Charis Boke Hawthorn Tree Logo

Charis
Boke

Anthropologist
Herbalist
Writer
Educator

Academic Teaching Statement

Thanks for your interest in my approach to teaching in university and college settings.

As an educator, I strive to help students draw together the contexts of their lives at large with the theoretical concerns and analytical frameworks of anthropological endeavors. The broad goal of my work in an anthropology classroom is to provide students not only with content related to ethnographic and historical research, but also with the relevant analytical tools to understand more deeply the worlds that they live in.

I present my students with a variety of materia in order to stimulate thoughtful reflection and discussion. Drawing them into scholarly and activist conversations about knowledge, critical observation, and careful analysis, I give them the tools necessary for them think reflexively about their own experiences and their own communities. By working through ethnographic texts, popular media, theoretical frameworks, analytical and creative writing alongside my students, I help them learn how to develop curiosities and questions uniquely their own.

As an engaged scholar, a core objective of any classroom teaching is to enable students to make connections with communities near them or in their chosen research sites in ways that are meaningful and transformative. The classroom is never the limit, in my approach to teaching—in fact, it’s only the starting ground. Students’ written explorations, including final papers and presentations, are often grounded in part in local engagements. For instance, the first-year writing seminar I taught in 2016 received a small grant from Engaged Cornell to partner with the local cooperative grocery. This broadens students’ analysis of economic and food justice, as well as their understanding of where, and with what kinds of experts, their learning can take place.

My training as an experiential educator, and my engagement at the level of community education—through community college teaching as well as facilitation of educational workshops in various communities—gives me a unique approach to the process of classroom education at the university level. For instance, I frequently use workshop modules drawn from activist work around issues of oppression in order to help students better understand difficult concepts like systemic racism. One such activity involves presenting students with short scenarios and asking them to reflect on what aspect of their own identity would be first in their consideration of their response to the scenario. They move to spaces around the room labeled with terms like race, class, gender, citizenship status, physical ability, sexual orientation, and age, and upon arrival, they discuss where they are standing, why they are there, and what other aspects of their identity they considered while making this choice. Students have remarked on the deeper insight they gain to their own subconscious understandings of how their own identities shape their lives.

They also often reflect on what elements of others’ experience may be visible or invisible to them, and the kinds of privilege that may be afforded in that matter of invisibility. I offer students a space to grapple with such realizations of relative levels of privilege and the matter of diversity in and out of the classroom. This enriches the kind of conversation about texts and course materials we can have, enabling clearer communication across difference and diversity in the classroom and outside of it.

I have a practical and theoretical commitment to making classrooms generative and generous spaces for learning. I am attentive to the different learning styles of each individual student, while simultaneously offering appropriate challenges. At the beginning of every course I take the time with students to collaboratively develop a model for what an ideal learning environment looks like for them—based on their own experiences. By marking what are useful practices in the classroom, and what detract from classroom and broader learning experiences, this collaboratively generated list of “productive” and “detrimental” behaviors starts to create an atmosphere of trust, and the beginnings of a productive learning community in the class. I am committed to seeing each student as an individual who has growing edges as well as areas that she excels and finds her passion. Noting that discomfort can be a mark of learning, we work together to create a learning environment where each person is asked to take responsibility for their speech, their actions, and their arguments. I foster an atmosphere in which we come to see that we are all always learning together. I facilitate discussion of challenging course material in such a way that each student feels that their voice is heard, offering them tools for communication in other parts of their lives.

To the end of supporting a diverse community of learners, I have developed a repertoire of teaching strategies that cover the gamut of learning styles. I incorporate audiovisual material alongside written texts and lectures, engaging different kinds of attention and allowing students to make different kinds of observations. Using material drawn from popular culture, film and music, as well as current news articles and critical ethnographic texts enables students to draw connections between analytical and scholarly work and the work of everyday life. To synthesize and analyze such materials, I routinely ask students to write freely and reflectively upon entering the classroom. Students have reflected that free-writing in the beginning of class enables them to “feel prepared to discuss” their observations, thoughts, and analyses relevant to the topic at hand—this is a technique I find as useful in large lecture courses as it is in smaller seminars.

I ask students to lead a portion of classroom discussions on key course materials at least once per semester, a process they describe as “scary but useful,” and frequently reflect on as one of their favorite parts of a class discussion because they “get to hear” what their peers are thinking about a text. I help students develop such abilities to parse and communicate to peers about difficult or new information by using online learning technologies to extend written discussions on course material. In more guided formal essays and informal written assignments, I give students the opportunity to build their analytical engagement in a way that is useful for their chosen course of study and path in life. I craft written assignments so that students are exposed to skills central to excellent thinking and communication: honing observational skills, taking and synthesizing notes, crafting research questions, drafting essays and other writing for peer and instructor review, and presenting information to relevant communities. Students say that my peer review process is useful to them, especially because the ways they are asked to think about their peer’s writing itself helps them reflect on what constitutes good, clear writing for their own work.

I believe that a good education serves to give students tools to think with, content to reflect on, and new ways to relate to the world. As an educator, I seek never to subsume my desire for students to know particular facts to the reality that they will, after our class is done, continue to live in a world that is riven by many kinds of divisions. An education in the social sciences, done well, gives students the tools to analyze, historicize, and discuss these divisions in a way that does not create more divisions. I teach as a practice of practice of hope—for my students and myself—that in learning how to learn, and how to think generously and generatively, we might together make a world that is not quite so violent, not quite so divisive, not quite so uneasy.