By Dr. Marsha J. Tyson Darling, College of Arts & Sciences and Dr. Lyudmila Bryzzheva, School of Education
Let’s say that we start this article by giving our teaching and facilitation of a multidisciplinary team taught freshmen student learning experience a candid report card; we think that we would grade ourselves with an earned A- or even an A, and here is why.
A year ago, as we first sat down to plan an innovative first-year seminar we proposed a course that we considered a High Impact Practice (HIP). We reviewed Adelphi courses and were immediately concerned about a dearth of courses that engage our students in learning about the interconnectedness of personal identity with human rights concerns and social and restorative justice issues. In the HIP proposal we submitted, we argued that any meaningful engagement with the above-mentioned issues should occur in an organic fashion, unencumbered by the limitations of our respective disciplines. We proposed to develop and teach a course that combined our considerable expertise in multicultural education, history, sociology, philosophy, political economy, law, and international development to create a pilot multidisciplinary course designed to enable freshmen to situate themselves as “informed and engaged participants” in our global world.
We recognized that our own and our students’ unique lived experiences and understandings can contribute to strengthening democratic societies that are informed by a thoughtful and responsible citizenry who can engage in sustained self-reflection and active agency on behalf of the public good. The specific goals for our freshmen seminar were to improve critical and integrative thinking and strengthen reading skills. Also, we sought to improve communication skills, specifically our first-year students’ ability to exchange ideas with others orally and in written reports. Of signal importance was our focus on stimulating global citizenship and a commitment to living locally and thinking globally.
This semester we have worked to cultivate an engaged academic citizen who will take active responsibility for their learning and moral development. We created a learning environment where 22 freshmen were introduced to the theoretical and philosophical foundations of systems of oppression through lectures, directed readings, and classroom dialogues. Students read, discussed, wrote about and were tested on essential international human rights and social justice documents, and they read memoirs written from various racial/ethnic perspectives and wrote papers in which they reflected on lessons learned from the memoirs that they integrated with their lived experiences. The students viewed award winning TED talks (what we call “TED for Freshmen”) and documentary films, and in some cases they created exhibit quality PowerPoint presentations on social/global issues concerning civil and human rights, and social justice challenges.
At the beginning of this semester we laid out a theoretical framework, which served as a foundation for the entire semester as we pursued meaningful engagement with contemporary local and global issues concerning civil and human rights. Before inviting our students to think of themselves as global agents, we invited them to learn about and connect to various lived experiences as presented in memoirs, narratives, first person TED talks, and documentaries. We invited academic colleagues from Adelphi and beyond to guest lecture on specific topics reflecting their intellectual reach. In the third part of the semester, what we called a synthesis section of the course we presented various contemporary issues: police brutality and Black Lives Matter; globalization and wealth and inequality; gender intersectionality; the evolution of human rights initiatives dating from the past several centuries; child labor and slavery; human sex trafficking; rights for undocumented immigrants; criminal justice, sentencing and racial justice; rights for individuals with disabilities; ecology and the environment; and the genetics revolution and protection of the public domain.
What we see in our class today is that our students are able: a) to situate and connect contemporary issues to theoretical frameworks, with or without an instructors’ invitation; b) to engage one another in an informed way, indicating an emerging sense of intellectual self-mastery; and, c) to connect on a personal level to public issues, demonstrating their growing moral responsibility. In our view, they now have a capacity for assuming an intellectual standpoint that is informed both by our teaching styles and their own inquisitive nature that has been evoked in an emotionally safe classroom environment where all perspectives, not only progressive ones, are given space.