Tag Archives: higher education

  • Human Teaching in Hard Times: An Interview with Dr. Alan Sears by Dr. Tonya Davidson

    In this guest post, Tonya Davidson (Carleton University), sociology professor and co-editor (with Ondine Park) of the forthcoming book Seasonal Sociology, talks with Alan Sears (Ryerson University) about teaching in higher education during these dark times. From the cost of tuition to the challenge of making liberal arts relevant, and the search for a pedagogy that forges not just practical but human relationships, this wide-ranging discussion tackles the contradictions of teaching and learning in a neoliberal age.


    In October 2018, Dr. Alan Sears visited Carleton University to be featured in the Department of Sociology-Anthropology’s Colloquium Series. He gave an excellent talk titled, “Resistance in Right Populist Times.”

    Alan is an accomplished scholar of sexualities, left politics, social movements, and education. His writing includes Retooling the Mind Factory: Education in a Lean StateThe Next New Left: A History of the Future (Fernwood) and (with James Cairns) The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century, as well as the now-classic A Good Book in Theory. While celebrated for his scholarship, Alan is also a very dedicated and thoughtful teacher. When I was his colleague at Ryerson University for four years, he was one of my key teaching mentors so I jumped at the chance to ask Alan to also be our guest for the first “Teaching Talk” of the semester in the Sociology-Anthropology Department. Predicting that his thoughts on teaching could easily find a wider audience than the group of colleagues gathered in our departmental lounge, I transcribed that interview and present it for you here.

    TD: You proposed the title for this talk, “Human Teaching in Hard Times.” Can you tell us what hard times you’re referring to?

    AS: I guess the hard times I am thinking of probably have geo-political origins. The long impact of neoliberalism and cutbacks and austerity have had a huge effect on what it is like to be teaching at a post-secondary level. One of the aspects of this is the stress that students are under because of tuition fees, because of the employment they are doing to get by, because of what housing is like now, and because of their deep anxieties about the future. The questions that are always in their minds are: what are they going to do with their degrees and what’s next in their lives?

    And then the character of instruction is increasingly supposed to be efficient in content delivery with a real emphasis on information transfer. I think that the shift in the idea of what learning and teaching is supposed to be is increasingly to think of students as materials we are mass producing and the final consumer of what we are producing is the employer. So that has an impact on us in terms of metrics, which in post-secondary education means measurable outcomes in terms of what students could do before and after. Look, I think we can learn a lot by focusing on the learning that is accomplished rather than the teaching that we do, but I also think there is a whole human growth element in education that is flattened by a lot of outcomes discussions.

    The scale, at least at Ryerson where I teach, is that most classes are 70 students or more. I teach our capstone course and it’s 100 plus students. The nature of that makes human relations very difficult. I think the most transformative part of any educational relationship, which are always mutual relationships if they work properly, is a human relationship.

    TD: Students have always had anxiety to a degree. Have you noticed a change in your thirty years of teaching?

    AS: Absolutely.

    TD: How do you deal with that within your own institutional constraints? How do you deal with student anxiety?

    AS: I find it a real challenge. I saw a chart recently that someone had developed showing the history of tuition fee increases in Ontario and the pay rates for summer employment. I was an undergraduate student at Carleton University in 1973 which happened to be the year that tuition in Ontario was at its lowest in real dollars. That corresponded with, because of government funding, relative ease at getting summer jobs that paid quite well, so I could earn enough money in the summer to pretty much cover my year, including tuition. Now tuition fees are higher and there are fewer summer jobs with decent pay. Students are working more hours for less pay, building up higher debts, and they are worried about their future given the difficulty of obtaining secure employment.

    I think that is a formula for generating anxiety, and it’s really noticeable in all kinds of ways. We’ve never been particularly good at raising a discussion about what comes after a degree, but I notice it particularly now in a very sharp anxiety about what the relationship is between an undergraduate education in sociology and what follows.

    It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?”

