Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘the practice of freedom,’ the means by which men and women critically and creatively engage with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world
-Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 16).
My approach and inspiration for teaching draw heavily on the theoretical foundations set by Paulo Freire, and the practical examples of the great teachers who have mentored or taught me at the University of Washington: Stephen Bezruchka, who taught me the art of the lecture, how to use slides effectively, and why reflective activities are essential; Joseph Hannah, who demonstrated to me the value of interactive activities and how to teach big ideas in approachable bites; Sunila Kale, who showed me the potential of well-facilitated discussion as a learning tool - and how lecturing is overrated; Matt Sparke, who proves you can be a great scholar and care about teaching at the same time; and last but not least Theresa Ronquillo, who opened up a world of pedagogical tools to me when I set out to design my first course.
In my teaching, I use reflective exercises and real-world examples to ground theory in the everyday lived experiences of my students. I design exercises and assignments for students to connect the dots - between the theories, the case studies, and their own lives. I believe in educating critical thinkers who are emotionally invested and passionate, who see theory not as an interesting, if dry, intellectual exercise, but rather a way to reinterpret the world around them, and as the intellectual scaffolding for them to take action on the causes that make them tick.
While I think lecturing is important, I believe class time is often too precious for long lectures. I find it more productive to create a grading structure that encourages students to read proactively before class. This allows me to enter the class primarily as a facilitator, creating the spaces and subtly nudging the conversation through critical questions, and tying together the seemingly disparate ideas suggested by students into a narrative or a productive tension. I employ techniques to reduce classroom hierarchies; from more subtle efforts to stand aside, sit down, and focus energies back into the center of groups to the more overt efforts to create spaces and activities where students take the lead in teaching one another.
I am a strong advocate for interactive activities like role playing that force students to get up, move around, and feel social dynamics at work. One of the key examples of this was in my critical development seminar, for which I designed an activity ("The NGO Scramble") where students inhabited the roles of donors, NGOs, and recipients in a mock scramble for the most "development" funding. By restructuring the space within the classroom - with recipient communities on the floor on one side of the room and donors at tables on the other, with the NGOs running in between, we created a microcosm of the power dynamics students read about the "development" and foreign aid world. The reflections and discussion afterwards was incredibly engaging, and rightly so - the removal of "play" from adult education is an unfortunate holdover from factory schooling, yet it remains a highly effective teaching tool. This understanding is something I owe in part to people like Manish Jain, whose center - Shikshantar, in Udaipur, India - is an incredible example of how learning can happen organically, through play, curiosity, and mentorship - rather than the rigid and hierarchical processes of schooling.
From my visit to Shikshantar, I came to perhaps my most important realization: schooling can lead to education. But education is not just schooling. And schooling, done traditionally, can often do more harm than good - acculturating us to the "logic of the present system" as Paulo Freire puts it, constraining our imagination to dream of a far better, more just system for all.