Multicultural Science Education

Teaching Science in Multi(sub)cultural Classrooms: Praxis for Teaching Hipsters

Part 1: Educator as Cultural Facilitator, Hipsters, and the Praxis

By Randi Hogden

Every educator has a folk pedagogy; a way of teaching that reflects beliefs about her students. What, then, does she actually know about her students? If the purpose of education is to further a culture, then what is that culture?

Instructors are encouraged to provide students with multicultural classrooms, where everyone is equally represented and education is focused on the students (Svinicki, 2011). They are faced with an antinomy of individual-realization versus cultural-preservation (Bruner 1996).  Should they support each student’s unique culture within the classroom or preserve the old, objectivist culture of the classroom (an educational culture that ironically claims to be culture-independent and universal)?

The latter positivistic culture has induced a global counter movement. Look around, the demographics—both of educators and Ah, hipsters. students—are changing. The new classroom culture focuses on what each individual brings into the course (e.g. their characteristics, experiences, and perspectives), yet retains a common moral and academic goal: knowledge, skill and critical thinking within the framework of traditional education. However, it is equally important that the educator realize her own culture, and what she contributes by asking, “What do I bring to the culture of the classroom?”

As an educator in higher ed., I bring some really strong perspectives into the classroom: I am a woman teaching biology and environmental science, I come from a deeply religious background, I love the arts—specifically fashion and music—and, most importantly, I live to pursue environmental and social justice.

When students meet me for the first time, they generally notice two things: that I am young, and that I look hip. Sometimes students even refer to me as a fellow hipster. At first, this was uncomfortable, mainly due to the stigmas associated with being a hipster. I thought that maybe I should conform to the culture of the educational institution by retiring my trendy threads for slacks and sweaters. But I realized that my attire doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, the students will know me by my thoughts and actions. I used to be just like these students. This was my niche, and I need to embrace it. Because I’m capable of understanding hipster culture I can guide them through a journey similar as mine, leading them out of the realm of egocentric concerns and into a world of substance and action: a hipster counterculture.

Sometimes they dye their hair, fall down, and pretend to be famous

Sometimes they dye their hair, fall down, and pretend to be famous

Hipster Culture

Hipsters are products of western society: consumerism (i.e., one’s sense of self is held in material possessions). If hipsters were truly counterculture, then they wouldn’t make such an effort to seem effortless. Visually, there are different varieties of the hipster, ranging anywhere from the affluent middleclass hipster ($700 fixed gear bike is a dead giveaway), to the middle class hipster who feign homelessness (and who actually smell foul). Whatever the visual status, they all have one thing in common: their insatiable desire to be unique, eclectic, and anything but mainstream.

Being hipster, however, transcends the visual and has entered into the cognitive. Their actions reflect certain values and beliefs. They spend hours digging through a pile of crap at the thrift store to find that special object: You know, the thing that no one else has (e.g. those remnants from the past, like a 1994 drug-free t-shirt or a vinyl of the Misfits). The irony is that absurd attire has become socially acceptable and almost mainstream itself. Consider how every store at the mall has picked up on the sensation and are now selling the exact outfit you could have found in a dumpster a year ago.

Hipster Behavior

Hipsters can enjoy trendy attire and still be devout activists (I like to think of myself as one). They are known for inaction, their “I don’t care” attitude. But they do care. It’s only misguided. For example, hipsters are not getting online to learn about social and environmental issues, they are online finding new music to showcase on Spotify for everyone on Facebook to see. They care about looking cool and acting cooler, never being vulnerable by seeming to care.

Ultimately, their not moving toward a common goal, or progressing toward enlightenment and justice. They still crave—so terribly—to be admired and respected for appearance and possession rather than for inner quality and character. These “wallflowers” are in complete disillusion.

As such, “Teaching” them with a boring lecture is not going to solve this cultural and behavioral problem.

The Praxis

It’s wrong to assume behavioral change will follow directly from development of knowledge and skills (Iozzi, 1998). There is more to education than simply the transfer of knowledge and skills. Brunner (1996) eloquently explains that the educator has great utility as a toolkit for culture, as an enabler of meaning making and the primus inter pares. The instructor must belie the assumption that her students are empty vessels to be filled, and must treat them as equal, as active participants in the learning process.

What is the praxis of a hipster counterculture? How do we grow knowledgeable, skilled and dedicated citizens who actively pursue a balance between quality of life and environment?

To begin, relationships must be established with the students. Although they may be part of a larger culture, as individuals they encompass a variety of interests, values and commitments. Environmental science can (and should) reach beyond the core science content and into political, economic, personal and religious beliefs. It is vital that the classroom is established as a safe environment, where students engage in critical thought and discussion, free from discrimination and judgment. Instructors should model how to be a good student with discipline, organization, punctuality, interest, excitement and respect for others. After establishing the classroom climate, educators should establish clear goals, objectives, relevant projects, and assessments that reflect not only the teaching method, but also the students’ attributes.

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