In her course "Race and Class in America," the assistant professor of sociology attempts to bring students on an intellectual journey grounded in active learning that will ultimately empower them to think critically throughout their lives.
The sociology/anthropology course explores the issues of race and class through the study of literature, film, and active class discussion. Johnson guides her students to an understanding of the ways that race and class interrelate, affect individuals, and structure social life on both a micro and macro level.
`Best way to learn is to teach’
An integral component of the "intellectual journey" is the dynamic and engaged class discussion, which Johnson believes is vital to the learning process.
"Interactive, dynamic, critical engagement with complex material is the most effective way for students to learn," Johnson says. "I’m often teaching about highly controversial and difficult subjects, so it is important that students are personally in their own learning.
"Participation in classroom discussion and debate is a key part in a student’s intellectual development. I find that the old saying ‘the best way to learn is to teach’ is really true. When students talk in class, they are teaching each other."
Johnson’s students seem to agree, and many feel they’ve gained a unique perspective as a result of those discussions.
"I’ve gained so much more knowledge on the issue of American society from Professor Johnson’s class in one semester than I have in my whole academic career," says Tareq Brown ‘04. "Inside and outside of school, my mind is always on."
Wendi Croft ’03 says the impact the class has had on the way she views people and situations has been "dramatic," and has provoked her to ask "more questions outside the classroom."
Comments such as these are signs of success for Johnson. Taking course topics outside the classroom means that students are digesting the course material and applying theories to daily life.
"I try to develop in each of my students a sociological perspective of the world, and empowered understanding and an addiction to critical thinking," Johnson says.
Angela Rizzo ‘05 believes that her participation in "Race and Class in America" has accomplished just that.
"I feel as though I have learned so much through the experience of this class," Rizzo says. "I know that I am more aware about many things, including race and class, as a result of taking this class. I feel as though I am on the road to understanding the concepts of race and class and how they operate in American society."
Empowerment through education
For Shahin Shaghaghi ’05, the course comes at an opportune time.
"From the perspective of a child with emigrated parents, this course helps me to understand my own situation in this country," Shaghaghi says. "Professor Johnson’s class has served to further educate me in regard to the complex and crucial foundations of race and class in the United States."
"I now see that the current social stratification situation has been the result of years and years of social reproduction that must be altered to achieve more equality in our society," he says.
This type of realization, Johnson feels, results in empowerment, one of the main benefits of her course.
"I think one of the most important ways that students benefit from this course is that by the end they can speak with authority and clarity. That is empowering," Johnson says. "Empowerment can be radical and truly exciting. Deep learning can lead to empowerment, which can, in turn, change the world."