This March 2019 podcast is for anyone who teaches/studies social movements, movement building, labor history, union organizing, non-violent activism, social justice teaching, and direct action for social change! Hear Teamster Local 728 Organizing Director Ben Speight give an overview of union organizing and connections to our current times. He visited my REL/EDU 385: Religion, Education, and Activism class in February 2019 to plug us into the history of workers and why unions are still relevant more than ever.
“United, Unafraid, Undefeated, Unstoppable Leaders.” That is the description by the students of U-Lead Athens. Since August 2014 they meet every Thursday night at Oconee United Methodist Church, on the boundary of the University of Georgia (a university that bans undocumented students). Mentors and allies from the university (the UGA Undocumented Student Alliance) and the community gather to eat and study and plan for the future. Their mission statement states that they assist high school and recent graduates in preparing for college, identifying schools that are open to un(der)documented students, and applying for scholarships and other financial support. U-Lead Athens is a sanctuary, in the many meanings of that term, providing a supportive community.
In August 2018 my daughter Jacy and I visited U-Lead on a Thursday evening and interviewed current college students who returned to visit or volunteer, some current students, the director of volunteers, PhD student Nikki Luke, and two of the co-directors, Prof. JoBeth Allen and Prof. Betina Kaplan. The conversations set the context of the discrimination and anti-immigrant laws in Georgia, the activist work of students and allies to change these laws and provide access to higher education and in-state tuition, as well as working on justice issues around TPS and DACA status. The students shared their stories, their art, and their hopes and challenges.
Equal access to education is a human right. To support U-Lead Athens, click here:
U-Lead Athens website home page:
Eileen Truax, Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream (Beacon, 2015)
Jose Antonio Vargas, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (HarperLuxe, 2018).
Laura Wides-Muñoz, The Making of a Dream: How a Group of Undocumented Immigrants Helped Change What It Means to Be an American (Harper, 2018).
For information about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals):
In Part Two Leopando continues to explore the theological influences on Freire’s thought and activism that sustained him through exile and institutional work (in government and higher education). We discuss the institutional boundaries on using a Freirean method in the college or university classroom, and I admit to being a “failed Freirean.” We talk about what it means to live into as much democracy as possible in our classrooms, and acknowledge the restraints of institutional time (the semester length), grades, the tenure process, and other academic demands. In the end, Freire calls us to accountability—to risk and to dream, and to live into our “vocation.” Tune into the podcast for a fuller definition of what Freire meant by such a theologically infused term as“vocation,” and how this vision forms the basis of his pedagogy of freedom.
Special music at the end of each segment is ”Prayer for Immigrant Children” (2018) by Paul Myhre:
Nicolazzo asks us, “How do we think about the most vulnerable students on our campuses,” especially those who are multiply marginized? How do we work toward “a practice of freedom” (hooks)? Nicolazzo shows us a broader vision of trans*studies and pedagogies in higher education, and how attention to these intersections of oppression and freedom benefit all students and faculty. “What are we willing to risk in the name of justice?” And how can we collaborate in our classrooms and beyond in a “critical hope”?
Part 1: Toward a Critical Collaborative Pedagogy
From the field of studies in higher education come deep insights into pedagogical theory and practice. In the second of a series on trans*pedagogies, and on the recommendation of Dr. T.J. Jourian, I invited Dr. Z. Nicolazzo to talk about teaching and activism.
Nicolazzo is assistant professor of Trans*Studies in Education in the Center for the Study of Higher Education, University of Arizona, and the author of Trans*in college (Stylus, 2017), and numerous articles.
In Part 1 we discuss the components of “a critical collaborative pedagogy”: “Each time I teach a course, I introduce our classroom as a community in which we all-students and myself—both have responsibilities for our shared learning” (“Teaching Philosophy Statement: Arriving at a Critical Collaborative Pedagogy”). How do we (both trans* and non-trans* educators) do critical pedagogy and how do we practice pedagogy intersectionally? What does it mean for our classrooms and curriculum to pay attention to and learn from trans*pedagogies?
Music for this podcast is provided by fabulous artists:
Opening theme and interstitial music is by Aviva & the Flying Penguins and Lance Eric Haugan.
Ending music on Parts 1 and 2 is “Prayer for Paradise” by Paul Myhre, co-created with Mike Shelton.
Books and articles:
Boal, A. Games for Actors and Non-Actors. Trans. A. Jackson. 2nd Ed. Routledge, 2002.
Cook-Sather, A. “From Traditional Accountability to Shared Responsibility: The Benefits and Challenges of Student Consultants Gathering Midcourse Feedback in College Classrooms.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 34 (2009): 231-241.
_____. Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty. Jossey-Bass, 2014.
Darder, A. The Student’s Guide to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Bloomsbury, 2018.
Freire, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. M.B. Ramos. Bloomsbury, 2018.
Shor, I. When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in Critical Pedagogy. University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Department Vision Statement: Department of Religious Studies, Agnes Scott College
We, the community of religious studies scholars, believe that the study of religion opens the door to greater acceptance and understanding of individual and cultural beliefs. This greater understanding provides one of the necessary frameworks on which a peaceful and just global community is built.
- As a community of scholars, we seek to be nurturing, responsive, mutually inclusive, and accountable by:
- Building an inclusive atmosphere on issues of race, class, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, age, ability, accessibility, and gender.
- Supporting a variety of teaching methods, learning styles, and abilities. We seek to share knowledge in the classroom to supplement academic dialogue, realizing that we are all learners.
- Challenging ourselves and each other to critically engage academic theories of religion with global and social perspectives.
- As a community, we affirm academic freedom and seek to support an inclusive and interdisciplinary curriculum that reinforces mutual empowerment across boundaries of difference.
