Antiracist Educator. Literary Scholar. Researcher. Interculturally Competent, Lifelong Language Learner. Mentor. Ally. Leader.
I want to introduce myself: I am Dawn (she/her/hers), the founder, C.E.O., and Director of The Pedagogy4lit Collective. Teaching and learning are two of my passions. These passions are expressed best in my writing: journaling, academic research and publishing, and my creative writing. I also love traveling, meeting new people, cooking for friends, and spending quality time with my companion dog, for whom I am a support animal. When I am not writing, teaching, reading, or entertaining friends, I am very involved in my hobby: genealogical research.
I have been teaching Spanish since 1990. I started my career teaching high school in a small school district in the rural south, right out of college, and today, I am an Associate Professor of Spanish/Latin American Literature and Culture in a large research university in the midwest. While teaching high school Spanish is a world away from teaching in a research university, these are still two parts of a greater vision that I had of myself when I was growing up--imagining myself becoming a citizen of the world. This vision of my future began with my maternal grandmother who traveled to see the world. However, she was the only person I knew that had traveled and aspired to travel that wasn't part of a military family. It was only in the context of military life that I could see everyday people of color traveling and speaking other languages growing up. My K-12 public school education never once introduced me to people of color who traveled and gave the impression that outside the continent of Africa, the English or French-speaking Caribbean, and the US, there were no other people of African descent in the world. At least, none that made any significant contributions to the world. By not teaching about any people who were not considered White, it taught me to believe that no one else mattered. While I was not clearly aware of this until I went to college, my observation was of a decades-long situation that required attention to be corrected.
It wasn't until I began incorporating (what we referred to then as) "Afro Hispanic Culture" into the high school Spanish classes that I was teaching did I become aware of the general absence of diversity in the language curriculum. Yet, it wasn't until I began my graduate studies that I realized that my undergraduate degree program in Secondary Education had been remiss in providing me an education about the methodologies of teaching languages. As teachers are used to having to supplement their district-provided curricula with their own original materials or sharing with other teachers in their district, I didn't immediately notice that I had to work twice as hard to create the materials from which I had to teach in order to make the cultural portions of the curriculum complete, more accurate. Oddly, my ignorance about why these vast curricular chasms existed at all actually protected me from greater disappointments about the profession that I had chosen. I didn't begin to think about leaving secondary education until I personally experienced cultural misunderstandings in the classroom on a regular basis.
In my second or third year teaching high school, I gave every one of my students a gift that would create a controversy. I taught in a predominantly White school district that had some of the poorest students, and a large share of the poorest performers on standardized exams, in the state. The district worked extremely aggressively to raise those test scores by putting pressure upon the faculty to use every moment of the day as a teaching moment. Both the faculty and the students were stressed about the entire process. I decided that my students had worked very hard and deserved some sort of acknowledgement of their struggles, so I purchased 150 Guatemalan worry dolls from one of my favorite teaching materials catalogs to give one to all of my students. I thought they were cute and that my students would enjoy them.
A set of 5 or six of these dolls--which were actually just match sticks wrapped in scraps of colorful cloth to represent either pants or skirts and head coverings for traditionally-dressed indigenous women or men of Mexico and Central America, with dots for eyes, a little upward-facing semi-circle for a mouth-- had been placed in the same colorful cloth bags (see picture above) that had a generous amount of heavy red thread to cinch the sacs shut tightly. Accompanying those dolls was a folded piece of paper explaining that the owner of those sacks could whisper their problems to these dolls and place the sack under their pillow before going to sleep, and the dolls would take away their worries. Some days before the standardized tests began, I handed these bags out to every student and explained to them the accompanying myth. But in just a few days, a controversy was already brewing. One of the students had decided to wear the sac of dolls around her neck to a church function, which drew the attention of every adult she met. They would ask her what she was wearing and she would tell them, showing them the little matches wrapped in the colorful cloth. Soon enough, the minister himself became curious and asked her about the little sack around her neck. And she, again, took the sack off and emptied its contents in her hand to show the dolls to the minister. Reportedly, the minister's eyes grew wide with a mixture of incredulity and horror, and informed the student and the others that were at the same church event that what these dolls were was "voodoo". He collected the little sacks from other students who had taken to the idea of wearing them around their necks and determined that I was indoctrinating the children in the Haitian practice of voudoun, which was, in his eyes, a form of worshipping the devil.
