Work on developing students' ability to reflect and use higher order thinking skills as much as possible. Studying diversity-related material and remembering/repeating it on exams may not lead to students being able to meet diversity-related objectives.
Assumptions, the taken-for-granted beliefs about how the world works and our place within it, are so obvious that people don't think about them. Fish are not aware that they are swimming in water. Two of these kinds of assumptions, according to Brookfield 1 are prescriptive and causal. Prescriptive assumptions are assumptions about what we think should be happening at any particular moment-how people should behave, what expectations people should have of each other, for example. Causal assumptions are assumptions about the interrelationships between parts of the world, and the cause and effect relationships between them. An example would be the statement "If people work hard, they will be successful."
People can "know" factual material within the context of a course and this material may have little or no impact on pre-existing prescriptive or causal assumptions related to race, ethnicity, class, power, and poverty in the United States . Assignments that challenge students to analyze and apply information and to reflect on the impact of course content on their lives are more likely to have an impact on assumptions.
Application and Analysis
Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive domains 2 is a classic and useful categorization of ways of knowing and learning:
Application, analysis, and synthesis are considered higher order thinking skills.
Students can be asked to apply course material to understand current situations. One example is an assignment used by a number of multicultural/diversity classes nationwide which asks students to compare the situation of Irish immigrants in the19th century to African-Americans in the 20 th -21 st centuries:
Another assignment employing higher order thinking skills comes from A UW-Whitewater history professor teaching "U.S. Social History, 1865-Present." She assigned a 2002 newspaper article on a 1600% increase in hate crimes against Muslims since September 11, 2001:
Students can also be asked to write brief papers on a reading assignment that can then serve as the basis of class discussion. Stephen Brookfield 3 (58-60) advocates critical reading to uncover unvoiced assumptions, sources of information, and the ways that the writing represents certain interests and challenges others. Questions that can be used for this include:
When students' experience with a group with minority status or a group member with minority status has been negative, this should not be discounted. However, the students in this situation can be challenged to put their experience in larger contexts and to examine whether their experience is closer to the "exception" or the "rule."
Higher order thinking skills in Bloom's Taxonomy are to be used to better understand a situation, event, or phenomenon. Reflective thinking, according to John Dewey 4 , is turning a subject over in one's mind and giving it careful and serious consideration. Students can be especially challenged to reflect on the meanings and implications of course content on their own life, experiences, and ways of looking at the world.
Asking students to reflect on their own life, their experience in reading a selection for a class assignment, or on an exercise/simulation may lead to their uncovering and confronting previously hidden assumptions. Students in a UW-Whitewater diversity class had a number of options for a paper, including one on paying attention to race and white skin privilege in their lives. Students were to keep a journal for two weeks in which they wrote about their observations and experiences. The student paper asked that students both apply course concepts (race, privilege) to their experiences and also reflect on the meaning of those experiences to their own lives and how they see themselves and are seen in society.
Students in a UW-Whitewater introductory English class were reading James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" and Sapphire's novel Push . The instructor assigned the following take-home journal exercise:
Used in the latter part of the semester, when students have had time to know and trust one another, students have been able to explore opinions about topics as revealing as gender and race-and a number of students were not aware of how strongly they felt on these issues until completing the assignment.
Instructors can also use questions in the middle of class lectures or discussions to help students connect material to their own lives. In discussing the stereotypes and their effects, the teacher might ask: "Is there a time in which you were judged on anything other than your merit? Can you tell me how it felt?"
Short-term reflection can also be used within the context of a class discussion. After a planned exercise or an unplanned incident in which there was heated discussion, students can be asked to describe on an index card or a sheet or paper what they saw and heard. The instructor can say "Run the movie back in your head, describe what you saw happening." Gathering, summarizing, and reading some responses can give class members insight into differing perspectives than their classmates have, and can serve as a basis for further discussion.