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In my opinion

The politics of my classroom: everyday compassion

BY ERIN CLOW | NOV 16 2016

I have the spent the days since the U.S. election wading through a complex series of emotions. I was numb, angry and confused. I didn’t understand and didn’t want to believe that the politics of fear and hatred had prevailed. Almost simultaneously however, I began to feel a new strength and resolve emerging, one that tells me I must practice and teach compassion, optimism and hope in my everyday and in particular within my classroom.

As an academic, I embody a tremendous amount of privilege and power and with this comes responsibility. I have always understood this reality, but now the weight and consequences of my profession seem even more profound. On November 9, 2016 I awoke knowing that my personal responsibility as an educator had transformed. Central within my classroom are the principles of critical inquiry, analysis and dialogue, but somehow post-election, these principles represent a different meaning, urgency and necessity.

What do I plan to do post-election? I plan to make my syllabi and classroom a site of active resistance, resistance to the politics of distrust and division, resistance to the politics of crushing negativity. In my syllabi and classroom I will practice the politics of hope and compassion. I will empower my students to face challenges, eyes and minds fully open. I will demonstrate that diversity is a gift and that our differences should intrigue rather than polarize. My classroom must be a space where students from all racial, socio-economic, gender identities and political affiliations feel able and encouraged to engage in constructive and challenging dialogue. More than words of division, I fear silence.

I teach in the social sciences. My passion lies in tackling challenging subjects and engaging students in a dialogue on a variety of topics from a diversity of perspectives. The topics are contemporary and grow increasingly more complex with each passing year. The students in my class are passionate and often personally impacted by the issues we discuss. It is a joy to teach, but each year I am troubled by the crushing burden imbued in my curriculum. The problems seem insurmountable and the intersections ever-growing. Am I telegraphing this sense of impossibility to my students or am I creating a space for them to understand and tackle our ever-pressing societal concerns?

It is important to clarify that I am by no means advocating for an avoidance of challenging, uncomfortable or difficult subjects. It is our responsibility as academics to raise these questions and topics in our classrooms. It is our responsibility to develop and nurture critical dialogue. The challenges facing our society are real and the backlash against progressive politics and ideology is virulent. The politics of “us” vs. “them” will not define our generation and as an academic I have a role in ensuring that this polarizing, dichotomous language does not germinate and grow.

In this post-election reality, I am however, introspectively evaluating my own pedagogy and the politics of my classroom. Am I presenting a world of negativity and overwhelming problems, or a world of compassion, optimism and possibilities? Are the foundations of my curriculum rooted in a rhetoric of “We Are Stronger Together” or “Make America Great Again”? Do students leave my classroom feeling disenfranchised and helpless, or do they leave understanding their own agency and responsibility? It must always be the latter.

The reality ushered in by the recent election has created an added urgency and necessity to ensure that my curriculum and classroom empowers students to understand, discuss and work proactively and collaboratively to address the societal concerns of the 21st Century. In the face of division, fear and hatred, I will consciously and consistently work to nurture an environment of compassion, optimism and inclusion.

What do I plan to do? Everyday compassion. How do you plan to make space for compassion in your syllabi?

Dr. Clow is a graduate of the PhD program in political studies at Queen’s University. She is now an adjunct faculty member in gender studies at Queen’s.

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  1. R.A. Sydie / November 16, 2016 at 14:58

    As an elderly feminist I applaud your resolve – as many of us agree, a feminist perspective on the world is more necessary than ever at this time.

  2. Colette / November 18, 2016 at 06:57

    Well said Erin. I hope more put this in to practice