While the principal who had called me to his office to talk to me about the situation laughed heartily at the "ignorance" of these worried community members, I found the entire situation insulting and offensive. I wasn't in the least bit worried about my job, but I couldn't laugh this off as easily as he did. As one of the few Black teachers (we were fewer than 10) in the entire school district, if memory serves me correctly, and the only Black language teacher, I was gaining a reputation of a sort of dangerous woman. It happened again, some time later, when a school librarian became "concerned" because I showed my students a film about the apparition of the Virgin Mary to an indigenous man (now saint), Juan Diego, in Mexico in 1531, and then turned me in for showing a "Catholic film" in the classroom. This led to the film being confiscated because even telling the story of the Virgin Guadalupe was forbidden in this largely southern baptist and Christian community.
By then, I understood quite clearly that the local culture dominated everything, even education. They were not interested in teaching the children of the community about another culture if it was a culture that was not like their own. Moreover, there was a general fear of everything different. Even more alarming to me was the way the community was accusing me of indoctrination, as if education can ever be totally impartial and objective. While I may not have known how to articulate it then, I recognize today that choosing not to discuss religious differences in the classroom is not equivalent to impartiality. Just as we have learned that by choosing not to discuss race in the classroom did not make education less racist, and choosing to allow women's sports did not make team sports less sexist, I would say that choosing not to discuss these topics may have only further entrenched those who did and do still hold biases against certain religions, ethnic groups, or gender and sexual identities. Choosing not to discuss controversial or difficult topics does not protect anyone from prejudice and does not resolve any issues of inequality that exist. While it may be true that discussing these topics may not always resolve any issues either, we know for certain that not discussing these issues can never help us find a solution to problems that arise.
All of my years of teaching experience and education alone was not enough to help me learn to teach language and culture (and literature as a facet of culture) in a way that would offer a broader perspective of the Spanish-speaking world to all my students. It wasn't until I began to work mindfully on the development of my own intercultural competence have I finally been able to bring a respectful view of difference of the world to my classes, and, considering the many publications that exist about this topic, I know that I am not the only person who finds it important to know how to do. There would be no publications on the topic, if there weren't language teachers wondering how to do it.
By establishing The Pedagogy4lit Collective and starting this website, I am offering language educators everywhere more opportunities to learn how to teach difference respectfully, as I hope to encourage more language teaching pedagogies in the Colleges of Education around the country, and around the world. That's the only way we can change the system to make teaching for equity the norm. When language teaching methodologies are more inclusive, we can expect the textbooks produced for those courses to be inclusive too. Today, in the college classes I teach, I am working towards greater diversity in learning activities, literature, and cultures, and I am including intercultural competence as an objective in my literature courses, which is not an easy thing to do without training. I am creating that content for training and looking to collaborate with other interculturally competent, anti-racist educators who share my goal and my vision.
I want the The Pedagogy4lit Collective to be the space for language teachers to exchange ideas about how to incorporate the development of intercultural competence into the language classroom so that teaching for equity is an inherent part of any World Language curriculum. Here, I want you to be able to collaborate and to learn to create the curricula and design the courses that you want and your students need for our interconnected world. So, I envisioned a space where language teachers could learn new strategies and attend workshops and courses online to discover new ideas for incorporating cultural competence and institutional equity in all of their courses. In time, I would like The Pedagogy4lit Collective to be a repository for content to support language teachers all over the world just so that language teachers will never again feel exasperated and overwhelmed about producing their own materials to supplement or replace a poorly designed textbook.
I created this space for everyone. This is a non-judgmental and equitable learning space. This is a space to find the resources that you need to further develop yourself interculturally and to learn how to facilitate intercultural teaching and learning in your own classroom. There are free resources and services that we sell at reasonable prices for individuals, and higher prices for institutions. I started The Pedagogy4lit Collective for that reason and invite you to learn and share with us as we pursue our intercultural journey to develop our skills for a better teaching environment for all students. There should be no doubt today that representation matters. So, I invite you to learn to teach for equity with us, to learn to teach differently.