Finding their own truth: Humanizing History through Dialectic Teaching
By Kaimana Chock
We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!
Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.
Gift of the Obsidian Butterfly
Song of the Obsidian Butterfly
A gift generously bestowed through
Generations of storykeepers,
Two spirits who embody revolution,
Women who heal communities,
And a man wise enough to listen.
I didn’t know what to expect. It had been years since I had stepped foot in a high school classroom, and I was curious to see how the students would operate in a post-COVID setting. I was stepping into an “American Government” classroom, and wasn’t sure what I would find on the other side of the door.
During our prep session, Dr. José Gonzalez had touched on the importance of the “Pedagogy of Love” in his classroom, and the use of humanizing language as core to the dialectic method of learning and discovery of one’s own truth based on evidence. He spoke of how he taught history in a way that allowed multiple perspectives to be discussed and investigated. I was curious to see how these concepts would manifest.
Posters highlighting ethnic pride for black, indigenous, and Mexican heritage covered the walls alongside symbols of social justice movements. Interwoven with them were standards for academic writing, frameworks to formulate a cogent argument, and drawings and doodles showcasing student creativity. I immediately sensed that this was a classroom in which one could see oneself wholly and feel wholly seen.
As class was underway and I listened to the students’ conversations, I was struck by their engagement and their eagerness to learn. Their discussions within the dialectic circles allowed space to be curious about what they were reading, to compare the reading to their lived experience, and to deepen their own learning. Even those students who had self-admitted that they had not completed their reading before the start of class were actively contributing to the dialogue and learning in the moment. No students were preoccupied with their phones or talking about what they were going to be doing in the upcoming weekend.
To see students so hungry to learn contrasted starkly with my own memories of high school history class. My memory of my own experience as a high school senior is of the memorization of names and dates and forced use of the Cornell note taking style—there was no discussion to determine whether or not the history being presented to me may have been reflective of the real lived experiences of enslaved people in a post “emancipation” America. How differently I may have been prepared for the world outside of high school had my experience focused on finding my truth.
After the class was over, we were treated to a panel of students who shared about their experience in Dr. Gonzalez’s class, and what effects it had on their lives. One student shared how he had always been interested in history, but his interests had been limited to classical accounts of Greek soldiers and European knights; through the class, he had found pride for his own identity as a Mexican American. Another student shared how in all of her previous schooling experiences, she had felt othered and excluded; through the class, she began to see herself and her features as beautiful for the first time. The students spoke about the importance of the Pedagogy of Love, and the way that humanizing language helped them to see themselves more clearly, to understand their own cultures and heritages, and to feel pride for who they are. Many of them spoke to the fact that the class was inspiring them to think of ways to serve their own communities through their future careers, that they hoped to return to their own neighborhoods as lawyers and politicians, to fight for their families and friends.
As I left the class, I couldn't help but feel grateful for the opportunity to visit and share this time with the students. It was a humbling reminder of just how much we can learn from one another, and I left the school feeling inspired and energized.
About the Storyteller
Kaimana Chock is the ʻāina accountability pathways manager for The Kohala Center. His work seeks answers to the question: “how might we hold ourselves accountable to the places, communities, and individuals that feed us physically, mentally, and spiritually?”