Just for Students

Why do I teach?

The other day my spouse told me about a documentary she had just seen about the honey industry and how corporate agribusiness is using so much pesticides that the bees can not find the plants they need to pollinate and make honey. There is a whole China-based formula for diluting honey, adding in rice sugar, in order to lower the price and flood the market with cheap, impure honey. As if there is not enough human tragedy in the world, we both began spewing our rage. And for a brief second I revisited a fantasy I sometimes have about renouncing all my belongings and personal attachments to become an amazon warrior for peace. In this fantasy I would battle corporate giants to save the bees! regulate the Chinese! and bring fresh pure honey to every doorstep.

And then I remember that I would be a middle-aged warrior at best, in need of my daily creature comforts and pharmaceutically supported health care, my organic goat cheese, and at least eight hours of sleep a night. Some warrior I would be. But as a college professor, I can work with people who are much younger, stronger, and even more idealistic than I am…and turn out 1,000 warriors who can change the world. I can help people to develop necessary habits of thought: writing, reading, speaking in public. I can command educational, cultural, and sometimes financial resources to bring students together with community advocates and organizers. The “lonely hero” is a masculinist fantasy anyway, one that hides all the collaboration and village support that any real warrior needs to carry the world on their shoulders.

So that’s why I teach.

What I teach

Photo by Collin Calvert

My courses contain different aspects or approaches to social and racial justice. I am a visual and a kinetic learner, so I know from personal experience that effective, transformative learning sometimes needs to happen in unconventional contexts, not through a lecture or a reading. In most of my courses, I use interdisciplinary methods and original texts to help people grapple with real-world issues in a safe but critical environment. Like many of my colleagues, I value community-based knowledge as well as traditional book-based knowledge. For that reason, I often include opportunities for students to leave the classroom and gain exposure to the insight and wisdom of locally based people and organizations.

Vietnam antiwar movement

1970 National Student Association poses with Prime Minister Pham Van Dong in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Doug Hostetter

Macalester students will be intrigued to know that the seeds for the People’s Peace Treaty–a student led proposal to end the Vietnam War–were first planted on the Macalester campus. In August 1971, Rennie Davis and Dave Dellinger spoke on campus to address the National Student Congress. Jay Craven was in the audience (he’s the 19-year-old standing in the back row of the picture), and he ended up joining a delegation of U.S. students who went to Hanoi. The full story is told in my co-edited volume THE PEOPLE MAKE THE PEACE: LESSONS FROM THE VIETNAM ANTIWAR MOVEMENT.

For a few semesters, I have invited students into an informal tutorial focused on the Vietnam antiwar movement.

In April 2016, we held a three-day long symposium. Last May 2017, three students wrote a piece about their learning experience in the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Bruce Lee

During Spring 2017 I launched the first version of “Bruce Lee: His Life and Legacy.” Together we watched 3 of his 4 films (I bet you thought he had hundreds!). Then we read and discussed his racial/gendered/cultural identities, his philosophies (as expressed in the Tao of JeetKuneDo), and his political legacies. It turns out that this gifted athlete and artist who died too early in 1973 lives on the imagination of people all over the world!

Do you need a Letter of Recommendation?

I am happy to write letters of recommendation that convey my honest impressions of your writing and social skills, your attitude, and what it appears will be your major contribution to a workplace or academic program. Please give me at least TWO WEEKS so that I may find time to put aside to gather my thoughts and compose a thoughtful and original letter. Please also provide me with any supporting materials–such as your resume, a statement of interest, or any other ideas or phrases that will jog my memory about your accomplishments. Make sure that I know when and how to deliver the letter–via email? on paper? via phone? I will not be bothered if you remind me daily about your deadline. To increase the trustworthiness of the letter,  you should waive the right to see the letter. Do not expect me to provide you a copy.  Unless you hear positively from me, please do not assume that I will provide you with a letter. Many factors may prevent me from being able to do so. In any case, I wish you the best of luck.