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jrlewis's picture

Risks and Diversity

I sat at a horse show this weekend, watching a nervous eighteen year old compete in an unrestricted three-foot hunter division. Over a period of two days, with three courses set in two different rings, the woman failed to get her horse over a single jump. It was terrible to watch.

My initial reaction is that at least both horse and rider are unharmed physically. They are physically capable of competing again, jumping again, and somehow sorting out their problems. However, I am sure that they are not so pyschologically sound. The young woman was subjected to severe stress in the form of anxiety, disappointment, fear, and humiliation. The horse was frustrated and scared. She was not adequately prepared to compete at this level, that is why she chose not to participate. The mare exercised her own judgement in the situation.

Contrast this example, to one in which the horse absolutely obeyed the rider. The horse was unable to clear the jump and the rider was thrown. This was dangerous. There are some experiences that can not be learned from because the learner dies in the process. It is important to recognize that education is risky physically and psychologically.

I consider it to be the responsibility of the teacher to reduce the risk inherent in the process. However, this may prevent the education environment from representing the real world, by substituting a more ideal environment. The student should be made aware of the perils of the educational process. They should be encouraged to take an active role in reducing the precarious nature of their experiences. This is a meaningful form of participation in education and one that will benefit them in other areas of their lives.

However, it is impossible to remove all risk from the process of education. In a traditional classroom of a homogeneous student body, there are essentially only two judgments being considered, that of the student body and that of the teacher. There is no guarantee that these two judgments can deal with every educational hazard. Is there any way to further reduce the inherent risks? In a diverse classroom, each and every student offers a different judgment or opinion. As the number of people involved in the process of education increases, diversity of ability, experience, and values increases. The educational unit is expanded beyond the traditional student-teacher relationship to embrace a broader and more informed perspective. The group as a whole has a better judgment. They will be able to avoid a broader range of risks, making the experience safer and more profitable for all.

Now how do we implement this strategy in the classroom? How do we make everyone feel comfortable contributing? Is there one correct interpretation or many? If there are many, how do we decided which ones are admissible? Does this vary across different academic subjects?

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