“THE PRIVILEGE OF TEACHING”
Statement of Teaching Philosophy for the Distinguished Teaching Award, 2006
To teach is a great privilege. When I am immersed in the flow of the semester, enthralled by a particularly lively seminar session or by an especially smart set of questions and conversations after lecture, I stop for a moment to read Adrienne Rich:
We move but our words stand
for more than we intended
and this is verbal privilege…
Words are found responsible
all you can do is choose them
to remain silent…
and this is verbal privilege…
and I start to speak again.
And I start to speak again, with an acute sense of my privilege and of how the privilege to teach implies responsibility.
I am especially privileged to teach in what I believe is one of the world’s greatest public universities. We have a public mandate for inclusive education and a long history of transformative education. I feel this, in palpable fashion, when I read and grade the student research papers for my large undergraduate classes (I have stubbornly continued to grade the 200+ or 100+ papers each semester). It is CP 115, Fall 2005, and a student writes in his term paper that a great change is in the making, because here at UC Berkeley, in a class such as this, students not only study economic globalization, but also that he, son of a sweatshop worker, the first in his family to get a college education, is present. His mother, her body bent over her sewing machine in Los Angeles, he, in the classroom writing a structural analysis of postfordist production. He is not alone. In a discussion of social movements, I broach the issue with the class. I find a few students waiting for me after the session, each sharing how he is the son of the slum dweller, she too is the daughter of the sweatshop worker. Another student writes in her term paper that a great change is in the making, because here at UC Berkeley, in a class such as this, she learns about enclave urbanism and begins to map the geographies of disadvantage and inequality that shape our cities. She believes that a change is in the making when the daughter of opportunity graduates from Berkeley with the ability to dismantle the gated bastions of wealth and power within which she was raised. This is the privilege, and responsibility, of teaching at Berkeley.
I teach a wide range of subjects and enjoy a variety of teaching formats. But three principles remain central and consistent in all of my teaching. First, I seek to globalize the curriculum of urban studies and planning, educating students about the great cities that lie outside the domain of their EuroAmerican experiences: Calcutta, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Manila, Nairobi. I want my students to rethink their pre-conceived atlases: to not just fit these urbanisms into what they alreay know but rather to craft entirely new paradigms of urban order and function. And more boldly, I want them to call into question the geopolitical hierarchies, such as First World and Third World, through which we have ordered the world. I suggest to them the ways in which “elsewhere” might allow us to interrogate the certainties of “home,” of how a “Third World” lens on “First World” prosperity might make possible a more acute analysis of poverty, deprivation, and inequality and how it might also make possible a more interesting repertoire of concepts of democracy, citizenship, and social change.
Second, in my courses, I seek to link knowledge to action. Our graduate city planning students train to be professionals but in doing so they aim to be much more than technocrats. I teach my graduate students the value of critique, doubt, and deconstruction, knowing that rather being paralyzed by such epistemologies they will use them to craft spaces of negotiability and terrains of ethical action in the context of professional practice. Similarly, with my undergraduates who are eager to change the world but often eschew status quo institutions, I challenge them to write their research papers as briefing memos addressed to the president of the World Bank, thereby encouraging them to speak to those in power and to engage with powerful institutions.
Third, in allowing students to learn about and rewrite the rules of the game, I am committed to the teaching of theory. I take great delight in the material realities of cities. I am, in many ways, an empiricist. But theory is crucial. Ideas matter. Last week, in my The City class as I started teaching urban theory to over a hundred undergraduates from at least 10 different disciplines, I received an email from a student. She said that the work we were doing reminded her of Audre Lorde’s essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury.” She was right for “theory” could stand in for the “poetry” of which Lorde writes: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought… Poetry is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.” Theory/ Poetry.
I am a teacher, and I am therefore also a mentor and advisor. I take pride in my graduate students who develop their own identities and voices as teachers. I am delighted as my undergraduates find their way to prestigious jobs, fellowships, and graduate programs. But I also believe that teaching requires something more than individual mentorship, that it requires institution-building. To this end, I have worked with my colleagues in City & Regional Planning to establish a new undergraduate, interdisciplinary major in Urban Studies, a program that I now chair. In 2005, I accepted a compelling offer to serve as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the Division of International & Area Studies. In this capacity, I now oversee various undergraduate majors (e.g. Development Studies, Peace & Conflict Studies) and a graduate M.A. program as well as UC Berkeley’s Study Abroad office. There are days now spent in programmatic review, committee meetings, fund-raising, meetings, proposal-writing, resource allocation, more meetings. But when I am in my classroom it all makes sense. For how can I challenge my students to open up new terrains of action and negotiability in powerful institutions if I cannot insist on a more equitable and accessible academy? How can I challenge my students to craft new paradigms of knowledge if I cannot imagine ways to implement and institutionalize new epistemologies, new scholarship, and new traditions of excellence? We have to earn the privilege to teach and I am paying my dues.