A Teacher Is Always a Utopian

by Dawn on November 5, 2011

“A Teacher is Always a Utopian”
-Victor Villanueva

I just came across the above quote yesterday while viewing an interview of Villanueva, who some may know for his examination of language as a reinforcement of racism.  The youtube clip is only 7-minutes yet memorable.

I particularly love Villanueva’s metaphor—defining the teacher as a good place in which sociopolitical ideals are perfected.  That is, I can relate to the notion that my work is always and already utopian because I work in ideals.  As a self-professed critical pedagogue, I do my best to engage in empowerment through education and the conscious practice of self-reflexivity in terms of how my curricular choices silence or support learners.  I am committed to social justice, which to my mind is what utopia looks like.  In the classroom, ideals take on many forms, and I strive, and admittedly struggle, to foster a community in which learners feel safe to work toward an examination of how ideals shift to ideologies.

I was pleased to learn about Cal Poly’s Intergroup Dialogues (IGD) piloted out of the Inclusive Excellence Initiative.   The IGD model is what all professors should consider following as they profess ideas, ideals, and ideologies in the classroom.

Isn’t it ironic, though, that in addition to good place, utopia can also be defined as no place?  Some may argue that the classroom is no place for examinations of power—that discussions of curricular content must override discussions of equality, particularly in the quarter-system.  And, opponents of critical pedagogy wonder: if instructors must foster a safe zone for examinations of power and inequality, then clearly there is an inherent danger in broaching those topics in the first place.  Forgive me for going there, but isn’t learning and relearning always and already a risk?  And doesn’t the construction of knowledge require an examination of who gets to create that knowledge?  Isn’t the classroom the locale for such examinations, since the absence of risk yields the absence of knowledge?

Where else but the classroom should we engage students in the possibilizing of an empowered community of thinkers—a utopia, if you will?  Perhaps this question might lead some to respond by telling me to know my place, or the place of the educator within a nation that relies upon the throughput and output of productive citizens.  In Chilean society, which is starkly divided among class lines, locating one’s self takes on a whole other meaning in relation to one’s place in society—if I say something out of line, I might be asked to locate myself  (ubícate, from the verb ubícar -to locate), and think about the appropriateness of my comment.

I locate myself as an educator; thus I am always a utopian, and the scholarship of teaching and learning is my vehicle to that utopic place.  I’ll continue to design classroom activities that reach towards that destination, and I’ll continue to reflect on the effectiveness of those activities.  And, is it my place to expect that other teachers and learners go there with me?  Well, I suppose that’s fodder for my next entry.

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