The Deliberative Pedagogy (DeeP) Faculty Collaborative consists of 15 faculty from Davidson College and five other Associated Colleges of the South institutions who are committed to learning and implementing new ways to improve and deepen the quality of their class discussions. Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, these faculty, who come from a wide array of disciplines, studied and discussed different deliberative pedagogy methods, shared their ideas and questions with one another, and worked to embed deliberation in their classrooms. In this special blog series, members of the Collaborative describe and reflect on their experiences developing and teaching their deliberation-involved courses.
My name is Luis González Barrios and I work as an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Spelman College, Atlanta. This semester, spring 2022, I have introduced for the first time in my classes elements of deliberative pedagogy studied during my participation with the DeeP Collaborative 2021/2022 (through Davidson College). To this purpose I selected my course S451 (Intellectual Tradition of Women in Spanish) in advanced Spanish. The title of the course was: “Feminism, Autonomist Democracy, and Utopia: Expanding the Limits of our Political Imagination,” with a total of seven students, majors and minors in Spanish, and met with a frequency of two days per week (MW 4 pm-5:15 pm).
After my first semester with DeeP in which I learned the basic concepts and practices of the deliberative model, I introduced some of these elements in my new course. I chose the syllabus whose content (feminism and democracy) best suited this deliberative approach. The planning process of the course was very interesting, since it not only made me think about the new DeeP materials, but also about the way of organizing the sessions, the periodization of the modules, and of course the forms of evaluation. I mean, it made me rethink my entire pedagogical approach. After all, a course on democracy and social change, to be consistent with the topic, had to somehow introduce practices of deliberative democracy, and not just content.
I introduced periodic readings on deliberation (from DeeP´s manual and the books Why We Argue and The Political Classroom), three mini-deliberation exercises on central themes of the course (dissent, political violence, and media control), and three short reflection essays on the themes of the course. Both their final presentation (on Democracy, Femininity and Elitism at Spelman College) and the materials they used for this presentation (Collaborative materials) arose from discussions among the seven students using the deliberative format. This was a complex and controversial topic, but very close and relevant to the group, that allowed them to evaluate the connection between democratic values, feminism, tradition, and social change at this particular Historically Black College or University (HBCU) called Spelman.
The result was a short video and a final presentation that was, in my opinion, very successful since it reflected the different points of view of the group, as well as different points of view within the institution itself (Spelman College). They also reflected on the process of producing the video and some internal and external obstacles they had to face. Finally, in the self-evaluation session, the group had to reflect in a circle on the deliberative model, as well as their thoughts and assessments on their performance in the class. The group agreed that this pedagogical approach pushed them to look at a problem from many more angles than usual, and to be less dogmatic in their initial positions. In other words, the consensus process, the search for positive changes, and the unity of action of the group forced them to look for a middle ground in situations of dissent.
I believe that this last conclusion was also my main learning as an instructor, and it made me reflect on the balance that every facilitator must seek between intervention and freedom in class activities. This is something that I must work on, since sometimes my leadership role ended up conditioning certain discussions too much. How to moderate without leading students to certain conclusions? Another problem was that I tried to introduce too many topics and concepts in one semester. I believe I was too “ambitious” in my first experiment. Combining three complex case studies, deliberative pedagogy, and second language learning may need to be more progressive.
If I were to teach this class again, I would focus on a single case study (Chiapas), and the elements of deliberative pedagogy that deal specifically with styles and forms of discourse and managing dissent within an assembly. In general, the students responded very well to the mini-deliberations and the readings, but as I said, introducing concepts in a more spaced manner and more clearly would help in the future. As a matter of fact, their level of commitment and maturity with the materials increased in the second part of the semester, when almost all decisions about the course depended on them.
Based on this experience, I would like to introduce deliberative pedagogy in future courses, and in particular in a course on “democracy and mass media” that I will offer in the near future. Experiential learning and democratic deliberation seem to me necessary pedagogical approaches in times of constant “noise” and polarization.