My first semester at Temple University in 1981 I took an Introduction to Women’s Studies course with African American poet, activist and scholar, Dr. Sonia Sanchez. Her leadership, and the course itself, literally changed my entire perspective on education. I quickly decided to become a women’s studies major — a decision that was not well understood at the time, but that I’ve never regretted! As we tried to explore the world without the experiences and perspectives of men at its center, we did much more than “add women and stir.” We looked at the intersections of race, class and gender, along with sexuality, religion, ethnicity and other areas of difference and identity. I thus came to understand that issues of equality and civil rights, as well as respect for cultural diversity, was significantly more complicated than I once thought. I quickly learned that although power was not evenly distributed in American democracy, one could not simply divide the world into oppressors and victims. Sometimes we are both, sometimes neither. Since Temple was a state college, located in a very diverse large urban city, I had only to look around the room to my classmates to see the importance of the relationships between our theories and our actions. What we were learning was not “hypothetical”, it was life changing. I learned that the body of knowledge that schools try to ‘transmit’ is not a neutral one; rather it is constructed and framed, and thus can look very different from different perspectives and worldviews, at different points in time and in different contexts. I also found that asking critical questions was as an important a part of learning as always trying to provide the “right” answer. Sometimes more important. Finally, Dr. Sanchez provided a very different model of the university professor than I expected to see upon leaving high school. Yes, she was world-renown in her field, but she still wanted to know what we, her students, thought. She always encouraged us to look around the room, to each other, rather than to only look forward, at her. After receiving my women’s studies degree, I went on to get my Ph.D. in education, hoping to be an advocate for this kind of critical, interdisciplinary, student-centered pedagogy across the curriculum, and in all schools. Dr. Sanchez was my first model of how to do this. We have a long way still to go, but my passion for this work has never wavered, nor has Dr. Sanchez’s as far as I can tell.

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