Why Didactic Pedagogy Doesn’t Work When Teaching Racial Justice (and What Does)

Didactic education is a teaching style where information is presented directly to students by a teacher. The teacher chooses the topic and the learning activities. This is the most widely accepted teaching approach and likely the teaching method those of you reading this article experienced in your own education. While there are times when a didactic education makes sense, there are certain areas in education where this approach is particularly archaic, or sometimes downright problematic. One such instance where the didactic approach can be harmful is in the area of racial and social justice. In Teaching Race: Pedagogy and Practice, the authors identify common challenges in teaching racial justice and outline five principles for effectively teaching about difficult topics.


Principle 1: Encourage Reflexivity

A core tenant of racial justice education is that the learner is encouraged to consider their own feelings and how they impact their own behaviors. Because didactic education only allows learners to absorb information from the teacher, there is no opportunity for them to critically evaluate their own interactions and relationships as they relate to the issues at hand.


Principle 2: Prepare for and Welcome Difficulty

It is important that educators openly acknowledge the discomfort inherent in racial justice education. It is equally important that teachers are prepared to facilitate learning and accountability through this process. Because didactic pedagogy is focused on imparting facts on students, there is no real responsibility for contextualizing those facts and welcoming difficult conversations when they are related to complex topics, such as racial and social justice.


Principle 3: Meet Students Where They Are

In order to effectively teach racial justice content, teachers must consider their individual students, and the larger campus, city, state environment in which they exist. This is not possible in a didactic approach, where all students are lumped together into one monolith.


Principle 4: Engage Affective and Embodied Dimensions of Learning

Racial and social justice courses engage the lived experiences of the students who are learning. Therefore, it is important that the teacher not only acknowledges, but directly engages the affective and embodied dimensions of learning that take shape in the classroom. The rigid structure of transmission of facts that didactic pedagogy is built around disallows this sort of authentic and organic learning experience.


Principle 5: Build a Learning Community

The classroom should always be a space of belonging for all who enter it (digitally or in-person). Creating that sense of community is particularly important when learning about difficult issues related to racial and social justice. Students lack a sense of community in a didactic classroom where the teacher holds all of the authority.


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References

Thurber, A., Harbin, M.B., & Bandy, J. (2019). Teaching Race: Pedagogy and Practice. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-race/

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