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Teaching philosophy 

I am a teacher-scholar who seeks to encourage students to reflect critically on the material we study in class.

Underlying my teaching philosophy is the belief that it is more important to teach students how to think than what to think. As Paulo Freire argued, there is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Instructors should not treat students simply as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. Rather, students should be engaged with alternative viewpoints that challenge existing assumptions and encourage critical thinking. My goals are to help students think independently and to train them to articulate their ideas clearly. I find it exciting when students are able to move beyond parroting what the textbook or professor tells them and are able to draw their own conclusions from the material. Through the study of history, I seek to empower students to be better citizens and to provide them with the skills necessary to play a positive and educated role in society.

I foster a democratic and open atmosphere in the classroom which is designed to respond as much as possible to the individual needs of the students. As educator Ira Shor has proposed, I attempt to make students constituents rather than simply recipients of their education. I am willing to negotiate authority in the classroom and will modify the form and content of the class including deadlines, essays, and exams to make the class more responsive to the needs of the students. My goal is not to be a popular or entertaining teacher, but a good and stimulating one.

Recognizing the value of interdisciplinary and comparative studies, I encourage students to bring skills and knowledge from other classes and outside experiences into my history classes. I utilize diverse types of assignments and strive to make these interesting and relevant to student needs. Assignments typically include quizzes over readings, analytical essays, reflection papers, exams with a combination of objective and qualitative questions, library and Internet exercises, research papers, and collaborative group projects including the construction of web pages and historical simulations. This variety allows the strengths of different students to emerge, and permits a more accurate assessment of their abilities. I am willing to experiment with new kinds of assignments such as asking students to reflect on the composition of their own identity as an introduction to class discussions on race and ethnicity in Latin America. Upon request, I can provide examples of these assignments.

If properly and intelligently used, computer technology can enhance an educational experience. To this end, I have students take web-based quizzes, employ computer-based discussion lists to extend classroom interactions, use the Internet to post instructional materials for my classes, and utilize computer-generated charts and graphics in class to emphasize points from my lectures. This technology, however, cannot and should not replace the key function of the educational experience which is human interaction and intellectual exchanges with students that lead to a more critical analysis of the material under consideration.

Through teaching experiences at Truman State University, Gettysburg College, Illinois State University, and the University of Kansas I have acquired broad skills in a variety of classroom settings and on a variety of topics and subject matters. In addition to Latin American and United States history surveys, my expertise includes teaching Mexican history, Andean history, race and ethnicity in Latin America, Latin American peasantry, Latin America revolutions, Latin American history as portrayed through popular movies, and a historiography course. I have consistently received positive feedback from students on my teaching abilities, indicating that my classes are interesting, intellectually stimulating, and educational.

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