- As a community, we seek to nurture through the whole journey of the religious studies major or minor: job/career options, (wo)mentoring for post-baccalaureate study, (including but not limited to graduate and professional school, seminary, rabbinical school or any further study), and being a support network after graduation from Agnes Scott. The religious studies and religion and social justice majors are preparation for the process of learning and living.
- As a department, we seek to build a coalition with other departments and programs, at Agnes Scott and in the wider community.
- As a department, we oppose any and all forms of sexual harassment and recognize the subtle power dynamics in a learning environment.
- We will aspire to an ongoing process of education about power, attitudes, awareness, and support through peer educators, Safe Agnes Scott Students (SASS), and other departmental peer support groups.
- By actively listening to and supporting one another, we seek to offer a stable, nurturing place and a safe and brave enough environment from which to challenge and question ourselves and others. We will seek to use these conversations and this writing as a way to articulate our needs, differences, and hopes about our journeys toward democratic education with students (majors, minors, friends) and faculty.
- As a community, we seek to live intentionally as mutually accountable to one another. We affirm and seek to embody the goals of Agnes Scott College as articulated in its mission and values statements. This accountability agreement binds us to mutual respect and accessibility that is continually evolving.
Revised Fall 2018
Syllabus Statement Template for Safe Agnes Scott Students (SASS):
SASS is a student leadership group that initially emerged in the Department of Religious Studies in order to assist in creating “safe and brave enough” and honorable spaces in the classroom. SASS helps us to create a classroom space in which students and professors are mutually accountable in the learning process. SASS representatives will be working with students on a syllabus review and on a midterm course evaluation. SASS representatives are also available outside of the classroom for students to discuss any questions or concerns that they might have, e.g., questions about assignments, or concerns about race, gender, sexuality, abilities, or religion in the classroom. Conversations will remain anonymous, but professors will be alerted to any general or specific concerns as needed.
SASS representatives and professors will meet at least four times throughout the semester: one meeting before the first class visit, a meeting following the syllabus review, and meetings before and after the midterm review.
This October podcast is a bit self-serving. Our Religious Studies Department has been on a 30+ year journey into what it would be to live into Freire’s vision for democratic education. How can liberatory pedagogies inform our work at the department level? In what ways can we model our commitment to an education for freedom as opposed to an education for domestication? How do we extend what we are learning in our classrooms to our practices at a more systemic, departmental level? What would a truly democratic/liberatory department look like?
There is important work being done by our students in a student leadership group, Safe Agnes Scott Students (SASS). Leaders in this group partner with faculty in around 10 disciplines to offer syllabus workshops and midterm evaluations, as well as assistant around difficult dialogues. There are more expansive models at Bryn Mawr and Carleton and other colleges, all supported by their institutions and usually housed in a center for teaching and learning that offers student fellowships and pedagogical training. These models of “engaging students as partners in teaching and learning” (see Alison Cook-Sather, et al.) include students participating in curriculum design, as we practice in our department. A list of basic resources is on the Resource page of this podcast website.
We want to get a conversation started about why the Freirean vision is not being implemented by departments in their work with students. The obvious answers include an embedded hierarchy, the blame game on student involvement, lack of faculty commitment (and perceived threat to faculty authority and power). Students and I have presented at several national conferences hoping to engage more critical dialogue. We’ll be presenting at AAC&U in January 2019. What we are doing is at once radical and not radical enough. So we evolve and assess. And this conversation with Religious Studies and Religion and Social Justice alumnae and majors is representative of our on-going conversations. We hope you will listen to the insights of these students and engage us in further conversation!
In Part 2 Torres talks about the origins and work of the UCLA Paulo Freire Institute in social justice education. He discusses his many influences (Gramsci, Marx, liberation theology, Alves, Dussell, Habermas, Bourdieu, Illich, Rawls, Dewey, Gadotti, to name a few), and the new theoretical directions of his graduate students in ecopedagogies and anarchist pedagogies.
From his discipline of the sociology of education, Torres exposes the dilemmas of global citizenship, and the role institutions of higher education play in perpetuating the status quo. In a meeting with Freire soon before his death, Freire gave Torres a second mantra: “We have to confront neoliberalism as the new demon of our times.” Torres shares with us ways to head this call to equity, empowerment, and freedom.
In the second half of our conversation Victoria Rue talks about the
importance of theatre in the classroom as a way to break out of the ruts and old habits of traditional teaching. She offers suggestions for tools on the journey, as well as stories of her own experiences of transformative teaching and learning with students. Rue, like Marc Weinblatt in the previous podcast in July, calls attention to theatre as a necessary pedagogical method for social justice education.
Victoria Rue is a professor, author, playwright, theatre director and workshop leader, and Roman Catholic womanpriest. She has taught at San Jose State University from 2004 to the present in Comparative Religious Studies and Women’s Studies. In the Fall of 2018 she will be at Dar Al Calamar University College in Arts and Culture (http://www.daralkalima.edu.ps/en) Palestine as a Fulbright Scholar. For Rue learning is an encounter with the self and others, and theatre is a way to engage the whole person in critical thinking and engaging stories. She uses theatre as a way to teach cooperation, community building and somatic learning (embodied pedagogy). Through theatre games, improvisation, writing exercises, and the performance of plays, Rue creates learning communities that explore new possibilities for social change. Her work addresses issues such as HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, lgbtq issues, and homeless youth. With Augusto Boal, Rue sees “theatre as rehearsal for revolution.” According to Rue: “Theatre is an arena in which we can dream what we want in our society.” Her book, Acting Religious: Theatre as Pedagogy in Religious Studies (Pilgrim Press, 2005) has both theory and practical examples of her pedagogy and theatre work. For more information see her website: www.victoriarue.com