Buddhist Detachment as a Conceptual Point of Entry into Teaching Sociopolitically-Located Multicultural Education Online

Buddhist Detachment as a Conceptual Point of Entry into Teaching Sociopolitically-Located Multicultural Education Online

Christine Clark (University of Nevada, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-046-4.ch006
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Drawing on the concept of “Buddhist detachment,” this chapter focuses on how the “distance” between students, and between students and faculty, imposed by the online teaching and learning environment, though typically viewed as antithetical to progressive educational pedagogy, can actually be integral to its realization.
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I first learned about the emerging field of online education in 1995. At that time, without having ever taken or taught an online course myself, and with only relatively basic technology proficiency, I was among those most diametrically opposed to virtual teaching and learning. I held this position based solely on the perception that online pedagogy must, by its very definition, violate what my field, sociopolitically-located multicultural education, held sacrosanct—the development of strong interpersonal and intellectual relationships between and among students and faculty in the classroom. As if by a process of osmosis, technology slowly became my friend or, rather, it became a vehicle through which I maintained strong interpersonal and intellectual relationships with friends who lived at a geographic distance from me. Over time, technology also became a medium through which I developed new interpersonal and intellectual relationships with people I had never met face-to-face—people who, though I have never met them in person, and, in most cases, of whom I have never even seen a picture, I would call friends.

The cognitive disconnect between the source of my disdain for online education and my own positive experience of interacting in cyberspace created fertile ground in my consciousness for a close friend to plant a seed. In the effort to make me more technologically proficient and, therefore independent (i.e., not dependent on him for technology support), my friend commented that social justice work and technology are both “forward-thinking” pursuits, thus, he argued, it makes sense for social justice advocates to embrace the use of technology in service to our conscientization efforts. Perhaps this is not a compelling argument for every critical pedagogist, and certainly it is not an argument without legitimate counterarguments; still, I found the essence of this argument compelling.

Not long after this epiphany, another friend contacted me, via e-mail naturally, to ask me if I would be interested in teaching online courses in cultural democracy, cross-cultural instruction, and, of course, critical pedagogy. I accepted the opportunity. That was six years ago. Today I teach, on a part-time basis, online courses in an array of multicultural teacher education content areas for five universities. I have become proficient with a variety of online educational interfaces (Blackboard, WebCT, WebTycho, E-College, etc.), comfortable with online teaching in general, and sophisticated in integrating a transformative pedagogical posture into the virtual classroom in particular. Despite this proficiency, comfort, and sophistication, during every online course, I find myself increasingly engaged in self-talk as to the role of what I have come to understand, both intuitively and intellectually, as “Buddhist detachment” in teaching progressive content in general, but especially online because of:

  • 1.

    My commitment to build genuinely supportive relationships with each of my students (something I view as foundational to the practice of progressive multicultural educational pedagogy);

  • 2.

    My concomitant recognition of how technology can and does limit the development of even the most basic interpersonal interaction skills that make student-teacher relationships sincere and otherwise meaningful; and,

  • 3.

    My awareness of how cyberspace, by its very nature, amplifies non-Buddhist detachment.

In this chapter I work to “quiet,” or, perhaps, better respond to this inner dialogue by constructing a dialectical scaffold that augments humanness through the practice of a pedagogy of Buddhist detachment in teaching social justice education online.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Equality: The condition created when two or more things are treated “the same.”

Karma: The Buddhist belief in immediate and eternal cause and effect; the belief that challenges and successes experienced in this moment or in this life are respectively related to transgressions made and good deeds undertaken in a prior moment or past life.

Assimilation: The unconscious and/or involuntary development of non-native cultural interaction norms.

Acculturation: The conscious and voluntary development of non-native cultural interaction norms.

Deafhood: The cultural experience of being Deaf (as opposed to audiological deafness); to be understood as akin to racial identity and in opposition to the characterization of the Deaf as “disabled.”

Critical Pedagogy: An educational approach that prioritizes student development of advanced critical thinking skills or “conscientization.” See Conscientization, below.

Conscientization: The process by which one develops the ability think critically about issues of power in relationship to privilege and oppression in different spheres of influence (local, national, international, etc.).

Equity: The condition created when two or more things that have been treated “unequally” are treated differentially, or in accordance to what they each need, so that they can eventually become equal.

Praxis: The interplay of knowledge, reflection, and action.

Hegemony: The status quo; acting in the direction of established power.

Dialectic: The relationship created when competing forces interact; akin to the notion of the union of opposites.

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