Rethinking education to overcome systemic inequalities

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Educators have the responsibility to guide students so that they see the full picture of society, according to Pam Eddinger, President of Bunker Hill Community College. Eddinger is the last speaker of the life-transformative education series at the University of Connecticut. She explained the importance of incorporating diversity and inclusion into curriculums through Webex on April 9 at 9 a.m. 

“If higher education is indeed a public good, where is the evidence that we are making a difference?” Eddinger said. “Are our current teaching and learning practices preparing our graduates to shape a more just and equitable world? And even as we urge our students to engage in critical thinking and reflection, have we begun to practice this in the academy?” 

Eddinger said the events in the past year have changed the perspective of the “liberty” and “justice” narrative in American society. She reflected that the convergence of nationwide racial injustices, killings, protests and pandemic disparities shed light on the systemic issues in American society.  

“So, as educators, we must represent a full and accurate reality to our students, leading them through deep inquiry and ultimately guide them to the creation of new knowledge,” Eddinger said. “To truly fulfill this responsibility, we cannot rely on tradition alone or what we knew thirty years ago. What we learned in the academy is no longer enough. We know this because the world has not become juster, more prosperous and more habitable.” 

Since the 1980s, national economic policies that supported community building and growth were defunded, according to Eddinger. Racism and the pandemic showed the neglect, especially in communities of color and communities of poverty. Police brutality in the Black community and economic neglect is not new, according to Eddinger. She said COVID-19 was the crack of lightning that revealed the deterioration of social systems from systemic disinvestments in places like the community college infrastructure, health care, housing and transportation.  

Eddinger gave an example of students at Bunker Community College. She explained that most students have to balance other obligations like jobs and children while attending school. Particularly in the Black and Latino community, COVID-19 caused a 15% decrease in enrollment. This is a problem because those who attend community colleges will make up the majority of the middle-skills workforce, Eddinger stated. 

“Our learners are community strong but economically fragile and usually one negative event from dropping out of school,” Eddinger said.  

I’ve done it all my life — when I was a young girl 14, 15, I would go with my parents who did not speak any English to translate into Cantonese really complex medical issues and it’s no different. I think it’s the same kind of translation except it’s academic cultural translation.” 

Pam Eddinger, President of Bunker Hill Community College

Eddinger applauded UConn’s initiatives for transformative learning. She also added that under President Joe Biden’s administration, new economic plans are being put into place to help grassroots organizations. However, educators are also crucial to foster change because they serve as translators for employers, according to Eddinger.  

“We’re translators for the cultural assets and community assets of our students for them to be accepted,” Eddinger said. “So it is in a way our job within this group, because we understand those translations to be beyond a passer of knowledge or even a creator of knowledge to bridge those worlds. I’ve done it all my life — when I was a young girl 14, 15, I would go with my parents who did not speak any English to translate into Cantonese really complex medical issues and it’s no different. I think it’s the same kind of translation except it’s academic cultural translation.” 

According to Eddinger, it is important to have student representation in committees and evaluate department policies for inclusivity and diversity for transformative learning. Eddinger advised that educators should teach each other before teaching students.  

“What we did was, we asked our humanities faculty to sit with our science faculty,” Eddinger said. “So, the science faculty can teach our humanities faculty how their courses work and suggest ways of creating modules or creating problem-based learning so students can inquire, communicate and grow.”  

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