What Would We Be Doing If We Weren’t Doing This?
A Freirean Focus Group On A Democratic Departmental Journey
This October podcast is a bit self-serving. Our Religious Studies Department has been on a 30+ year journey into what it would be to live into Freire’s vision for democratic education. How can liberatory pedagogies inform our work at the department level? In what ways can we model our commitment to an education for freedom as opposed to an education for domestication? How do we extend what we are learning in our classrooms to our practices at a more systemic, departmental level? What would a truly democratic/liberatory department look like?
about our guest/s
There is important work being done by our students in a student leadership group, Safe Agnes Scott Students (SASS). Leaders in this group partner with faculty in around 10 disciplines to offer syllabus workshops and midterm evaluations, as well as assistant around difficult dialogues. There are more expansive models at Bryn Mawr and Carleton and other colleges, all supported by their institutions and usually housed in a center for teaching and learning that offers student fellowships and pedagogical training. These models of “engaging students as partners in teaching and learning” (see Alison Cook-Sather, et al.) include students participating in curriculum design, as we practice in our department. A list of basic resources is on the Resource page of this podcast website.
We want to get a conversation started about why the Freirean vision is not being implemented by departments in their work with students. The obvious answers include an embedded hierarchy, the blame game on student involvement, lack of faculty commitment (and perceived threat to faculty authority and power). Students and I have presented at several national conferences hoping to engage more critical dialogue. We’ll be presenting at AAC&U in January 2019. What we are doing is at once radical and not radical enough. So we evolve and assess. And this conversation with Religious Studies and Religion and Social Justice alumnae and majors is representative of our on-going conversations. We hope you will listen to the insights of these students and engage us in further conversation!
Books and articles:
Boal, A. Games for Actors and Non-Actors. Trans. A. Jackson. 2nd Ed. Routledge, 2002.
Cook-Sather, A. “From Traditional Accountability to Shared Responsibility: The Benefits and Challenges of Student Consultants Gathering Midcourse Feedback in College Classrooms.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 34 (2009): 231-241.
_____. Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty. Jossey-Bass, 2014.
Darder, A. The Student’s Guide to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Bloomsbury, 2018.
Freire, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. M.B. Ramos. Bloomsbury, 2018.
Pippin, T. “What Would We Be Doing If We Weren’t Doing This?: A Journey in Democratic Departmental Practices.” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy.” 8/1 (2017): 237-59.
Shor, I. When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in Critical Pedagogy. University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Department Vision Statement: Department of Religious Studies, Agnes Scott College
We, the community of religious studies scholars, believe that the study of religion opens the door to greater acceptance and understanding of individual and cultural beliefs. This greater understanding provides one of the necessary frameworks on which a peaceful and just global community is built.
- As a community of scholars, we seek to be nurturing, responsive, mutually inclusive, and accountable by:
- Building an inclusive atmosphere on issues of race, class, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, age, ability, accessibility, and gender.
- Supporting a variety of teaching methods, learning styles, and abilities. We seek to share knowledge in the classroom to supplement academic dialogue, realizing that we are all learners.
- Challenging ourselves and each other to critically engage academic theories of religion with global and social perspectives.
- As a community, we affirm academic freedom and seek to support an inclusive and interdisciplinary curriculum that reinforces mutual empowerment across boundaries of difference.
- As a community, we seek to nurture through the whole journey of the religious studies major or minor: job/career options, (wo)mentoring for post-baccalaureate study, (including but not limited to graduate and professional school, seminary, rabbinical school or any further study), and being a support network after graduation from Agnes Scott. The religious studies and religion and social justice majors are preparation for the process of learning and living.
- As a department, we seek to build a coalition with other departments and programs, at Agnes Scott and in the wider community.
- As a department, we oppose any and all forms of sexual harassment and recognize the subtle power dynamics in a learning environment.
- We will aspire to an ongoing process of education about power, attitudes, awareness, and support through peer educators, Safe Agnes Scott Students (SASS), and other departmental peer support groups.
- By actively listening to and supporting one another, we seek to offer a stable, nurturing place and a safe and brave enough environment from which to challenge and question ourselves and others. We will seek to use these conversations and this writing as a way to articulate our needs, differences, and hopes about our journeys toward democratic education with students (majors, minors, friends) and faculty.
- As a community, we seek to live intentionally as mutually accountable to one another. We affirm and seek to embody the goals of Agnes Scott College as articulated in its mission and values statements. This accountability agreement binds us to mutual respect and accessibility that is continually evolving.
Revised Fall 2018
Syllabus Statement Template for Safe Agnes Scott Students (SASS):
SASS is a student leadership group that initially emerged in the Department of Religious Studies in order to assist in creating “safe and brave enough” and honorable spaces in the classroom. SASS helps us to create a classroom space in which students and professors are mutually accountable in the learning process. SASS representatives will be working with students on a syllabus review and on a midterm course evaluation. SASS representatives are also available outside of the classroom for students to discuss any questions or concerns that they might have, e.g., questions about assignments, or concerns about race, gender, sexuality, abilities, or religion in the classroom. Conversations will remain anonymous, but professors will be alerted to any general or specific concerns as needed.
SASS representatives and professors will meet at least four times throughout the semester: one meeting before the first class visit, a meeting following the syllabus review, and meetings before and after the midterm review.