If all you’ve got is lemons, make lemonade. If what you’ve got is a pandemic that has forced all teaching and learning online for the past eight months and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, make it an opportunity, said Harvard President Larry Bacow.
“Eyes and ears forward — that imperative takes me back to elementary school. Today we are not so unlike what we were back then — eager to learn, but perhaps distracted,” Bacow told an online audience at the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) seminar on Oct. 16. The conditions, he said, can be ideal for creating more inclusive classrooms and more equitable instruction.
“There’s not much to recommend a pandemic but it has made more dimensions of our lives visible to one another, and created opportunities for the kind of sympathy and empathy that lead one to understand and appreciate others. I imagine that many of you know more about the circumstances of your students’ lives, and the challenges they face, than you have in years past. And I imagine that they know more about the circumstances in your life — whether they be revealed in glimpses of home decor, or Zoom bombs by children and pets.”
Bacow said that the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is about making connections with and gaining understanding of one another as individuals, especially those from different backgrounds. This, he said, can ultimately lead to discussions of power and privilege.
The morning panel, “A Conversation on Inclusive Excellence,” was moderated by Harvard’s chief diversity and inclusion officer Sherri Ann Charleston. In her opening remarks Charleston quoted from W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folks” the unasked question that he faced as a Black intellectual: “How does it feel to be a problem?”
Charleston urged teachers to treat inequality, rather than students, as the problem to be solved, and invited the panelists to examine the broader structures that might shape their students’ experience.