Teaching Philosophy

I have been teaching at the university level for over 30 years, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. While I am trained as a cultural anthropologist, I consider myself a generalist anthropologist in that I can teach and have taught a wide variety of anthropology courses including biological anthropology and introduction to linguistics. In my academic specialty, I have taught the introduction to cultural anthropology, anthropology and religion, area studies classes such as Peoples and Cultures of Africa, Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean and Latin America, and the Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific; Political Anthropology, Anthropology and Education, Applied Anthropology, Race and Human Variation, Race Diversity and Ethnicity, and Women in Cross-Cultural Perspective. At the graduate level I have also taught seminars on a range of issues from globalization to political economy to human rights. Currently I am responsible, along with two other colleagues, for co-teaching the first-year seminar in anthropological theory for all entering graduate students. In addition, I have taught a wide variety of courses in the interdisciplinary fields of women and gender studies and ethnic studies, mostly at the undergraduate levels.

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to create a whole new curriculum for 5 minors and certificates in the newly established interdisciplinary programs of ethnic studies and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University Pomona (Cal Poly). It was a wonderful opportunity because it allowed me to incorporate the best pedagogical practices of the time, and to create a curriculum that engaged the students’ “funds of knowledge” early rather than later in the process of their learning. I also offered the experience of working with students on designing a part of the course. I am comfortable with a wide range of teaching and classroom settings. I get consistently high marks on evaluations of my teaching, even after all of these years, because I enjoy every trip into the classroom. It is like an adventure for learning for me as well as for the students.

My philosophical approach to teaching has several dimensions. First, I believe that all of us in the classroom including teachers are all learners. This is a lesson I learned early in my career, and one which I value to this day. Second, I approach teaching with the assumption that it is a way to tap into the potential of all students. In other words, I have never met a student who was a failure in my classes for want of having opportunities for corrective measures. This plays out in my approach to students’ writing. I believe that the more writing is polished, the better it gets, so I provide ample opportunities for students to write and rewrite their papers and assignments. Many of my students over the years, both in California and in New York have been students for whom English is not their first language. These are often very bright students, who need more time on task, or who need to talk with me before or after class about an issue or something that they did not understand. I provide my teaching notes online, so that students can review them at their own pace. In grading, I measure the distance that a student has come in my class, and how much effort that he or she has put into it, as well as their mastery of the content of the material.

The third dimension of my teaching philosophy is that in addition to instilling content and facts, I want to encourage the development of what some educators have called “good habits of hearts and minds.” I want them to come away from my classes having learned how a class in human rights or political economy can help them understand what it means to be a part of a larger world, a world in which they have a responsibility to vote or even play a leadership role in one day. My courses are designed to prepare students not just for a degree, but also for the rest of their lives. Critical analysis of a social policy or law, or a service learning project in a community where students would normally have no experience, are concrete ways that engaged teaching and scholarship can make a difference in the lives of students. These are the approaches that I use.