My primary responsibility as an educator is to broaden students’ horizons as they prepare for the demands of the “real world.” I believe that anthropology, in all of its forms and subfields, is essential for the liberal arts education of a socially-literate generation in an age when the demonization and “othering” of immigrants and the pervasiveness of untruths about the significance of cultural diversity have become normalized in our political discourse. As anthropologists we are uniquely positioned to help guide students to interrogate their own opinions and biases, to welcome people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and identities, and to discover the unity of our humanity through the archaeological record and our shared hominin ancestry. My pedagogical goal is to foster a judgment-free atmosphere in which students can venture beyond their comfort zones and reflect upon their own worldviews and any prejudices that underlie their own cultural constructions of reality, and in doing so, translate their understandings into meaningful contributions to their lives, fields of interest, and communities.
My course design process revolves around addressing the three Cs—comprehension, critical thinking, and creativity—using several foundational strategies. To facilitate comprehension of anthropological issues, I aim to transcend a passive transmission of facts that students memorize for exams by incorporating different types of activities and instructional media into my curricula. These activities make the course material relatable and demonstrate the broader applications of anthropology to students with different majors and divergent professional interests. To implement their anthropological toolkit beyond the classwork, students must learn to engage critically with the major topics and debates within anthropology and to reflect on their own takes on these topics. To this end, I design appropriate opportunities for students to rigorously and critically analyze the readings, and their own opinions and assignments. Finally, I strive to equip students to take their anthropological skillsets beyond the classroom and into their communities or professions of interest by incorporating appropriate in-class assignments, and introducing students to external opportunities such as lab and field experiences that foster student creativity.
Through the implementation of these strategies, my curricula accommodate the varied life experiences, identities, and abilities of students. I diversify my expectations by distributing grades across a range of different tasks, including writing, presentations, individual and groups assignments, lab activities, and in-class and outside projects. I also seek to reinforce the course material through documentaries, group and one-on-one discussions, and the incorporation of various scholarly texts and works of popular culture. In smaller classes or in upper-level courses I incorporate research into my curricula and teach students how to take advantage of the physical and digital resources at the library to search for and incorporate scholarly sources into their writing. In these classes I particularly invest in students’ writing and critical thinking skills. I am cognizant of the fact that writing well may not come naturally to many students, particularly second language speakers, and native speakers who have not had an adequate exposure to writing prior to college. Because of my own difficulties as a non-native speaker of English and an attendee of an intercity public high school in Atlanta, GA, I approach this task with patience and empathy. I use the revision process, peer-review exercises, and one-on-one conferences during office hours to learn about the abilities and needs of my students and customize my teaching strategies accordingly.
I set high standards and I do not placate students with grades, but I clearly lay down my expectations for a course at the beginning of each semester. Then, throughout the semester I work with students both inside and outside the classroom to improve their comprehension and critical engagement skills, and I introduce them to various lab, field, and community service opportunities to further develop their anthropological knowledge. I have also learned to be adaptive and to keep an open mind about the effectiveness of my curricula by keeping my own toolkit filled with different teaching strategies, activities, and opportunities, so that I design the courses that best serve student interests and needs in light of the ever-changing challenges and expectations they face beyond the classroom and college.