    I think that the model we have is an elite model that presumes that when people graduate, their class-based networks that are gendered and racialized and have a lot to do with migration status, will surf them between graduation and wherever they’re going next. So if they’re interested in a job in so and so, their mother will call their uncle who works in that area. And that works for some. In the film The Graduate, the summer after graduation was spent by the pool with parents’ friends advising you to get into plastics or whatever was hot at the time. Very few students have the luxury of a summer by the pool or parents’ friends who can give them advice about various sectors, or who can afford a free internship, or who have a way of knowing about occupations that are different from what they’ve been exposed to so far in their lives.

    So I think the anxiety is real, and I think it’s incredibly sharp, and it sometimes plays itself out as hostility towards us. I’ve noticed a certain tension around grades, a kind of a more hostile bargaining because that seems to be something that you can deal with more directly. And textbooks, that’s another pain point: “why is this book so expensive?” Sadly, for a lot of other things, like tuition fees or class sizes, there’s little active opposition because there is a feeling that you can’t do anything about it. I think the anxiety plays out in many ways.

    TD: Professors have different attitudes about whether there is a place in a sociology program for teaching school-to-work transition skills, or other career-focused projects. How do you approach that, especially in your capstone course?

    AS: This is one of the contradictions I continually negotiate. Because I am a committed political critic of the system, I understand when people talk about concern that the neoliberalization of the post-secondary system means, for working class people, a much more occupational focus, and there’s no doubt this happens. And yet if you look at what’s happening in Britain and the US for example, there is a desire to preserve liberal arts education, but only for the elite. It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?” That message is something that is very specifically aimed at institutions with a working-class clientele. And I think the concern is that a liberal arts education creates inflated expectations for everyone without differentiating between students with varying life trajectories. Policy-makers are interested in changing that system, particularly in Canada where the university system tends to be more social democratic, to create a more hierarchical system where liberal arts play a smaller role. This is especially the case in institutions that have historically included a higher proportion of working class and first-generation students, like Ryerson or Windsor where I have taught. There’s a part of me that thinks, well let’s resist that push and let’s fight and honour a liberal arts education. I really do believe that that’s necessary and I think the greatest bulk of a student’s education in sociology or anthropology or whatever they are taking should absolutely be in a proud liberal arts tradition that’s challenging students to think critically and so on.

    I also think there’s a serious equity issue around being honest about the fact that the transition to work is difficult and we have really failed on our end. We feel like we’ve done our job by pushing them off a cliff at graduation and waving goodbye and giving them a certificate. I think we owe them more. I don’t think career integration needs to consume a lot of the curriculum. I think little bits of it, strategically inserted, can go a long way. We shouldn’t distort the curriculum.

    We’re doing a pilot course this year called “career integration” for fourth-year students where they’ll get to do a job shadow experience in a workplace that’s of interest. We’re also building in self-advocacy around worker rights and the like, but also stuff like resume preparation, sample interviews, and how to claim a sociology education in a job interview so you don’t just say “well it’s because I hated English.” At the very least, it gives students a way of describing what they got out of their degree, or, in some cases, just creating space for them to figure out if they got anything out of it. I believe seriously that there’s a class, racial, equity, and migration justice built into this experiment. If we want to simply claim that we do liberal arts in a pure way, we are ignoring the socio-economic relations that surround the institution and the histories that inform our ideas about what a liberal arts education is.

    TD: Have you noticed in shifting hard times, different types of student engagement with questions of free speech, bias, and felt that through hostility?

    AS: I think I’m fairly fortunate that Ryerson is a downtown Toronto campus with a very high first-generation student body; roughly 60% of the students in our program identify as racialized. The nature of who the student body is means that a lot of the pro-equity ideas are taken for granted, and few students will stand up and challenge fundamental notions of social justice. And I think there’s some self-selection there too because our program is quite equity-focused. I think the students who are most likely going to be upset about that transfer out of our program. I personally haven’t faced it that much.

