Last week, I observed my colleague in the Humanities Alliance Fellowship teach their class, which taught me a great deal about developing my pedagogy moving forward. I have been thinking much more about content, and more specifically, how to redefine “the canon” using a critical race and feminist lens. Observing my colleague last week reminded me to turn my attention to how I will be structuring in-class time, and how our way of teaching content is just as important as the content itself. Furthermore, there must be some synergy between what we want our students to learn (especially if the content is focused on social justice and liberation) and our practice as educators.
The topic of the class was obedience, and my colleague taught about the Milgram experiments. The main findings from these experiments were that participants were willing to obey an authority figure at much higher rates than expected, even when they were ordered to carry out tasks that contradicted their morals. My colleague opened the class with a real-world example to ground the findings from the experiment–the Abu Ghraib tortures and prison abuses. They first handed out index cards to the class and asked them to reflect on how the U.S. government explained these human rights abuses as “exceptions”. The class was given a few minutes to write a sentence or two responding to three guiding questions.
As I looked around the class, I could see students scribbling away, deeply reflective. This was an example of a low-stakes assignment that allowed students to pause and formulate their thoughts before responding verbally. As a pedagogical tool, I think this exercise was really important in opening up students who typically might not participate in class discussions. I have always been a slow processor, struggling to respond to questions in the moment but later coming up with questions or comments that I had no room to share, as the conversation had already ended. Halfway through the lecture, my colleague posted some check-in questions to see how students were processing the information. Scaffolding these assignments so that they are not simply one-time exercises, but integrated into the lectures is something that I plan on practicing in my class next semester.