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Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana taught a master class on identity politics and the danger of assumptions at the Graduate School of Education this Thursday.
The class, which featured multiple case studies taught by Khurana and closed with a conversation between Khurana and Ed School Professor Howard E. Gardner ’65, was entitled “Know Thyself: Can the Case Method Help Understand Oneself?"
Engaging with audience members in an open discussion, Khurana focused on three Harvard Business School cases on “Differences at Work.” He emphasized the need for students to balance advocacy and inquiry in discussing controversial topics.
“The approach that most people take isn’t ‘let me try to understand what’s going on here,’ it’s ‘let me assume what’s going on and advocate for the position,’” Khurana said. “We’re trying to make our students understand what their reflexes are in emotionally intense situations.”
Khurana explained that while advocacy is a one-way communication and thought process, inquiry can be a more open, two-way method for gathering information. He illustrated his points by interacting with attendees through role play and the use of a gender-ambiguous name, which drew attention to implicit assumptions made in the work place.
Referencing the Ed School’s year-long theme of “Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity,” Khurana demonstrated how classroom discussions involving individuals with unique identities and backgrounds offer an opportunity to identify and address assumptions and generalizations.
“What we’re often trying to do is de-program our students from all of the kinds of cultural and social categories and theories, which are very relevant, but to show how in the particular, you may be making very wrong inferences and judgments of situations,” Khurana said. “And we particularly find this to be very powerful when we do this around social identity, gender, [and] race differences.”
Khurana also spoke about his own teaching philosophy and the importance of challenging students as they dissect cases. Otherwise “everybody walks away smiling, and no one walks away with their minds changed,” he said.
Monica C. Higgins, a professor at the Ed School who was at the event, said that she thinks other attendees will depart having both seen “a masterful teacher” and gained an understanding of how to teach difficult topics about identity.
“He’s a wonderful, authentic, caring, thoughtful professor, and I think that was demonstrated in how he led the discussion,” Higgins said.
—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.
—Staff writer Gabrielle M. Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GabWilliams23.
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