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Learning and Living with History in the Room

As part of HGSE's Teaching and Learning Week, Assistant Professor Jarvis Givens was one of several faculty members who contributed essays about how we teach and learn.

When I think about teaching I am reminded of the undergraduate course that opened my eyes to the value in earning a Ph.D. and subsequently changed my life trajectory. The instructor of this African American history course created a warm learning environment that incorporated foundational and contemporary texts, balanced lectures with appropriate audio-visual supplements, and she welcomed both laughter and personal testimony. It is my goal to replicate the feelings of belongingness for students and the level of preparedness as an instructor that I experienced in this course on African Americans in the Industrial Age. My philosophy of teaching pivots on my belief that education should be relevant, offer a clear analysis of power and privilege in society, and aim to develop students who are committed to transforming it for the greater good. This is my work.
In teaching courses at the intersection of the history of education and African American history, I direct students to make critical connections between the legacies of inequality in schooling and challenges faced in education today. My classroom is a place where matters of education are conceptually interrogated; where the past, present, and future of schools are always understood beyond rigid chronological, pragmatic boundaries. For instance, when teaching about the role of white philanthropy in the ideological manipulation of black education during the late 19th and early 20th century, I welcomed discussion on the relationship between capital, race, and education in our contemporary moment of increased privatization.
We live in an era where history and the humanities are often questioned. Therefore, my courses make relevant and explicit connections between historical material and the contemporary, while staying true to disciplinary objectives. I make clear that whether we name it or not, history is always in the room; whether it's loud or quiet, it is always living and present. What’s more, while I study and teach about the history of racially oppressed communities, I am mindful to always elevate the stories of people constantly striving to subvert systems of schooling built on their suffering. This includes making space for rigorous study of how these groups have appropriated dominant technologies of schooling towards liberatory ends. In this sense, my teaching strives to capture both the complex history of inequality and violence in schooling and yet, the unyielding, unfinished work by marginalized communities to make schools into something they have yet to be — a space where all children can be whole and taught to aspire toward their highest potential.

Jarvis Givens is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Suzanne Young Murray Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study.