Friday, June 4, 2010

A Teachable Moment, Deep Truths - Race & Gender

Don't you love it when a moment in time seems to spin on a dime and come to a standstill and it is heads up you win?  That happens in teaching every blue moon when a student gives you feedback that he or she actually GOT the lesson and now Owns It, as they say.

Yes it is rare and getting rarer as I get older which scares me; we have a saying in education, a bit of a mantra, a prayer we say just before entering a classroom that it will go as well as we have planned and imagined it, but it seldom does.  We also tell colleagues just before ducking into the classroom that we must go forward to stomp out ignorance, and we say it like Lancelot on a charger, and we want to believe it, but ignorance like fear, hatred, bigotry, jealousy, and all the horrid things of human nature that are in any classroom are not easily vanquished.

I taught a class not long ago called Race & Gender. It is a required course at the university where I teach--WVSU. At any rate, it is an eye-popping, brain delving, mind bending, mind opening class for students--Freshmen mostly although it was mixed. It is a required course at said university and credit for it does no necessarily transfer--which is sad, because this course or one similar should be taught at every school and it should begin in high school if not earlier.

The course delves deeply into the psyche of mankind and the myths he has created surrounding both gender and race, and using documentary films, classroom discussion, small group discussions, and lecture every aspect of the absolute garbage and nonsense surrounding race is explored--as for instance the economic reasons why one race wishes to legislate against another race to create some of the most backwoods nonsense and call it law as in The Jim Crow Laws. In this class students actually have an opportunity to read the wording of such laws as well as the US Constitution and compare some ridiculous state laws mandated against our Federal laws and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Man what an eye-opener! For some....but for others who are blind they will not see; for some who have been brainwashed early on in life, they can never see that race in itself is a concept that is false and mythological nonsense when we accept the fact that we are all of One Race - The human race.

The lessons on gender are just as mouth-wateringly great. The readings alone give young people an appreciation for the struggle that women in the US had to go through to be considered human beings, members of the race!  It speaks too of the need for the world to recognize that women are not chattel anymore than is a person of color.

Great and abiding lessons and I believe my class went away with a deeper appreciation for such huge ideals as we aspire to in the US Constitution and in US life, despite how often we come up short in practice. I try to teach my students to be among the ten or twenty percent among us who are leaders and who are doers and fixers, those who will step in to break up a fight or save a kid from falling from a grocery cart rather than hold back in indecision but also to step in on the larger issues like Tolerance.  Then comes news of a goofy bunch of throwbacks who plunge us all into again accepting some horrific notion such as hanging is too good for ______________fill in the blank. You may or may not have heard of this religious nut group in Minnesota who are running people for office who agree with them that people of a different sexual orientation than theirs are to be executed. So there is that....our always slipping back and away from evolving and going instead into devolving. This is not to say that some of my students and many of our race are not saintly and of good heart and cheer, but among us walk the baboons and the Neanderthals as well and this frightens me and leaves me sad.

Rob Walker
one great ebook - Children of Salem = romance in the time of the witch trials, a Kindle Original Title.


Anonymous said...

I was recently forced to take a course such as this and hated every second of it. It sounds like the class you taught was better then mine, but I still personally would have rather not been forced to take a course in political correctness and treated as though I needed to be "fixed". And I also wonder on the whole how much good course such as yours and mine really do.

I know for myself I found I was disgusted with a lot of "reverse racism" I saw in the text and discussions, such as it was not okay to lump all Hispanics in together because they are from different countries and cultures, but it's okay to lump all Whites and Europeans in together as one group.

But what really got me was after my instructor and the course material had gone on and on about racists being ignorant and basically the scum of the Earth, a thought I don't disagree with, Farrakhan was brought up and treated like a hero because he's "pro-life, anti-drugs, and promotes personal responsibility".

And I was NEVER one who thought of "reverse racism" as a real problem. I always thought it was just more or less an excuse racists used when they didn't get their way. However, after this course I see some people's point. Not exactly the "eye-opener" I think they were going for. Perhaps things would have ended differently had I been in your class, but I don't know and I'm not left with much hope for our countries future.

Norman Wilson said...

Political correctness has become an extreme, and scary form of censorship.

Rob Walker said...

I certainly had students in my class--most of them in fact who at the outset felt exactly as you did, Hydra -- and I addressed the fact that this sort of class makes people defensive and rightfully offended; I likened it to a class in educational skills I was forced to take as a freshman; I was angry throughout because I felt targeted as being unable to highlight and analyze and make sense of readings, etc when I had gotten As in high school. I addressed the nature of the class as not being wanted or even a class of clear substance; I also asked them to keep an open mind and to do the readings, and they were free to write anything in their journals that related to the readings and their feelings (for which they would never be judged or down-graded). The initial defensiveness disappeared once they began to trust me as their guide. First time I ever taught the class. Others had taught it for tooooooo long and were rather mired in their own belief systems.

In the end it does make a huge difference who is teaching the class. I used a graet deal of humor, a great many personal tales of woe and laughter, sadness and hilarity, and I kept promising them if they stuck with me I could get them through. In the end, I only lost three-- a huge accomplishment these days.

I gave them the benefit of a doubt throughout and I respected them as I wished to be respected, and for this class at least, it was rather magical in my opinion. The class almost to a man earned As and Bs.


John Klawitter said...

I may be going (a bit more) crazy than usual today. I have a distant cousin in Germany, and when I asked him if he had been DNA tested, he went off on me like I was a fellow without culture or principles. While I probably stand guilty on the first count, I took offense to the second. His point was, since his countrymen had such a bad record of ethnic tolerance, it was better that people not know their genetic origins. Believe me, that set my head spinning.

Debra St. John said...

During the course of my graduate work in education, one of the elective classes was one on gender biases in the classroom. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to take it, but everyone I've talked to who has said it was very worthwhile and quite a learning experience.

Kaye George said...

The book GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL did much to explain to me why racial attitudes are what they are, and why they persist. It's a long, long book, but worth every page. It demystified some of for me.

Rob Walker said...

I ghost wrote a book by a former black cop working New York, now retired; his book was The Myth of Race and I do hope he publishes it somewhere somehow. Deunks the whole racial divide crapola from the beginnings of when two separate peoples met in the forests to the awful advent of Hitler wherein FEAR drives the human psyche to distrust anyone who does not look like those of "our tribe" - fear and ignorance begets intolerance. Do not know about others but I do not wish to live in fear or ignorance (no matter how blissful - apoloties to Mark Twain for mangling his words). Turns out that historically, archeologically, evolutionary and every other way we all started out a dark-skinned beings right alongside Christ in skin color for instance--the stupid reason for generations upon generations of men enslaving others and killing others. All based on a myth - the myth being that one race is superior to another due to the WE are the People mentality found in every culture....We are the Chosen, we are the master race, all that which in the past has led to wars as small as tribal disturbances all the way to WWII and now wars across the Middle East. Religious wars too are at base the same piss-poor reasoning. Mankind does not have a stellar record on such matters, and our future, if we do not change, looks bleak in terms of ignorance, hatred, racism, bigotry, intolerance and so more wars ahead.

We forgive chimpanzees their wars because we think them too backward a species to help themselves. We are also hypocritical as can be. Mark Twain has his finger on the pulse of the 'darned Human Race' when he wrote Letters fron Hell.