Material hope is one element of the critical hope that teachers can cultivate in their students, and it comes from the sense of control young people have when they are given the resources to “deal with the forces that affect their lives” (Syme, 2004, p. 3). It seems like a simple point, but teachers who want to build material hope must understand that quality teaching is the most significant “material” resource they have to offer youth. The best of the research in our field defines “quality” in teaching by our ability to produce student growth across assessment measures (grades, social development, test scores, student engagement, etc.). To accomplish this, we have to bust the false binary that suggests we must choose between an academically rigorous pedagogy and one geared toward social justice. (6)
I agree wholeheartedly—I think that this aspect is so much a part of who I am because I did go to a community college—I always resented when people put down a CC as not being as rigorous when, in fact, it is often more rigorous depending on the teacher and course. I had one student recently say that my class was like a marathon, very similar to a University course—that is preciseky the feedback that I am hoping for—I don’t assign busy work, but rather I create assignments that are scaffolded to the quality of work that the University is expecting. That being said, my class is also one that is centered in social justice. If I don’t give my students both aspects, I am letting them (and myself) down. I am setting them up for failure, which is akin to loseing hope.
The second hope, Socratic hope, is one that is fully reflected upon; our personal experiences and our unfair circumstances shouldn’t be hidden in a closet where they are considered unworthy of acknowledgement or feeling. These realities, rather than be used to shame us, should be part of our journey;
West (2001) describes “Socratic sensibility” as the understanding of both Socrates’ statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living” and Malcolm X’s extension that the “examined life is painful.”2 Socratic hope requires both teachers and students to painfully examine our lives and actions within an unjust society and to share the sensibility that pain may pave the path to justice. In my research, effective educators teach Socratic hope by treating the righteous indignation in young people as a strength rather than something deserving of punishment; Freire (2004) called this a “pedagogy of indignation.’” The moments of despair and rage that urban youth feel are not only understandable, they are, as West (2004) proclaims, an “appropriate response to an absurd situation” (p. 295). (7)
A couple of things come to mind when I think of this part of hope. First, I try to establish an openness in the classroom where students feel comfortable sharing. During one of my Intermediate Composition classes where the focus is on the Holocaust, an example of evil was shared. One of my students blurted out, “What the f--- is wrong with people?” It was loud and heart felt. No one flinched because they feel free to say what they mean as long as it is respectful to their peers. I retorted, “That is what I wonder sometimes.” This opportunity to be authentic needs to be crafted into the class. One of my other students noted when reflecting on the course,
The discussions helped me learn more about myself, just as they helped me understand my peers. I realized that despite my fears of talking in front of others, I really have a deep desire and need to have my thoughts and opinions be heard and validated. I realized how much I craved the type of learning and mental stimulation that only interactions with others can provide. . . We used online and in-class discussions, including voice threads, watched films, and read and analyzed numerous texts. This type of learning was really beneficial because, rather than just agreeing with you, we had to analyze the texts and films by ourselves and with our peers. In my opinion, this fostered more discussion and questioning, because it is easier for people to question their peers than their teacher. (Meriel Blum 2-3)
I must say that this style of teaching is not exactly embraced. I had a “senior” teacher come observe me once. I was conducting a discussion. I thought it had gone well, but she noted that I didn’t say enough. I do not subscribe to the IRE sequence (Cazden, Mehan, Sinclair and Coulthard, Hull, Rose, Frazier, and Castelleno) where the teacher Initiates, the student Replies, and the teacher Evaluates. My pedagogy is that I will intervene with a comment or question for further inquiry when I see it as necessary, but once I set up the discussion format and norms in my classes, I find it more useful to try to observe and allow my students to come out of their shells if they can.
The other thing that comes to mind with Socratic Hope is that the assignments should be crafted so as to give students an opportunity to further express their “indignation.” The Literacy Narrative assignment is a perfect vehicle for this. Duncan-Andrade shares a story about a student:
“After I told my narrative, I humanized myself and then . . . they stopped looking at me as just a gang-banger and they started looking at me as a smart black man. I don’t want you to acknowledge me as a gang-banger, which happened. I want you to acknowledge me as [Darnell]. He helped us humanize each other, and that’s how it was.” (7)
Darnell’s experience gave him an academic identity; he was invited to be an insider. Additionally, projects that are publically shared; online assignments, such as blogs and wiki pages; and unplanned (i.e., not found in the syllabus), student driven movements are real ACTIONS that need to be part of a “hopeful” classroom.
The “last, but not least” hope is Audacious Hope. Duncan-Andrade defines it as audacious like this:
First, it boldly stands in solidarity with urban communities, sharing the burden of their undeserved suffering as a manifestation of a humanizing hope in our collective capacity for healing. Second, critical hope audaciously defies the dominant ideology of defense, entitlement, and preservation of privileged bodies at the expense of the policing, disposal, and dispossession of marginalized “others.” We cannot treat our students as “other people’s children” (Delpit, 1995)—their pain is our pain. (9)
So, as a teacher, we must work with our students to make a difference on the same plane. We are not above them; we are to be transparently with them. This is no small task even if we don’t have issues personally connecting with students. We must understand that our privilege is manufactured for purposes beyond teaching (I suggest reading Freire, if you haven’t already.); this is not to say that we shouldn’t be proud that we are teachers, but not at the cost of distancing ourselves. As teachers, I think it is imperative that we truly care for our students; it is not just a Charlie Brown poster we should hang on our walls. Duncan-Andrade notes,
At the end of the day, effective teaching depends most heavily on one thing: deep and caring relationships. Herb Kohl (1995) describes “willed not learning” as the phenomenon by which students try not to learn from teachers who don’t authentically care about them. The adage “students don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is supported by numerous studies of effective educators (Akom, 2003; Delpit, 1995; Duncan-Andrade, 2007; Ladson-Billings, 1994). To provide the “authentic care” (Valenzuela, 1999) that students require from us as a precondition for learning from us, we must connect our indignation over all forms of oppression with an audacious hope that we can act to change them. (10)
I couldn’t agree more—the idea that I care about students is the foundation of my teaching. It is the same for me as a learner, too—if a teacher of mine doesn’t try to act caring, I actually take what they have to give me with a “grain of salt.” It could be great content, but I need to know I am being cared for. Further, this also means for me that I need to continue my own education—whatever that looks like. Being a student makes me a better teacher—it keeps me connected to what it feels like to be a student and how I want to be treated. Along the same lines, a couple of months ago, I had the privilege to hear Michael Wesch (Look him up on Youtube.) speak about teaching. He is a beloved anthropology teacher; after taking many years to put together great curricula, he realized that there is more to college than the content (much of which can be looked up online). He now spends time having lunch with students and discussing the “4 most important questions: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What am I going to do with my life? Am I going to make it?” These are questions that we all desire the answer to and to which we HOPE positive answers will result.
Please don’t call me naïve. I do believe that Critical H-O-P-E which equals rigor and social justice PLUS examination PLUS authentic empathy will grow roses from concrete.