I believe in providing students with ways of integrating practical subjects with those areas of study that enrich the mind and spirit. For students destined for fields both in and outside academia, I help students to find fulfilling ways of contributing to the need for skilled analysts and researchers with sharp critical thinking skills who have learned to manage, evaluate, and interpret large volumes of different kinds of data on human social and cultural life. I teach a variety of courses including introductory (cultural and four-field) anthropology, advanced anthropological and social theory, ethnographic methods and data analysis, and contemporary culture in the context of globalization. In addition to regional ethnography focusing on North America, I teach classes or incorporate perspectives from my fieldwork in Indonesia which addresses the role of development programs in the politics of culture and ethnic identity. Courses offering cross-cultural perspectives on important social, cultural, and environmental issues are a natural expression of my experience and interests. You can learn more about my Teaching Methods and Teaching Philosophy on their respective pages.
The most basic, if often unstated, goal of teaching is to encourage students to learn. I have never believed that it was my job to fill empty vessels. Both teacher and student bring something to the table – it can become an open exchange of ideas. When students become engaged in a collaborative pursuit of knowledge and understanding in a classroom environment based on mutual respect and tolerance, it becomes possible for the teacher to begin providing them with opportunities to develop the critical, holistic, and comparative skills that are essential not only in academic pursuits but also more generally in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.
In my comments on papers I challenge students to improve the clarity and persuasiveness of their writing. Most are able to formulate their ideas much more effectively by the time they turn in final papers at the end of the semester.
By drawing connections between course material and contemporary, real world events, I emphasize the relevance of anthropology to critical thinking and to enhancing our understanding of everyday life. Some students have commented that having the benefit of an anthropological understanding of culture has changed them in that they can no longer watch television or movies in the same way that they used to. They have become much more aware of the role of the media, for example, in constructing meaning. Many feel that they are no longer willing to assume to role of passive consumers of media products. Anthropological knowledge can empower students to challenge the status quo through their everyday choices and through informed and educated arguments.
Increased Mastery in Writing
The chance to work on a sustained research and writing project is a major advantage for students in my classes. Ongoing feedback and rethinking leads students to rewrite papers which then gives them a way to improve their writing and their argumentation. Grammar, spelling, word choice, and punctuation are important in the presentation of ideas. Writing that is hindered by carelessness can obscure the intent and meaning of the writer. Students learn that style is important in the assignment and that it is because their ideas are paramount that style must be taken seriously. Having almost the entire term to work on their term paper gives students the chance to learn what they can really do and to have confidence in their ability to conduct true scholarship.
Anthropology is uniquely positioned as a course of study to prepare students for an increasingly diverse society. For many students, a class in cultural anthropology affords them their first real glimpse of other ways of understanding such basic, taken for granted categories as person, gender, family, and community. Anthropology taught in a classroom environment that fosters real engagement with respect and tolerance can have a tremendous impact on students at a time in their life when so many of them are really beginning to connect with a larger world. The cultural sensitivity that students learn in a course in anthropology provides valuable interpersonal skills allowing students greater understanding of group dynamics and a basis for the ability to work effectively in a cross-cultural or multi-cultural setting. The classroom experience inspires many students to continue their exploration of other cultures when the semester is over through further coursework in anthropology, foreign language classes, as well as study abroad programs. Learning about the world’s social and cultural diversity through an anthropological perspective, and by engaging with that diversity through application of anthropological methods in fieldwork exercises, students learn the most valuable trait of the cultural anthropologist: personal and intellectual flexibility.