus those that empower and engage students.
Faculty, staff, and students attending the University lecture had the opportunity to increase their awareness and identify necessary skills relative to anti-oppressive educational approaches within their specific academic or professional discipline. During the question-and-answer period of the presentation, several audience members addressed questions to Dr. Kumashiro.
The interactive workshop in the School of Social Work provided faculty and doctoral students with the opportunity to critically reflect on our current teaching approaches, as well as to acquire new tools for more effective teaching of social justice and diversity content throughout the social work curriculum. It challenged our current ways of teaching our courses and handling classroom situations in which we have felt “stuck.”
Evaluation of the both Dr. Kevin Kumashiro’s lecture and the workshop utilized two measures of assessment: 1) monitoring the number of attendees at both events and 2) analysis of responses to two different evaluation instruments. Both instruments contained seven closed-ended items, yielding quantitative data, and three open-ended questions, producing qualitative data (see Appendices A and B).
The university lecture “What Makes our Teaching ‘Anti-Oppressive’: A Critical Overview of Research and Practice” drew 49 attendees, including 32 faculty members, 5 staff members, and 12 doctoral students. The faculty and staff members came from a variety of schools/departments, including School of Medicine, University Counseling Services, Social Work, English, World Studies, Community Programs, African-American Studies, Government and Public Adminstration, Women’s Studies, and Education.
Of the 49 attendees, 38 completed the evaluation instrument on this lecture, representing a response rate of 78%. The answer format for each of the 7 close-ended items utilized a 5 point Likert scale: 1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neutral; 4 = agree; and 5 = strongly agree. Table 1 illustrates the findings from these ratings.
Overall, the attendees rated the presentation highly. The ratings for the 7 items ranged from a mean of 4.18 for “The presentation challenged my thinking about teaching difference and oppression regardless of what courses I teach” to a mean of 4.87 for “The presenter was well-prepared and knowledgeable about the topic.” Furthermore, the percentages of attendees rating each item as either “strongly agree” or “agree” was also high, ranging from 78.9% for “The presentation met my expectations about the topic to be presented” to 100% for “The presentation style utilized by the presenter was effective and conducive to my learning.”
|The presentation offered useful information in considering various approaches to anti-oppressive teaching.
|The presentation challenged my thinking about teaching about difference, diversity, and oppression regardless of what courses I teach.
|The presentation provided new or innovative strategies or methods about how to approach my own teaching.
|The presentation met my expectations about the topic to be presented.
|The presentation encourages me to continue learning about and talking with others about anti-oppressive teaching.
|The presenter was well-prepared and knowledgeable about the topic.
|The presentation style utilized by the presenter was effective and conducive to my learning.
In addition to the 7 ratings, attendees responded to three open-ended questions. The following presents the themes that emerged from these responses and specific examples of attendees’ comments.
- Question #1: “In what ways did the descriptions, examples, or quotations of the four approaches to anti-oppressive education help you imagine new ways to approach your own teaching or courses, including things to add and things to transform?”
Twenty-five of the 38 persons completing the evaluation instrument responded to this question. Overall, respondents’ comments revealed that they felt both affirmed and challenged in the approaches they currently employ to address difference and oppression in the classroom. Several sub-themes emerged from these comments, which are highlighted below with verbatim examples.
Other open-ended responses noted that the lecture was useful in terms of critical thinking (their own and their students) or was helpful in an overall sense.
- Six persons spoke of the usefulness of recognizing partiality as an important concept to remember when teaching this content: (“The partial nature of all stories was a helpful concept”; “Let students know that every story is partial in itself”; and “Reminding myself to always be reexamining my own lenses/what my partiality is and (the) impact on interacting with/ presenting to students”).
- Five respondents stated that the discussion about handling tension or student resistance was helpful: (“I’ll embrace more discomfort around some topics”; “Helped me to better understand points of tension in the classroom”; and “I’ll challenge students to expand their thinking in areas that are uncomfortable”).
- Four respondents wrote about the importance of framing the experience for both student and instructor: (“Asking students to consider the frame of a lesson was another helpful idea”; “It helped me recognize how to frame ‘standards’ and their limits”; and “The presentation provided a coherent framework for me to think about my approaches in the classroom”).
- Another theme noted by four respondents focused on strategies or the overall process: (“They gave me new insights into the importance of strategies that address the issues of difference in education curriculum/classes”; “I will integrate through curriculum differences and equity issues – I already do, but also will allow more process”; and “His examples were very helpful”).
- Four respondents noted that the lecture encouraged or affirmed their teaching in this area: (“It just makes it seem like [a] possibility, rather than too, too hard”; “It reinforced that I am on the right track in my teaching”; and “They reinforce my current approach and encourage me to expand on it”).
- Two respondents stated that the presentation had helped to make the topic more explicit: (“It helped make explicit some of my tacit knowledge and experience” and “Gave me some new language to articulate this”).