    One of the things that’s happened is that we’ve made our “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course required, and it is taught with a very Indigenous-centric perspective that presumes settler colonialism, presumes Indigenous sovereignty, and presumes that universities are colonial institutions. I would guess that course will be one of the litmus tests in our department. I would guess that will be one of the places where even people who know that they’re not supposed to say something racist might express discomfort. That’s the way that settler colonialism operates, it creates a kind of entitlement that may lead to a different order of challenges from students. Certainly, I know people who teach in the US, and other places in Ontario who talk about how much their students have been emboldened to challenge even the most basic equity stuff in classes, but so far, I feel like I’m in a little bit of a bubble around that.

    TD: Those two initiatives at Ryerson – the “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course as a mandatory course and the “Career Integration” course both sound like great responses, or pedagogical forms of resistance to these hard times. One of the things that has always struck me about you, Alan, is how you are simultaneously very critical of post-secondary education, and broader political and social structures, but somehow seem stubbornly optimistic. So my final question is: what do you find hopeful about teaching sociology in “hard times”?

    AS: I think that most students are very perceptive and critical about the injustice in the world today. They do not have illusions that this is the “best of all worlds” or a meritocracy. They know someone is making a killing off of the precariousness and suffering so many face.

    The challenge is that they might think that this is the “best of all possible worlds” – and that they do not see a better world as possible, particularly through their own actions. So there is a real base among our students for a new radicalization, if they can begin to realize the power they have to change the world. But that radicalization will not happen through the classroom, which even at its best is a site of alienated labour. For me, human teaching is about trying to reduce the damage done in post-secondary education while working outside the institution to build the movements and counter-power that can challenge these injustices.


    For more on millennials, education, and social movements we suggest: The Democratic Imagination and The Myth of the Age of Entitlement.

  • Putting the Devil in Context

    Elizabeth Lorentz was a young maid servant in early modern Germany who believed herself to be tormented by the devil, and who was eventually brought to trial in 1667. We invited Peter A. Morton and Barbara Dähms to discuss their new book, The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz, and how they give the reader the opportunity to grapple with Elizabeth’s testimony for themselves.

    Written by guest blogger, Peter A. Morton

    This book is the second translation of trial records from the city of Brunswick in the seventeenth century that Barbara Dähms and I have published with University of Toronto Press. The first was The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial in Brunswick, Germany, 1663. Both trials involved an accusation of a pact with the Devil. A question that naturally arises is what this trial offers that distinguishes it from that of Tempel Anneke. The short answer is that Lorentz's testimony reveals some of the richness and complexity of early modern ideas of the Devil and his relations with human beings.

    The first point to make about the trial of Elizabeth Lorentz is that it was not a witch trial. Although she was accused of making a diabolical pact, no one involved in the case suspected that Elizabeth was a witch according to the picture that drove the witch trials. And this raises the question, why not? It would not have been difficult for the court officials to interrogate Elizabeth about the common aspects of witchcraft, especially the use of harmful magic and attendance at the sabbat. The use of torture was an option open to them, if they had wanted to force such confessions from her. The same court did just that in the trial of Tempel Anneke just a few years earlier. Yet, according to the records, both the court and the legal faculty at the University of Helmstedt accepted fairly readily that Elizabeth was a troubled soul, and that her pact (if there was one) did not derive from a desire to harm others as was commonly assumed of witches. A second point is that the stories of the Devil came from Elizabeth herself, not from the questioning of the court officials. The officials based their questions on what Elizabeth said of her own experiences.

    There is here, I believe, a valuable lesson about early modern European beliefs concerning human relations with the Devil and his demons: There was not a single template applied universally to every suspicion of involvement with the Devil. As Stuart Clark long ago emphasized in his book, Thinking with Demons, despite the degree of uniformity in demonological thinking, the concept of human interaction with demons served a myriad of purposes and could be adapted to many circumstances. In the introductory essay to The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz I tried to convey some of the variety of ways in which concourse with the Devil was conceived of between the medieval and early modern periods. As I emphasized there, fitting Elizabeth neatly into any of these categories is problematic. These trial records will hopefully underscore the importance of not rushing to conclusions when we find the Devil appearing in historical documents.

