During various times in my career, I’ve stepped back from public-facing work. I attend but do not present at conferences. I organize fewer meetings. I avoid stirring up trouble.
This is one such time. On sabbatical, I work reasonably hard, taking coursework, reading widely on history and pedagogy, and doing my best to self-teach myself new tech. Currently I’m in a statistics 101 course and trying to decide if I want to host static pages on github using jekyll. I’m also reading about capabilities approach to development, feminism, and pedagogy and thinking about how it relates to signal theory, which is the purview of biologists and business folk. I came across both capabilities theory and signal theory in Zeynep Tuecki’s Twitter and Teargas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.
What started with a “hey, I should read more” has turned into a fuller literature review. Right now, as I’m learning about both ideas, my ideas are inchoate. That said, I started my project with the idea that I could make my courses just a bit better for students in poverty. It turns out that the capabilties approach deploys a parallel idea of justice, encouraging us to make things more just regardless of where we are rather than try to set up a perfectly just system and work to that. What’s more, I’ve the beginning of a pedagogic framework that blends Freire’s notions of empowerment with the capabilties approach to justice.
So, while I’m not teaching this year, I find myself working as much as during “regular” work time. . . working quietly.
When I tell folks what I’m doing this summer, they say, you should wait for a sabbatical to do that. But my students are drowning, and I don’t know if I can save them, but I can give them a fighting shot at swimming to safety on their own if I go now. It can’t wait. This is my blog about how to build a better (world history) course. I write in the hopes that others will see my work, help me, and perhaps consider how to help poor students succeed in their courses. And, if I write my thoughts down, maybe they’ll be better thoughts than when they’re tangled up in my head.
This is not a blog about feelings or inspiration: I have both, as do you, but we don’t need better feelings or more inspiration, we need better tools to teach our students.
I’m increasingly distressed at the failure of my poor students. These folks can be train wrecks as students. They often come from un-supportive homes, have uneven or limited access to technology, they are ignorant of college as an institution and ignorant of how to navigate institutions in general. I can see their failure and I know it’s historically rooted. Responses to poverty tend to be condescending (poor dears) or systematic (let’s create a scholarship fund), neither of which I find useful.
After years of teaching poor students at four and two-year schools, I started asking colleagues: “If I could do one thing to help poor students succeed in my classroom, what would that be?” Most folks suggested additional resources (buy them tablets, pay for college), which I can’t do. Others suggested pointing out resources my college already has, which is sound, but insufficient. You see, most students drive to college, walk to the classroom, finish the class, and drive to work or home. Car- class – car. Continue reading “It can’t wait for a sabbatical. . .”