Salvaging (my) Pedagogy

Although my CV doesn’t quite reflect it, I spend a lot of my time planning, preparing for, facilitating, and reflecting upon learning experiences for students. And it was teaching, both negative experiences as a student and the desire to be a better educator as an adult, that drove me to a doctoral program and academia in the first place. Even as regards my research, at the heart of all my inquiry and writing is the question of how education in public schools can be a more humanizing and edifying experience for children, particularly those from marginalized communities. Heightened by the compilation of my portfolio for comprehensive review, my attention and energies had gradually shifted away from these facts and disproportionately toward measures of scholarly productivity. It was time to re-equilibrate.

With this in mind, I traveled to the Digital Pedagogy Lab Summer Institute. I embarked on this excursion alongside colleagues from CU Denver’s ThinqStudio initiative, fortunate to receive a scholarship and logistical support from our forward-thinking administrators and some visionary colleagues. I knew what I was getting myself into; our dean had previously shared a video of a stirring keynote by one of the Institute’s organizers and another colleague, one of the primary incentors behind ThinqStudio, had made clear that Pedagogy was the operative word in Digital Pedagogy Lab.

I’ll admit, I was still a little surprised when our recommended pre-conference readings for a digital pedagogies conference included bell hooks and Paulo Freire, and when our first conversations of the day involved word associations with Critical, Digital, and Pedagogy separate from each other before bringing the terms together.

When tasked with tweeting our own definitions of Critical Digital Pedagogy, my response was conspicuously devoid of reference to technology and digital tools:

Critical digital pedagogy, it turns out, is not far afield from critical pedagogy. Digital tools, assuredly plentiful and useful, should operate in service of teaching practices that respect, invite, and affirm students’ experiences. Our technological resources should be vehicles for students’ voices and means for them to connect with the circumstances surrounding them, to read the world, as Freire & Macedo would offer. In so doing, they develop the skills and knowledge that a college education would instill and that will serve them in transforming the world toward a more liberatory vision. Pedagogy, moreover, is not merely a set of techniques, routines, and practices in the classroom, but also the ethos underlying them and the habit of reflecting upon them to continuously grow.

This all dovetailed with a work a colleague invited me to co-author with him, lending some context on educating emergent bilinguals to his larger framework of dignity in education. Among my sprinklings, I offered the following paragraph, which keeps coming to mind in these discussions of our own teaching.

We will argue in the forthcoming pages that the routinized, teacher-centered, pedantic mode of instruction most frequently reserved for students of color and acquiring English in schools in effect implies an intellectual segregation trapping students in initiation-response-evaluation (IRE) cycles or spectating on the sidelines thereof. This is particularly true for emergent bilinguals who not only endure the same didactic pedagogies as many students, but experience them in regard to phonics, grammar, and piecemeal literacy approaches in the “ESL Ghetto” (Faltis & Arias, 2007; Valdés, 1998; 2001), precluded from engaging meaningfully in content knowledge or the fecund inquiry and interaction that a dignity-centered education might afford.

(Espinoza & Poza, in progress)

Can I say that my own teaching is free of IRE cycles? That particular students do not spectate from sidelines with millions of unvoiced masterpieces in mind? That what students and I learn is meaningful to our lives and the world around us?

I can do better given the many tools – digital and otherwise – at my disposal and the many inspiring people whose words and practice inspire me. This opportunity to reflect has been a welcome reminder of that fact, and I especially welcome your comments to this post sharing your own thoughts and habits that turn teaching into the practice of freedom.

Take 2

And I’m back. Sort of. I know it’s been almost two years since my last post, and that has been fairly conscientious (though not entirely – I’ll admit to also being occasionally too lazy or intimidated to write anything for public consumption). I was ambivalent about launching the blog, and remain ambivalent about maintaining it. I’m hoping that a slight change in direction might animate me to write again and might move toward the essential goals of writing this blog in the first place.

When I started Language and Equity, the goal was to be in conversation with other academics around how the ideas and developments in our field might be diffused to educators, policy makers, and parents in order to improve schooling for emergent bilingual and otherwise linguistically stigmatized students. I soon realized that this approach, trying to advance ideas and promote their dispersion, was really just an accelerated and unchecked version of the peer-reviewed publication treadmill that I already find intimidating (important to the advancement of any field and the integrity of scholarship, but intimidating all the same). Unsurprisingly, I didn’t want to spend my scarce and valuable leisure time doing what I already spend the better part of my working hours doing – writing to be scrutinized and critiqued. Moreover, I found that like-minded individuals and colleagues with whom I already exchanged these ideas in face-to-face conversations on a quasi-regular basis comprised the (miniscule) audience the blog garnered in its infancy. What, I wondered, was the point of that?

I also have to acknowledge the role of the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. in my reluctance to post. As campaigns ramped up during primaries and the general election, as results rolled in on November 8th, and as disgrace after disgrace befell the office and the nation following the president’s inauguration, I felt (and still feel) increasingly disenchanted in the academy and myself. How could so much energy and effort invested in resisting oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and so forth in our scholarly work nevertheless give way to the election of the very embodiment of all these things?

So now I’m trying again, but mainly trying to avoid writing about the stuff about which I publish. I’ll focus on reacting to and sharing ideas, events, and resources that inspire me; as well as much more on my teaching, the oft overlooked facet of my public persona that nonetheless makes me feel much more human and connected than the publications that get more institutional recognition. Take 2. And…action.