Teaching Philosophy

As a teacher of Spanish and Hispanic literatures and cultures, I prioritize the development of intercultural sensitivity and cultural fluency on a path to global citizenship, turning cases of social inequity into productive opportunities for collaborative inquiry and critical assessment. In the spirit of the liberal arts, I teach students an historical appreciation of social phenomena, cultural production, civic engagement – as well as encourage their personal growth – cultivating to this end their intellectual curiosity as humanists who discern the unspoken judgments of others and invite new findings to contradict their own tacit assumptions. Committed to teaching for social justice, I advocate reading literature and the institutions that make it possible by allowing the opposing terms of an argument to articulate the unity of a problem in their antagonism. In response to the growing threat that political illiberalism poses to our democratic institutions, including those of higher education, I have developed an historically grounded course on the phenomenon of populism in the context of Hispanic America, which is designed to help students learn to identify and interpret the moral ambiguity of charismatic leaders who upend the rule of law in the name of social justice. Attentive to students’ mental health concerns, I am dedicated to supporting those who struggle to identify their intellectual passions or to cope with the high-pressure environment of higher-education academic life due to their socio-economic insecurity.

In language classes, I use task-based learning to achieve intercultural sensitivity and cultural fluency as learning outcomes, by recreating the immersion experience in the classroom, where students interact in hands-on activities that require them to employ determined linguistic structures which are introduced in preparatory readings, maximizing the use of contact-time for students’ oral and written production. I create culturally specific scenarios that elicit active participation in the form of role-play and introduce norms of Hispanic cultures as rules of the game. For example, in an elementary class I described (and embellished) a common scenario in South America when a guest is invited for lunch in someone’s home where he is expected to finish an enormous meal, lest he insult the host, and even if he finishes, he will be offered a second portion, which he must finish as well. Tasked with role-playing the host and guest, students took turns boisterously persuading each other to keep eating, using such formal commands as “¡Sírvase con confianza!” and politely declining with such conditional expressions as “Me gustaría pero estoy a dieta.”

To facilitate collaborative inquiry, I teach with archival materials, such as didactic literary pamphlets from a community outreach program of 1930s Mexico. Placing groups of students in contact with archives and a research worksheet invited them to negotiate an understanding of how the aesthetics of linguistic realism (the imitation of substandard speech) relates to the pamphlet’s material history. Students linked ethnographic literature to the nationalization of the print industry that produced its paper and to the mimeograph technology which duplicated low-cost materials of a reform that incorporated the rural majority into the State through literacy campaigns. In search of an historical appreciation of social phenomena, my students are encouraged to leverage such digital methods as web mapping (ArcGIS) as they study, for example, community-based service learning programs across the Second Republic of Spain paired with numerous variations on the same frontier ballad (“La loba parda”) which had been transcribed by service-teaching volunteers in the Cañadas Reales in the early 1930s. Navigating the map in groups, students connected aesthetic differences between the poetic variations and the geolocations where the transcriptions were produced. Overlaying the itinerary of the festival, they inferred that this romance was performed at so many locations because its oral diffusion ensured that it would be familiar to the audience, and its differentiation, that the inevitable discrepancies would elicit public engagement.

Firm in my conviction that students need to understand the philosophical underpinnings of participatory democracy, I have developed the course, Comparative Populisms, which engages students with a series of ethical questions entailed in political representation. Offered for the first time in spring 2023, the seminar will invite students to consider different values and value systems which inform decision-making (their own and others’) in the selection of leaders as well as different types of relations that develop between leaders and the people who choose them. As they explore the idea of leadership in politics and society, students also will ask themselves what kind of leaders they want and what kind of leaders they want to become. Through the evaluation of competing theories of citizenship – the determination of who belongs in the polity – students will consider evolving criteria that have been used to include/exclude specific populations from national projects. By carefully analyzing structures of political power and challenges to those structures, including the state of exception, students will learn how to articulate such questions as whether it is just to suspend the rule of law to preserve the legitimacy of a leader devoted to social justice.

Teaching, as I understand it, is a professional commitment to learn from the learners and to practice self-reflection with a willingness to adjust to the needs of students and to the changing conditions of the learning environment. In my classes, students are congratulated for falling into perplexity, since it is precisely through aporia that significant learning becomes possible. Likewise, if a lesson plan does not turn out as I had hoped, I welcome such a pedagogical frustration as an opportunity for reflection and growth. From my students I have learned that giving meaningful feedback, even on minor assignments such as blog posts, can be a tremendously motivating force in their advancement through a course, and that frequent engagement with them outside class promotes an ethos of mutual responsibility in the classroom. Attentive to the needs of students at different levels of study and to the needs of departments which must sequence courses and provide a viable pathway through the program, I develop pedagogical materials based on a specified audience.

In sum, my pedagogical strategies attune students to their membership in a global community and present social problems as opportunities for change, both personal and communal. I believe that inequities suffered by racial minorities, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the social underclass are in urgent need of redress. As an instructor, I place cultural objects in the hands of students and turn them toward the public sphere to interrogate ideas and practices that have restricted access to education and blocked paths to citizenship, excluding populations based on race, gender, and class. This ethos of confronting the past as an opportunity to learn, which animates my pedagogy (and my research), reflects my commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the liberal arts.

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