- Question #2: “In what ways did the overarching lens of uncertainty help you ask very different kinds of questions – including uncomfortable questions – about both the theories presented and your own teaching?”
Twenty-two persons responded to this question. Overall, respondents reported some highly productive introspection that occurred during the lecture that needs to continue in the classroom. The whole notion of approaching “questioning” and “uncertainty” in a way that furthers learning about difference was considered an important area to explore. Again, several sub-themes were identified, which are highlighted below with verbatim examples.
Additional comments were general statements about the presentation (e.g., “Clearly stimulated my thinking”; “Good method for introducing this topic”) or suggestions for future presentations (“Need to move focus more on application to college teaching”).
- Five respondents spoke to some aspect of embracing crisis or uncertainty: (“Love it! And made me think critically about my own balancing or diffusion and crisis-production”; “I’ll embrace my own uncertainties and disclose to students these areas”; and “I liked not resolving the uncertainty. Regarding my own teaching I’m in touch with this uncertainty regularly”).
- Five respondents made comments regarding increasing awareness, especially in terms of the lenses that they and their students use: (“Very helpful in raising awareness”; “New lens helped me to rethink the new ways of thinking in uncomfortable situations where the issue of ‘difference’ is subtle yet important factor that affects our learning”; and “It challenged the basis of what we can actually know and understand about one another. Can we rise above understanding that we are each looking through our particular lens?”).
- Four people noted the importance of questioning as part of the teaching process: (“Provided permission for the questioning”; “Demonstrating the opportunities and benefits of asking and addressing the questions”; and “I’ll add new questions to personal narrative[s] that I ask students to construct”).
- Three respondents stated that the lecture was reinforcing of their own current perspective or background: [“Seemed very reinforcing of what I think anyway”; “It reinforces my perspective on how the mainstream (in education, in the arts, etc.) marginalize those outside the mainstream”; and “My own background and discipline has prepared me and encouraged me to include this type of pedagogy”).
- Three persons revealed that they needed more time to process the presentation: (“I can’t answer this now – I have to wait and let it grow on me and in me and see what fruit it brings forth”; “Still processing”; and “Need more time right now to process it”).
- Question #3: “Would you be interested in continuing discussion or dialogue about this topic, and if so, do you have any ideas for how to accomplish this here at VCU?”
Twenty-three respondents answered this question; all affirming their interest in continued dialogue. Specific suggestions for how to accomplish continuing discussion or dialogue were varied and presented below:
The remainder of comments simply noted interest in engaging in future events with no specific suggestions for implementation.
- Four persons suggested the use of monthly meetings or brown bags as a way to accomplish this goal (“Monthly discussion groups; maybe one or two faculty might present highlights of a lesson taught or to be taught from an anti-oppressive perspective for evaluation/feedback from colleagues”; “Perhaps monthly meetings/’support’ group for interested parties”; “Lunches and brown bags”).
- Four respondents called for more continued training or seminars on this topic: (“Possibly an annual workshop on topic – especially helpful in teaching across disciplines”; “Such similar workshops should be done on a continual basis”; and “This speaker today, I propose, should conduct another perhaps two-week seminar for different programs. This is one way that will reduce the differences that are so prevalent at VCU”).
- Four respondents noted specific topics or areas that could be addressed: (“We could share our teaching strategies”; “Web-based faculty exchange re: ideas, situations encountered but not handled well, etc. Suppose I want to use a particular poem about a particular group but don’t have another art form to present another dimension of the group to preclude stereotypes and encourage critical thinking?”; “Interested in applying this discussion specifically to field instructors where much of ‘teaching’ is one-one-one”; and “Incorporate service learning”).
- Two persons spoke to the need for ongoing discussion about this topic, without noting a specific area or method: (“We exist in the midst of such an oppressive environment/community that we need to continue this discussion on a regular basis. I need to dialogue to keep the faith/courage” and “I think there is a need for continued dialogue of this nature given the issues in Academy”).
At the lecture and the social work workshop, a continuing interest form was circulated for those desiring additional or ongoing activities addressing the topic of anti-oppressive education. There were 25 people who signed the form, including faculty, staff, and students from a variety of departments. The social justice curriculum content group intends on building a communication structure through the internet to allow for continued discussion among those who signed up on the continuing interest form.
Dr. Kumashiro also provided a workshop for School of Social Work faculty and doctoral students (“When Students Resist: Troubling Views of Crisis, Uncertainty, and Progressive Change”). For the interactive workshop at the School of Social Work, there were 23 attendees, including 11 faculty members and 12 doctoral students, of which 17 completed the evaluation form, reflecting a response rate of 74%. As with the lecture evaluation form, the workshop instrument contained 7 closed-ended items, utilizing the same 5 point Likert scale. Table 2 illustrates the findings from these ratings.
|The workshop expanded my knowledge about ways to teach about difference, oppression, and social justice.
|The workshop helped me consider new ways to address student resistances often encountered when teaching about difference, oppression, and social justice.
|The interactive lesson that modeled different ways to teach about difference/oppression was useful and relevant to me.
|The workshop helped me consider ways to apply the material in developing curricular materials for the courses I teach.
|The workshop helped me consider ways to better integrate content on difference, oppression and social justice in the courses I teach.
|The facilitator was well-prepared and knowledgeable about the topic.
|The workshop style utilized by the facilitator was effective and conducive to my learning.
