Winner Take All

David W. Mogk
Author Profile
published Sep 29, 2009

In 1993, Dr. Lani Guinier was nominated by President William Clinton to be the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. However, prior to her confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate, her nomination was withdrawn because of strong opposition by conservative factions that portrayed her as the "Quota Queen" based on her views about proportional representation. A biography (from of Dr. Guinier reports: Professor Guinier first came to public attention in 1993 when President Clinton nominated her to be the first black woman to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. She had been a civil rights attorney for more than ten years and had served in the Civil Rights Division during the Carter Administration as special assistant to then Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days. Immediately after her name was put forward in 1993, conservatives virulently attacked Guinier's views on democracy and voting, driving Clinton to withdraw her nomination without a confirmation hearing. She never got to testify on her own behalf. In response, she wrote The Tyranny of the Majority (1994, Free Press). At the risk of oversimplifying her arguments, the basis is that "winner take all" in political elections is neither fair nor an effective way to run a government, and that minorities should have the opportunity to be represented, their voices heard, and to have their needs addressed at least some of the time.

What does The Tyranny of the Majority have to do with the "state" of geoscience education? The politics of the classroom, like the politics of the nation and community, are all about authority (the instructor's), inclusion (or not) of students in all aspects of class activities, and the opportunity (of students) to participate, contribute, express ideas, and ultimately to succeed in the class/political arena. This singular volume has had the greatest impact on my own teaching philosophy and instructional practice. After reading The Tyranny of the Majority it soon occurred to me that if I only use one mode of instruction in my classes, I will realistically only be reaching students who think and act very much like me; if I use only one method of assessment, that only one small population of students will be predisposed to succeed. A monolithic style of instruction and assessment is neither fair nor effective in the classroom.

Consequently, I've consciously made a number of changes to my classroom practice:

By varying the methods of instruction and assessment throughout a course:

Using instructional approaches that emphasize different learning styles is an affirmation that diversity in the classroom is an opportunity, not an obstacle. All students should be given the opportunity to excel by providing opportunities for them to (periodically) play to their strengths, and all students should be cognizant of and respect multiple approaches to solving problems. All students have something to offer, and all have much to learn, by engaging a variety of learning strategies in our classrooms.

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