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Letting Go to Catch Hold of Nothing: Self Evaluation and Reflection

Desiape's picture

In the beginning of the semester, I remember looking at the course title and feeling compelled. I saw the word ‘multicultural’ and immediately and solely connecting it to race. I was ready for a space where we would tease out the complexities and nuances of race and its effect on the classroom. I had stories, issues, questions I was ready to address and found solace in all the people and institutions I was ready to implicate throughout the semester. My goal was to find answers in regards to my past experiences in the classroom as I searched for validation in my struggles with my opposing personal and academic senses of self.  I was looking for the ‘recipe’ for multicultural education that I would be able to recite when necessary. I sought to learn the specific steps I would need to take in order to cleanly claim the title of ‘cultured’ and be ready to move onto the next stage in my educator education.

With this mentality, I was not aware of the many walls I had built up around myself and my understanding. I had put myself on to a path, blocking off my view of the scenery as a means of focusing on my goal, unaware of the degree to which this tunnel vision stifled me. This brought me to the idea that a majority of my learning process this semester has been based in ‘unlearning.’ Moreover, I was brought to the idea of learning in ‘multiple directions’. In this mentality I could, and often had to, return to past understandings and change, or throw out completely, how I once thought about issues. I was able to find distance from current issues in order to reside in a space-between/ third space, thus changing how I am able to view a specific event, interaction, and/or stressor.

Lookingthrough the before mentioned lens, I was a bit taken aback when the idea of recognizing one’s own biases was the central theme of the class. It was strange for me to implicate myself in hegemony and oppression because I had often saw myself as solely a victim working to overcome the various modes of inequity and negative sentiments that had been instilled in me in my past. For the most part, I was viewing my development as singular and stagnant. I was unable to see how damaging this was as I was under the impression that, as noted by Eve Tuck in her work Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities, my “… damage narratives [were] a strategy for correcting oppression.” (Tuck, 2009, p. 414) I was unaware of the continuing internalization I was undergoing, which I am subject to even now. I have begun to push against this mentally as I have developed my understanding of complex personhood and cultural fluidity. These concept gave me the chance to enter a space where I am not bound by various modes of social categorization. Rather than focusing on what/ who I should be, I saw the multiple manners in which I could be. I found solace and validation in the ambiguity of my sense of ‘self,’ turning away from the dichotomies of right and wrong.

The idea of dichotomies continued to follow me throughout this course. In this I have found myself trapped in yearning to be ‘correct’ and deathly afraid of being ‘wrong.’ Because of grades and various professorial expectations, I often found it better to ‘play it safe’ in terms of my classroom activity and academic prospects. This semester there was a sharp rejection of this mentality, as grades and prompts became scarce and the focus of classroom conversations was not always on coherence. Readings, classmates, the professor, all encouraged the idea of taking risks that was new to me. Rather than looking for a space in which I was able to feel comfortable, I decided to find the spaces where I was forced to question myself and my role in various systems. This was an idea discussed by Kevin Kumashiro in his work Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, as he wrote,

“…comforting knowledge that helps us to stay blinded to those aspects of teaching that we cannot bear to see… discomforting knowledge about our own complicity with oppression or the aspects of teaching that are neither controllable nor rational. Rather than only teach what is already known, they also teach what we desire not to know (the contradictions, the gaps, the partialities), and then explore their political ramifications…” (Kumashiro, 2009, p. 9)


Rather than focusing on the grades or what the professor was ‘looking for,’ I focused on expressing the concepts I personally felt connected to or derived from the readings, activities, and/or work. I found merit in being ok with offering comments that I didn’t consider fully formed, rather than waiting or not talking for fear of sounding uneducated.   

Something else that was crucial to my development throughout this semester was the shift in my understanding of ‘dialog.’ At one point, though I did not speak up in class much, I felt one could only contribute to class vocally and through the voicing of opinions. Often times I felt, I diminished the experience of my fellow classmates and I was limited as a student. I would frequently leave class feeling as if I had wasted my own, as well as everyone else’s, time for not speaking. Moreover, I would frequently feel pressure from professors and students alike to speak, which was comforting when I had something to say, but, time and again, left me feeling that I had to make up something to say as I searched for what I thought the class (students and professors) wanted to hear. Through reading an interview entitled ‘What is the ‘Dialogical Method’ of Teaching,’ theorist’s Paulo Friere and Ira Shor helped provide me with some new insight on the concept of dialog. It was the insight that “A dialogical setting does not mean that everyone involved in it has to speak! Dialogue does not have a goal or a requirement that all people in the class must say something even if they have nothing to say!” (Freire & Shor, 1986, p. 102) I think it was an important step in my development for me to turn away from the idea that in order to prove my worth within the classroom I had to speak. Rather I had to find the significance in my own silence in order to determine its value within educational settings. Personally, I found my silence as well as my vocal contributions within the class had significance when I allowed myself to make that judgement. Instead of forcing or mimicking what I hoped to be meaningful contributions, and thus limiting the entire conversation, I found the agency to offer multifaceted modes of discourse and involvement through active listening, silence, and talking.

As my time in this course comes to a close, I think one of the most important take aways is the idea of continual learning. Similar to the concept of allyship as discussed in Molly Blackburn’s work, Interrupting Hate: Homophobia in Schools and What Literacy Can Do About It, learning is connected to the idea of continual work as “[a learner] must perform being an learner repeatedly, and what [a learner’s] performance looks like in one space…is different than it is in another.” (Blackburn, 2012, p. 62) Learning never ends, and thus can never truly provide me with a stagnant answer. I had to let go of this notion in order to have the chance to take hold of something far more significant and less concrete. Now I find myself looking for questions. Where issues seem simple, I work to tease out the complexities, purposely look for means to make the learning difficult. Rather than tunnel vision, I have begun to widen my field of vision as a means of seeing the multiple ways to have ‘right’ or/and ‘wrong’ answers and how there are times when an answer can be both and/or neither.




Blackburn, M. V. (2012). Interrupting Hate: Homophobia in Schools and What Literacy Can Do About It. New York: Teachers College Press.

Freire, P., & Shor, I. (1986). What is the 'Dialogical Method' of teaching? In P. Freire, & I. Shor, A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education (pp. 97- 119). Westport: Praeger.

Kumashiro, K. K. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice. New York, New York: Routledge.

Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79(3), 409-427.