87 Teaching the Whole Student: A Work in Progress

Whitney Howarth

Summer 2019

BEING SEEN, BEING HEARD, in the WORLD: How Open Changed my FIRST DAY of class

The night before my first open class I could not sleep.  One reason was that I was up pretty late trying to figure out WordPress and upload my AMAZING OPEN PEDAGOGY INSPIRED, CRUELTY FREE SYLLABUS to my brand, shiny new DOMAIN OF (MY OWN)?!

Lucky for me, my hubby is in marketing and knows Word Press stuff.  Still, we were stumped.  Of course, the next day it took the fantabulous Martha Burtis all of two minutes and three clicks to fix it, upload and teach me how it could be done, pain-free, easy peasy.

I really can’t express to you how THRILLED I am to be incorporating OER and Open Pedagogy and a PEDAGOGY OF KINDNESS into my Roots of Current Global Conflict course this semester (2 sections!).

I confess I am tempted to embark on a mad-scientist experiment and use one section as a control group (with CRUEL syllabus, disposable assignments, and zero collaboration or attention to student agency) and take the other section on a cosmic ride through the wonderful world of ACCESS, AGENCY and CONNECTION.  Wouldn’t it be FASCINATING to see the difference.  But I know, I’ve taught this class for 15 years.  Moreover, such an experiment  would probably be unethical. I get it. Anyway, who the heck has the time/energy to figure out the IRB process for THAT since I’d be performing experiments on human subjects!  I’ll skip it.

Seriously though, I’m so proud of my new syllabus (with heavy borrowing from Matt Cheney’s own IDS model), my courage (I’m not BANNING LAP TOPS OR CELL PHONES!) and my new found appreciation for teaching the full student — not just a toe, a lobe and some parts of the brain center.

Today I experienced the best first day classes ever.  I used all 100 minutes (but gave them a 10 minute potty break in honor of their humanness) and it was filled with activities and writing and discussion and a bit of WHY THIS CLASS IS DIFFERENT — WHY I HAVE CHANGED — and why a 3 day ATI conference way back in May (full of inspiring talks by Robin, Jessie, Martha, etc.) CONVERTED ME TO OPEN.

I’ve mentioned before my AHA MOMENT — when I figured out that OPEN was oriented towards justice, to democratizing the classroom, to giving students voice, to honoring students WHOLENESS — and recognizing those obstacles to learning like food insecurity & housing at the holidays for folks unable to “go home” (LGBQT, etc.) — but today in class I found a new and important reason why OPEN matters to me:

I want to hear my students voices and I want them to really hear each other.

In this course, we talk a lot about conflict.  About people who were, for various reasons, silenced or made invisible — in their home countries, in the world, in history. We talk about colonialism in Iraq, we talk about ethnic strife in Rwanda, we talk about state terrorism in Iran, we talk about how many people resisted, stood up, spoke out, died to be heard, seen, recognized.

This is the perfect course to GET OPEN!  I’m asking student to try new things, to trust me, to be vulnerable, to feel empowered, to challenge their assumptions, and to do the research they need to give voice to those who have been silenced by oppressive power systems.

Today I showed the students a five minute video about what’s going on in Kashmir.  It focused on the Communication Black out imposed on this region by the Indian Government — no cell phones, no social media, no internet at all.  It focused on the danger of the single narrative.  It told about the people’s suffering, oppression, civil rights abuses, protest and lack of due process (since Aug 5th) — and it suggests that the Govt run media, which insists everything has returned to normal in Kashmir, is lying to cover up the truth.  India is a democracy, what happens when people can’t protest, assemble, write freely, make a phone call to challenge the state’s narrative??

I asked to the students why most of us would not be comfortable with a govt that tried to silence us, forbade us from organizing, shot peaceful protesters and denied us access to tell our stories, call our families, reach out to the world to tell everyone what is going on?

The discussion in class, on the FIRST day was phenomenal.  Students were offering ideas about MIRANDA rights and the 1st Amendment, Homeland Security, Terrorist Hackers and the threat of State’s abuse of power (even in the name of “law and order”).  They wowed me.

And then I handed them this assignment, to start in class, and to take home:

assignment description projected on a screen
An assignment for my students

This is wouldn’t have happened without the CPLC — without my ATI project — without this new found emphasis on connecting to my students as WHOLE PEOPLE…and asking them to connect with the knowledge, differently.

We are gonna co-create the crap outta this class.  And it is going to take us new places as people.  And we’re going to come to TRUST each other in new ways — because we are going to hold space for each other to be vulnerable, and confused, and anxious — even while we’re learning about what it means to be heard, to be seen, and to be truly empowered by our knowing.

I’m pretty psyched about this.

And I can’t wait for the rest of the adventure (the new digital tools, the blogs, the podcasts, the H5P videos, the Hypothesis comments, and the wiki wackiness) to unfold.

One thing I’ve come to accept is that all this is a work in progress.  Just like me.

zine collage page of chapter

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