Overall, the participants rated the workshop very favorably. The ratings for the 7 items ranged from a mean of 4.65 for “The workshop helped me consider new ways to address student resistances often encountered when teaching about difference, oppression, and social justice” to a mean of 4.94 for two items: “The workshop helped me consider ways to apply the material in developing curricular materials for the courses I teach” and “The facilitator was well-prepared and knowledgeable about the topic.” Additionally, 100% of the participants rated six items as “strongly agree” or “agree.” The one item that showed a lower percentage, but still quite high, was “The workshop style utilized by the facilitator was effective and conducive to my learning,” which was endorsed favorably by 94.1% of workshop participants.
As with the University lecture, workshop participants were asked to respond to three open-ended questions. The following presents the themes that emerged from these responses and specific examples of participant comments.
- Question #1: “In what ways did experiencing and reflecting on the model lesson presented during this workshop add complexity and clarity to the ways you conceptualize teaching, learning, discomfort, resistance, and change?”
Sixteen of the 17 persons completing the evaluation provided responses to this question. Overall, participants agreed that the facilitator articulated their feelings of discomfort and uncertainty around managing tense moments in the classroom. They felt encouraged to acknowledge discomfort and use their awareness of tension and partiality to expand their teaching approaches. Sub-themes are listed below with verbatim examples of the comments.
Other comments highlighted some of the key ideas presented in the workshop, which included “being aware of partiality,” “expecting crisis,” and “recognizing oppression” as inherent parts of the teaching enterprise.
- Five participants made comments about embracing tension or discomfort: (“Ideas re: ‘discomfort’ and seeing value in creating/allowing such in the classroom”; “Accepting discomfort as important part of learning”; and “Embracing tension”).
- Four participants spoke to the related topic of the accepting the risk-taking involved in teaching: (“The singing was very profound for me in thinking and feeling through the idea of taking risks in teaching”; “Reminding me, restoring me – relearning that this work is important and pedagogically innovative, even if scary”; and “Illustrates that you can’t anticipate every response – no ‘perfectly prepared’ teacher”).
- Three persons made remarks about the process of teaching or their own process: (“Have to put process ‘out there’ as well as content”; “It helped me think better about myself and the different phases of growth or re-growth I go through in the process”; “I likened the teaching process to that of therapy -- I hadn’t considered that before”).
- Question #2. “In what ways did the concepts and processes raised in this workshop enable you to imagine new and innovative ways to design your own curriculum and pedagogy, especially concerning the ‘stuck places’ we often find ourselves?”
Fifteen participants responded to this question. The general theme of these responses revealed that participants were particularly interested in the process of meta-communication and the need to deal directly with the “stuck places.” Sub-themes are listed below with verbatim examples of the comments.
- Eight participants identified the importance of engaging in meta-communication: (“Go to a meta-conversation to deal with the ‘stuck places’”; “Shifting the focus from the problem to the situation – i.e.., the hard racism discussion; let’s talk about talking about racism”; and “Encouraged me to move out of the lesson content into the meta position”).
- Five persons stressed the need to deal directly and persistently with issues as they arise in the classroom: (“’Stuck places’; stay with it; don’t try to ‘solve’ it”; “Responding to the crisis, by staying with the process without escalating the crisis”; and “Made me realize not everyone needs to feel happy, comfortable in my class”).
- Two participants noted some aspect of process, either their own or in the classroom (“By putting language on what I do/try to do – ‘forcing’/nudging me to re-think taking ‘risks’ in the classroom” and “Our group asks ‘Why do we have ground rules in social justice class only? Why aren’t they part of every syllabus?’”).
- Question #3. “Are you interested in any follow-up activities concerning this topic here at the School of Social Work? If so, what suggestions do you have for facilitating this?
Fourteen participants answered this question, with all of them saying that they were interested in follow-up activities. The general theme expressed by those who made specific suggestions was that this topic is important and warrants continued attention through lectures, support groups, brainstorming groups, and more workshops. One respondent also requested to have Dr. Kumashiro conduct a workshop at the Northern Virginia campus. Since the workshop, the social justice curriculum content group has met and discussed follow-up activities within the School of Social Work as a result of the Kumashiro presentations.
In conclusion, both the lecture and the workshop were evaluated as valuable learning experiences. Furthermore, participants in both forums reported the acquisition of innovative ideas for both curriculum development and classroom pedagogy. Finally, there is clear interest in having additional learning opportunities in the area of anti-oppressive teaching at VCU -- both at the University and School or Department level.
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