    With regard to understanding Elizabeth's testimony, the reader of these documents is in somewhat the same position as that of the court officials. We have Elizabeth's behavior as it was reported by the family and servants of her employer, Hilmar von Strombek, and we have her own descriptions of her experiences. What we don't have is her presence before us, and so we must use the documents we have as best we can. The objective in preparing this book, as it was with The Trial of Tempel Anneke, was to present the reader with the documents as much as possible in the same manner as they would be encountered in the archive reading room. The opportunity is there for the reader to sift through the evidence so as to determine how best to make sense of the rather extraordinary tales Elizabeth tells.

    Readers in the twenty-first century are of course not likely to take Elizabeth's descriptions of the Devil as literally true, and so they will perhaps look for psychological origins of her testimony. This is an option the court considers as well. But understanding the trial records requires us to recognize that Elizabeth's testimony conformed with a belief in the reality of the Devil that was universally accepted. There was at that time no reason to reject the truth of her testimony of demonic temptation without some kind of strong evidence against it. For the court, the possibility that Elizabeth was "not of sound mind" was fully consistent with the truth of her stories of spiritual torment by the Devil. We cannot, therefore, simply label or explain away her claims of demonic encounters; to gain a sympathetic reading of the records we must, rather, "think with demons."

    Much the same can be said for the supplementary reading of the book, the preface to a book of prayers for Appolonia Stampke, a girl who believed herself to be possessed by the Devil. There are dramatic ways of imagining cases of possession: violent behavior, strange preternatural powers, and so on. Some of these ideas have their origins in the history of possession. But there is little of this in the behavior of Appolonia, although some of the scenes in the church must have been startling. The story presented to us by her pastor, Melchior Neukirch, is that of a pious girl struggling to maintain her faith against doubts implanted by Satan. Like the attacks on Elizabeth, Appolonia's actions need to be read carefully against their social and religious background.

    The editor and translator of this book hope that the records will offer a chance for the reader to work directly with the complexities and nuances in the responses of ordinary people in early modern Europe to evidence of the Devil in their world.

    Peter A. Morton is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Humanities at Mount Royal University and author of the newly-released book The Bedivilment of Elizabeth Lorentz.

    Barbara Dähms is a translator.

  • Talking Back to the Indian Act

    Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is a comprehensive "how-to" guide for engaging with primary source documents. But more than that, the book explores the Indian Act itself, and gives readers a much better understanding of this vital piece of legislation. We asked authors Mary-Ellen Kelm and Keith D. Smith to discuss their book, and why learning this information and history is important.

    You can read an exclusive excerpt from the book here.

    “We find the Indian Act of 1876 are [sic] not calculated to promote our welfare if we accept it because it empowers the Superintendent General of Indian affairs to manage, govern, and control our lands, moneys, and properties without first obtaining the consent of the chiefs…”

    Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is being published at a key moment in our history. Not only do we live in an age of twenty-four-hour news outlets broadcasting sharply divergent and politically motivated narratives, and where the nature of evidence is questioned in overtly public ways – we are also poised to begin a process of reconciling with Indigenous people in this country. Talking Back addresses both these critical issues.

    The book provides a set of lessons in reading documents through a historical and critical lens that takes into account Indigenous and intersectional perspectives. In so doing, it demonstrates the historians’ craft as it can be reconceived so that alongside context, contingency, causation, change over time, and complexity (the five “Cs” of historical thinking), we also consider relationship, responsibility, respect, and reciprocity (the four “Rs” of Indigenous methodologies). It shows the value of thinking deeply about the role in historical experience played by gender, sexuality, ability, and other ways of being. As such, it introduces readers to an expansive approach to critically engaging with the written word that addresses key questions about the nature of evidence, how it is made, and how it can be used. Readers of Talking Back to the Indian Act will never again feel that they lack the tools to truly interrogate historical or other documents.

