Teaching Philosophy

Everything you need to know is already inside of you.

Shaivist wisdom

Education is a tool for democracy. I strive to frame all of my work—teaching-and-learning, research, dissemination, and service—with the transformative paradigm, for social justice. Knowledge is a source of internal and social power, sewn deeply through struggle harvested in a dynamic learning community that fluctuates between theory and application, stretching the boundaries of classroom and roles of participants. Grounded in my philosophy of government, my beliefs about education and practice of teaching and learning stem from my own early adult learning experiences, and have matured with my research, personal growth, and the wisdom of my students.

Knowledge as Power
Internal Power. Empowerment-based decision making is rooted in the premise that individuals are best positioned to determine for themselves the actions and conditions that are in their own best interest. Self-determination requires ample information acquired through critical inquiry and analysis, and digested through personal experiences. Knowledge is a verb, a sense-making process, not a noun representing a neutral concept. Internalized as an action, knowledge is a source of inner strength and direction. Nothing exogenous can prevent a student from learning, nor guarantee that a student learns.

Social Power. While the contemporary model of western democracy and global statism emerged from a racially and economically oppressive hierarchy, the products of education enable individuals to transcend the hierarchy in three ways as learners harness their internal power: First, fact-based knowledge provides learners the logistic and pragmatic understanding necessary to influence public decisions about the local community and to navigate the formal channels of government, civil society, and market. Second, the power of language creates a common discourse through which learners can communicate effectively with the brokers who allocate resources. In so doing, learners develop the power to name social conditions using their own perspective, to tell their own story in a way that others understand, and to participate in formal and informal decision making from a position of authority. Third, the power to measure creates the ability to declare what is data, and to give evidence. Skills in measurement give learners the ability to set their own metrics of success, and to communicate their own account of their experiences persuasively.

Power of Struggle. The sense-making process of knowledge is a process of struggle. Constant clarity affords few opportunities for learners to grow. Learners need nonjudgemental feedback and encouragement to work through confusion and internal conflict for themselves. Struggling for clarity is productive discomfort that helps learners own their knowledge, and develop skills in critical thinking and a habit of creative problem solving. Knowledge learned through struggle cannot be unlearned, but rather, articulates a progression of continual growth and change. Mistakes and misunderstandings are opportunities. Struggle is part of the transformative process through which individuals and communities evolve and relate to one another.

Teaching and Learning in Practice
Learning Community. Each class I work with is a learning community wherein all participants hold responsibility for both teaching and learning. If I am not learning, I am not teaching. Conversely, if the students are not teaching, they are not learning. All learners are whole and complex people with a wealth of experiences and knowledge. Each learner is an expert in their context, and has unique insights necessary to construct a whole and complex learning community. Facilitating a learning community means helping learners grow through one another.

Adaptive. There is no one right way to teach. When I learn each students’ assets, values, and apprehensions I can adapt my techniques accordingly and lead each learner toward productive discomfort. My goal is to ensure learners feel challenged by the learning process, but not paralyzed by confusion. Participatory activities may be effective in some situations, while direct instruction may be more effective in others. I strive to learn from my experiences and adapt my practice overall with new habits, strategies, and skills.

Theory to Application. Education is only a tool for democracy to the extent that students can use what they learn. I prioritize inquiry-based, problem-based instruction to help learners master both theory and application. Socratic-style dialog is important to explain and critique the underlying principles and effects of key concepts in abstract. Hands-on lessons that have meaning beyond the classroom give students a clear stake in their own learning outcomes by creating a connection between classroom knowledge their individual decisions, relationships, and skill development.

Engagement. Democratic education is embedded in the community in which students define their lives. Learning activities that are relevant to students’ professional and personal interests help students to use their knowledge immediately and over time, and spotlights the community’s stake in student outcomes. Service-learning is just one model of applied curriculum that brings the community into the classroom, and in turn, empowers students to become leaders who solve problems that affect their own community. In social sciences the community is the classroom.

Learning for Life. Learning does not stop at the end of the semester or when a degree is conferred. The relationships with my students should last a lifetime. The philosophical base and technical skills and habits of teaching and learning matter little without the foundational policy employed by my own mentors: once a student, always a student. This lifelong commitment to student development is the bedrock of enduring education for socially just scholarship that transforms learners and communities.

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