Teaching

Selected Graduate Courses

  • Rac(e/ist) Rhetoric(s)
  • The Archive: Theory and Practice
  • Social Movement(s) in the Margins
  • Race & Public Culture (sample from SP2011)
  • Rhetorical Methods (sample from FA2010)
  • Critical Race Studies
  • Rhetorics of Race and Nation
  • Neoliberal Whiteness (independent study)
  • The Archive: Theories & Issues in Critical Rhetorical Studies (independent study)

Selected Undergraduate Courses

  • Rhetoric, Culture, & Ideology (sample from SP2011)
  • Communication, Diversity, & Critical Citizenship
  • Rhetorical Criticism
  • Latin@ Social Movement Rhetorics
  • Race, Rhetoric, & Radical Democracy
  • Argumentation & Critical Thinking
  • Introduction to Latin@ Studies

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Born out of my scholarly and personal concerns with democratic possibilities, I believe that the most effective teaching, regardless of discipline, helps students to become active and productive members of their communities. Where education has lost sight of its origins in preparing critical democratic citizens, I seek to remedy this loss of mission in my classrooms. Specifically, I find that the communication discipline is uniquely suited for this role because it is situated to empower students to more fully understand and (re)appropriate institutions of power for the betterment of humanity. Communication in general, and symbolic action in particular, plays an enormous role in both supporting and breaking down relations, structures of power, and domination. Hence, I see my primary role as a teacher as enabling my students to recognize and act within and outside these structures as citizens striving to improve the quality of life for all people. In short, I act on the ideal that what we do in the classroom has effects beyond our scholarly institutions, and what I do in the classroom can make my students better suited to address issues important to their communities.

A key component of my teaching philosophy is the understanding that learning is a two-way street. Learning is a lifelong process that does not end at the conclusion of the class session, semester, or degree; as such, I make clear to my students that professors continue to learn new things from their own research and from student participation. I believe that students learn best when they play the central role in the learning process. I recognize that all students come from, to a lesser or greater degree, different socioeconomic, political, and cultural backgrounds, each offering a unique perspective on any given topic. Anything a student learns, then, is filtered through the particular lens of their experiences; in turn, each student has something important to offer the rest of the class, including the instructor. Ultimately, teaching is a humbling experience—one that forces me to confront various degrees of recalcitrance and constantly revisit how I approach students, materials, and my own research.

In the classroom, I seek to put this teaching philosophy into practice in various ways. First, I try as much as possible to turn control of discussions about the material over to the students. Sometimes lectures cannot be avoided; and I am comfortable in my role in such situations and in my lecturing style, which often involves the use of multimedia materials like Keynote, video clips, and audio clips. When I am more central to disseminating information, I often use focused questions, free-writing assignments, and timed group work to facilitate student engagement in the course materials. Second, I encourage discussions and dialogues to flow beyond the classroom through participation in course email lists, online forums, and/or blogs. I have found these virtual forums for discussion to be optimal for students who are more reticent in classroom dialogues. Such extension of in-class discussions has the added benefit of further fostering a sense of community amongst enrolled students, and producing a space for students to relate their personal experiences to the course materials in a manner that makes those materials more germane to their lives. Third, I have become a firm believer in group-work in the classroom because it empowers students in their own learning. In the end, I am confident that my teaching methods help me achieve my philosophical goals.

As my research agenda has sharpened over the years, so too have the attitudinal, theoretical, and practical perspectives I bring to bear in the classroom. Specifically, I seek more seriously to treat teaching as a transformative process that requires an active, enthusiastic commitment on the part of my students and myself. I have made an effort to ensure that students experience a critical voice in all class discussions and in the structural makeup of the course (e.g., in the formation of attendance policies, the choice of course readings, and the expectations for my actions). Although I still occasionally have the tendency to overestimate my students’ comprehension of course material and theoretical underpinnings, I strive consciously to create an environment that is respectful, enthusiastic, challenging, and open to discussion and inquiry.

Looking back over my years as a scholar and teacher, I remain convinced of the importance of teaching methods that encourage students to become active participants in the classroom and beyond. In an era when teaching is too often understood as a service provided to consumers seeking degrees in service primarily of vocations, I think it is more important than ever that teaching destabilize foundations and foster the ability for students to be critical citizens (or what Rosa Eberly calls “citizen critics”) in an active democracy. In his pamphlet called “Student Social Action” (1962), Tom Hayden writes,

I believe education in a democracy should be threatening and renewing—threatening in that it should critically examine the deepest understandings of life, confronting taboo, habit, ritual, and personal ethics with a withering ‘why,’ unearthing the values that society buries for security’s sake, and exposing these to the sunlight of the inquiring mind; renewing in that it transmits human culture from generation to generation and place to place, transforming some parts, modifying others, concurring with still others, yet expressing reverence for the whole (p. 12).

While I do not align myself entirely with Hayden or the Students for a Democratic Society, I interpret his point seriously: education should not merely reproduce dominant inequities and stagnant politics; rather, it should challenge, engage, and revivify lived experience and our connections to each other. I treat education as a reflexive critical rhetorical performance that challenges students and teachers to question knowledge-power relations in public, private, and peripheral spheres. For some students, this task is too daunting because there is so much personally to risk; thus, I take heed of their concerns and reluctance, doing my best to encourage them to accept that they should struggle with readings and ideas. When my teaching and scholarship do this—when they work in tandem to encourage people to struggle with themselves and with each other in public culture; when people begin to see and experience their relations to power differently—my faith in the possibility of radical democratic praxis is renewed as I continue to push on toward a more socially just world.

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