More tales from my recent workshop on Internationalizing Teaching and Learning:
One of the other faculty participants pointed out that anthropology challenges students' world-views. To which I answered, "Of course!", while rubbing my hands together and cackling gleefully. My colleague then pointed out to me that such challenges are disconcerting and make students feel unsafe and defensive.
Here's the problem: just as most academics have a hard time learning how to be good teachers because we were always good students (we wouldn't be here, if we weren't), anthropologists have a hard time recognizing how threatening it is to have your cultural perspective challenged (or even pointed out to you). After all, our reaction to our first anthropology class was "cool!" (we wouldn't be here, if it wasn't). For most of us, challenging a student's world-view is a feature, not a bug. We're trying to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.
(Like I said, anthropology is chaotic good!)
I'm grateful to my colleague for pointing out that I need to take into consideration my students' feelings of safety, if I want them to learn and not just run away screaming.
As a result, I've developed a new classroom activity that will introduce the process of group work to my students, but also (I hope!) make the classroom a safer place to explore their own perspectives and have their worldviews challenged.
I break students into groups of four, and have them choose their roles, based on birthdate. (The roles are leader, note-taker, time-keeper, and presenter). Then I have them discuss three questions:
1) What rules for discussion would make you feel safe to voice your opinion, no matter how unpopular or unique?
2) What rules for discussion would make you feel that your voice was being heard?
3) What do you think are the most important traits for a "good class participator" (however you define that).
After their small group time, we discuss the first two questions, and create a list of class discussion rules that will be enforced for the rest of the semester. I plan to put these on the webpage, and refer to them before each major discussion period.
Finally, we discuss the traits that make someone a good participator. The point of this is to make students aware that a) everyone has something to contribute; if you think your perspective is "strange" that just adds to the richness of the class; and b) the most successful participators are those who open their mouths and do it.
Hopefully, this will help with the "anthropology is scary" problem.