Pedagogy of life: An educational lesson on true cultural diversity

Although cultural diversity has become a daily term, has this ideal been achieved? As gender scholar Gayatri Spivak asserted, cultural oppression is so strong that culturally marginalized youth are often made to be silent when facing social injustice. An imposed negative collective self-concept-a whole of the concepts about themselves-can result in their negative worldview. This invisible, yet critical, social division is an emotional class divide.

However, with encouragement from teachers and other important relationships, these marginalized youth will be able to reenergize themselves to pursue cultural self-liberation and mutual respect.

A pedagogy of life is an integration of Eastern and Western philosophies, encouraging minority youth to alter their psychological pain to confront the social inequality. Specifically, they pursue self-liberation through revitalization of emotions, affirmation of life, and development of agency.

The standard of human rights is globally prevalent, so all youth can imagine a liberated self. Minority youth can also imagine it, but they have experienced social suffering: transnational displacement, racism, sexism, and the resulting isolation at school and in their community. They see through social contradictions better than researchers and policymakers; they know that civilization and culture have brought about inhumane results like war and persecution. To overcome their difficulties and live their lives, they are searching for affirmation from others.

In reality, some suppress their everyday feelings and avoid confrontation with social-cultural-psychological circumstances. Their silence means nonviolent resistance and a survival technique, which may momentarily alleviate their psychosocial suffering centered on Who-am-I?. However, this avoidance could deepen isolation: becoming a social recluse, or possibly committing suicide. American governmental statistics show a relationship between discriminatory experience and more frequent marijuana use among racially minoritized youth. Marijuana use is an escape from a harsh reality, which may jeopardize well-being and social status.

Their internal suffering is a product of social contradictions. This suffering is also based on their orientation to life-society’s negation of their real pain means the negation of their existence. The unspeakable, unbearable pain of marginalized youth is the very proof of their precious lives. As psychiatrist Masatake Morita discusses, a person’s assumed negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety, originate from their orientation toward life, and a significant other’s unconditional affirmation of their existence is essential to this person’s self-affirmation. Morita succeeds in the reversal of a socially prevalent negation of suffering to a solid affirmation of existence.

Students pursue cultural self-liberation in three steps: revitalization of suppressed natural emotions with educational support, affirmation of life through self-reflection and dialogue, and development of agency through democratic group life.

First, students revitalize their minds. By believing in their being, schoolteachers, together with social workers and neighbors, should encourage students to reawaken and rediscover their rich emotions. However, these adults must be patient because rushing this process might cause post-traumatic stress depression among students. A student-teacher diary exchange, a Japanese educational methodology, will help their free expression of feelings.

Second, students affirm their existence. Their revitalized emotions and teachers’ affirmation of their existence enable their self-affirmation. Students advance to this step through self-reflection and one-on-one student-teacher dialogue. Even if some students have lost all precious people and things, their natural emotions can be the sure foundation for their self-affirmation-to live their lives.

Third, students develop a co-productive agency in a democratic school life, which promotes their community engagement. Community involvement together with school self-governance nurtures their democratic faculties to enhance their social knowledge; that is, the youth inspire each other. For example, regional presentation competitions can be a good opportunity for students, encouraged by teachers, to share their community improvement ideas.

Students drive their learning, but educationists like John Dewey presuppose that teachers lead in transmitting established knowledge. However, marginalized youth are oriented toward life and critical creativity, which have been culturally suppressed. Therefore, teachers must encourage them but not control their learning process so that these youth can affirm life and search for human bonds. Education is not restraint, but liberation.

The pedagogy of life is a relational theory of development. A person’s existence is a relational one; being can change only by a relational change. The oppressed youth will finally overcome social contradictions, like racial prejudice and gender bias, by generating new words of wisdom and weaving a more humanistic world with true cultural diversity.

Yasukiyo Sugimoto is a graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami. Read more about the inaugural "Op-ed Challenge.”