Democracy in the Classroom?

Popular phrase used by students to support the socialist government in Chile in 1973 when Allende was president. “Crear poder popular” means creating more democracy or more power to the people.

In Chapter 6 of Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks wrote about how criticism of feminism and Paulo Freire (critical pedagogy) does, in some ways, devalue those theories. She also states that criticism is important because it can lead to a understanding further and nuance. It helps us understand the complexity of any situation through self-criticism or the criticism of others. Through these thoughts and comments, we learn about how others perceive our work and those other perspectives increase the complexity of how we understand our work.

Students are probably the most capable of expressing perspective on the class. Of course, their criticism is muted partly because they fear that we, the professors, will retaliate by giving students low grades. I am sure that is true much of the time. I try not to make it true when I grade.

There are many ways students can comment on the class. They can talk after class on Zoom, email me, talk over Zoom during office hours, or text me. It is my job to be welcoming and thankful that they will offer their comments to me without fear of retaliation. Recently, we had a former student who passed a state performance assessment (the CalTPA) speak to the class to offer a perspective on her strategies to pass the exam. I have just sent an email to the class expressing my joy at learning about her strategies and asking them to share any strategies that they think might help them pass the CalTPA. In this way, I hope to understand a perspective on learning in class that I was previously unaware of.

In our society, we are not very good at democracy. In my class, I would say that I am not very good at listening and acting upon the perspectives offered by students. I tend to perserverate and often chafe at comments made by students that, ‘the directions were not very clear’ or ‘you didn’t prepare us for the assignment.’ I hope that will change in the future and I can see the comments by students as an opportunity for reflection on my teaching and also changes that will make the class more helpful to students.

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