Transformational Learning at The Scholar and Feminist 2013

Everyone has had both challenging and positive experiences in the realm of education, from experiencing racism in the classroom to supportive professors. What allows for these positive experiences to take place? Dean Spade of Seattle University School of Law and activist Rickke Mananzala sought to answer this question during the Open Education workshop at The Scholar & Feminist 2013: Utopia conference.

Dean Spade and Rikke Mananzala talk in the background, a small group of participants discuss in the foreground

Participants break into groups during the Transformational Learning workshop

Dean and Rickke explained their view of educational spaces: there are 3 main points to keep in mind when learning: approach, content, and purpose. These aspects add a reflective layer to the educational process. Teaching is more than a dictation of information. Learning calls for an exchange between teacher and student that creates an open space for true expansion of ideas and perspectives. There is a need for an environment that supports open and honest dialogue rather than a place of senseless note taking.

But should this environment be seen as a “safe space?” The “safe space” is far from a new idea, but it has yet to be given a definition. So what is a “safe space” exactly? Is it a place to feel at ease and open?  Or is it a space where you feel uneasy because your ideas are challenged and you are forced to look at things in a new light? The latter seemed to win as the definition supported by the snaps and resounding “woots.”

One person is speaking in the audience while a group of others are listening, on the wall are pieces of paper labeled "challenges" with post it notes with writing on them

Participants at the Transformational Learning workshop discuss their thoughts

So now that the “safe space” has been defined and transformational learning has been planned it’s time to implement the change. How do we do that? Taking initiative and actually integrating what we’ve learned in this conference into our educational spaces. Think about approach, content, and purpose and modify depending on who is in the classroom, open up the teaching space for an exchange, and open yourself to new perspectives in order to challenge your ideas and enact change within yourself.

Zai Gilles is a junior at Barnard majoring in French Literature and Language, and a research assistant at the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

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