    At the same time, Talking Back to the Indian Act introduces the reader to one of the most important pieces of legislation in Canadian history and – sadly – one that many Canadians know very little about. For nearly a century and a half, the Indian Act has dominated the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples living within its borders. As it sought to erase individual and collective identities, the Indian Act operated to extinguish Indigenous political structures, regulate familial relationships and gender roles, degrade kinship networks, circumscribe economic undertakings, reduce the land base available to Indigenous communities, and prohibit practices central to the maintenance of Indigenous cultures. Even those Indigenous people who Canada did not choose to classify as “Indian” have been impacted by the Act as they struggled to assert their own distinct identities and legal rights.

    The provisions of the Indian Act, the surveillance required for its maintenance, and Indigenous responses to its intentions and effects have created a massive archive. It is from this prodigious body of material that Talking Back to the Indian Act draws the documents it uses to teach critical historical reading methods. Included here are: the original 1876 Act and the many amendments made to it, queries and clarifications from Canadian officials, law enforcement documents, legal opinions, court records, and reports from various commissions and inquiries. Importantly, here too are Indigenous people’s letters of protest, oral testimony, meeting transcripts of Indigenous organizations and inquiries, radio addresses, and creative works all talking back to the Indian Act from Indigenous perspectives. Readers who may have heard very little about the Indian Act will come away from this text with a better understanding of how the Act worked to constrain Indigenous lives and how Indigenous people persistently worked to overcome those constraints.

    Talking Back to the Indian Act provides a set of lessons that shine light on several critical aspects of the Act and Indigenous responses to them in historical context. It encourages students to move beyond simply reading historical documents and to engage with them in more refined and effective ways. To that end, readers of this text are given an introduction to the interpretative tools traditionally available to historians and how these might be utilized in concert with Indigenous methodologies and intersectional analyses. Students will come away from this book with a much better understanding of this pivotal piece of legislation as well as the dynamics involved in its creation, its maintenance, and the resistance it engendered.

    Talking Back to the Indian Act is not a definitive study of the Indian Act but includes a range of important topics that resonate across time and into the present. Each of these topics has stimulated an intriguing array of voices and document types available to researchers. This range of material has allowed the documents provided in this collection to be selected with variety of source type and perspective in mind. Readers will have the opportunity to not only interrogate individual letters, transcripts of oral accounts and testimony, official reports, reminiscences, legislation, creative writing, and other materials but also to consider the relative value of different kinds of sources to different sorts of projects that a researcher might undertake. In addition to the focus on issues that are significant in their own right, there are also a number of overarching themes represented here. For example, Canada’s goals of acquiring land and resources and assimilating Indigenous people are evident throughout this text, as is Indigenous resistance in its many forms.

    Exploring the contours and development of the Indian Act through the documents provided in this text will help students in all disciplines – as well as popular audiences – navigate the headlines of today. It is our hope that Talking Back to the Indian Act makes a contribution to historical understanding while at the same time enhancing the skills necessary to analyse our present situation and the most appropriate paths to the future.

    Mary-Ellen Kelm is Canada Research Chair and Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, and Keith D. Smith teaches in the Departments of Indigenous Studies and History at Vancouver Island University.

  • Recommended Reading for Back to School

    With the start of the new school year, we thought this would be a great opportunity to highlight some of our new education titles. We’ve picked out five titles for you to have a look at.

    Staying Human during Residency Training: How to Survive and Thrive After Medical School

    By Allan D. Peterkin

    The ultimate survival guide for medical students, interns, residents, and fellows, Staying Human during Residency Training provides time-tested advice and the latest information on every aspect of a resident’s life – from choosing a residency program, to coping with stress, enhancing self-care, and protecting personal and professional relationships.

    Allan D. Peterkin, MD provides hundreds of tips on how to cope with sleep deprivation, time pressures, and ethical and legal issues. This sixth edition is not only updated to reflect the latest research and resources, but also features new material on the latest issues in residency training, including social media use, patient-centered care, the medical humanities, and the “hidden curriculum” of residency.

    Acknowledged by thousands of doctors across North America as an invaluable resource, Staying Human during Residency Training has helped to shape notions of trainee well-being for medical educators worldwide. Offering wise, compassionate, and professional counsel, this edition again shows why it is required reading for medical students and new physicians pursuing postgraduate training.

