On Teaching

Archival Statement (as of 2016)

At the end of academic year 2015, I am retiring from my position as a tenured Full Professor of Anthropology at Shibaura Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan. Below, for the record, my teaching philosophy the past two decades.

Unifying Theory and Practice
My approach to teaching has been influenced by the works of Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed; Education for Critical Consciousness) and bell hooks (Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom). Thus, all of my courses involve students in small group discussions in order to allow them to express their opinions and hear the opinions of their classmates on any given topic. Often, the material I introduce to the students in lectures, documentary videos, or selected readings reflect the perspective of people whose voices are seldom heard (e.g. Third World poor, participants in grassroots-based social movements), so the students are forced to confront and critique their own biases and interpretations of social phenomena based on what are commonly-held cultural values and assumptions. I have all video transcripts and most of the required readings available for the students to download from my website).

During my¬† two decades of teaching in Japan, I have found that Japanese university students are eager to be exposed to interpretations of social reality that offer perspectives which differ from the accepted mainstream analyses. Their enthusiastic response to critical yet constructive analyses of social issues that concern them directly have clearly indicated a felt need on their parts to exercise their critical thinking skills. I believe that my classes have been popular precisely because I have given students the opportunity to broaden their perspectives and bring in examples from their everyday lives to relate to the issue under discussion. It is this hunger on the part of the students to learn about other cultures and other ways of organizing and experiencing life, and apply those lessons learned to their own social existence that stimulates me as a teacher. I have found Japanese students to be bright and inquisitive, and have found myself truly enjoying being a part of their learning experience. Being in a position to answer students’ questions about the United States and help bridge the cultures of the U.S. and Japan is not only intellectually stimulating but also personally fulfilling. My international experience beyond the U.S. and Japan includes more than two years in western European countries and more than one year in Southeast Asian countries. Thus, I am able to bring in personal anecdotes from my own experiences in other cultures to bring those cultures to life and generate genuine interest on the part of the students to learn about other cultures, overcoming ethnocentric biases.

I strongly feel that exposure to socially relevant, critical analyses of history, contemporary society, and international relations is an important component in quality university-level education, in language studies as well as in the social science disciplines. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, obtaining a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology necessitated a breadth of studies that, for me, included courses in history, political science, sociology, agricultural economics, women’s studies, environmental studies, and Japanese language studies, as well as area studies. Due to this holistic and interdisciplinary academic training, I feel that I am qualified to teach a course in, for example, U.S foreign policy or international relations, as well as courses in cultural studies per se. Social science boundaries are no longer clearly defined, and I believe that the increasing recognition by social scientists of the overly fragmented state of academic disciplines offers a much-needed counter-balance to a previous preference for narrowly defined specializations. The “content-based approach” to language instruction employed at the universities I have taught at in Japan offers an excellent example of how previously closed academic boundaries are now being innovatively crossed, so that social scientists can utilize their expertise in the humanities as well as in other social science disciplines. This is an exciting development for me, as a cultural anthropologist living and working in Japan, as I am provided the opportunity to teach a broad range of interdisciplinary courses in English that will not only improve students’ English language skills, but should challenge them to search for new horizons.

Thank you for reading.