There is that fine line we walk in my liberal arts college. We want to challenge our often-sheltered students to see the world in a new way, to explore their own privilege and prejudices, and to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. But, and I speak for myself here although others must experience the same thing, I don’t want to push them so far that I alienate them. As a pre-tenure faculty member at a teaching institution, alienating students would not end well for me. And it just seems like a bad idea to push away students when my real goal is to draw them in, draw them in to conversations, to ideas, and to self-reflection.
In my first-year language classes, we come back frequently to the idea that race and class are socially constructed and rooted in structural and historical issues. We use our limited language skills to name and describe the categories, structures, and historical events that unite and divide us. I think Paulo Freire would be pleased.
This week, while talking about skin color specifically, I sensed very deeply that a couple of kids in the class were uncomfortable. Lots of staring at the shoes. No eye contact. Not what I intended.
While I think for the most part my students do a good job tackling difficult topics, I am actively looking for the best ways to make my students feel uncomfortable without pushing them so far that they disengage. So, here is some weekend reading for me as I mull over my dilemma: Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam041/2003048557.pdf
So, my question is, ultimately, how uncomfortable should my students feel? And how do I accurately gauge what they are experiencing?