    "This guide should be required reading for each intern beginning residency and also for each and every residency program director in North America."

    Aliye Runyan, Medical Education Team Chair, American Medical Student Association, and Sonia Lazreg, AMSA/Committee of Interns and Residents Health Justice Fellow

    Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD

    By Loleen Berdahl and Jonathan Malloy

    Work Your Career offers practical advice to PhD students in Canada on how best to position themselves for a successful career. The book looks at both academic and non-academic career options for graduate students, and how to prepare concurrently for each.

    The authors carefully recognize that every student brings unique skills, values, and aspirations and that a career path in academia might not be the sole option for students. Drawing on their own personal careers and experience, Berdahl and Malloy provide motivations and strategies for students and provide answers to the questions that many PhD students have. Work Your Career is in essence a mentoring program for students and is full of practical advice on how to be best prepared for a successful career.

    A must read for any graduate student in Canada!

    The Craft of University Teaching

    By Peter Lindsay

    Intended for professors of all academic disciplines who either enjoy teaching or wish to enjoy it more, the soon to-be-released The Craft of University Teaching is a provocative and accessible book containing practical advice gleaned from the academic literature on pedagogy.

    In an era of increased bureaucratic oversight, rapidly diminishing budgets, and waves of technological distraction, The Craft of University Teaching provokes reflection on matters of pedagogy that are too often taken as settled. In so doing, it seeks to reclaim teaching as the intellectually vibrant and intrinsically rewarding endeavor that it is.

    "Peter Lindsay has produced an energetic study of the craft of teaching. His lively treatment will resonate with anyone who has stood in front of a classroom. He rescues the topic from both formula-seekers and those who think good teaching can’t be taught. The result is a stimulating practicum delivered by a bona fide maestro."

    Peter T. Struck, Professor and Chair of the Department of Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania

    Kickstarting Your Academic Career: Skills to Succeed in the Social Sciences

    By Robert L. Ostergard, Jr. and Stacy B. Fisher

    Kickstarting Your Academic Career is a primer on the common scholastic demands that social sciences students face upon entering college or university. Based on the challenges that instructors most often find students need help with, the authors offer practical advice and tips on topics such as how to communicate with instructors, take notes, read a textbook, research and write papers, and write successful exams. The succinct writing and clear organization make this an essential reference for first-year students as they encounter post-secondary work for the first time, and a useful refresher for upper-year students looking to refine their skills.

    “I would recommend Kickstarting Your Academic Career to every college student because they can benefit from the advice given in the book. It establishes what mindset you need and what tools you can utilize in order to be as successful as you can throughout your schooling. It is also written in a clear, concise manner that any student can understand regardless of their reading comprehensive skills.”

    Lauren Bullock, Sophomore at Stephen F. Austin State University

    The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

    By Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber

    If there is one sector of society that should be cultivating deep thought in itself and others, it is academia. Yet the corporatisation of the contemporary university has sped up the clock, demanding increased speed and efficiency from faculty regardless of the consequences for education and scholarship.

    In The Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber discuss how adopting the principles of the slow movement in academic life can counter this erosion of humanistic education. Focusing on the individual faculty member and his or her own professional practice, Berg and Seeber present both an analysis of the culture of speed in the academy and ways of alleviating stress while improving teaching, research, and collegiality. The Slow Professor will be a must-read for anyone in academia concerned about the frantic pace of contemporary university life.

  • June and July Round-up

    Highlights from the months of June and July.

    Awards:

    • Johannes Remy’s Brothers or Enemies was awarded the Ivan Franko International Prize of 2018.
    • French Écocritique by Stephanie Posthumus is on the shortlist for the Alanna Bondar Memorial Book Prize.

    Conferences:

    • Daniel Quinlan represented UTP at the Law and Society Association’s annual conference in Toronto.
    • Anne Brackenbury and Jodi Lewchuk presented our sociology list at the World Congress of Sociology in Toronto.

    Media Highlights:

     

    New Releases:

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