Spotlight on Philosophy and Education Alumna Shaireen Rasheed ☆

Shaireen Rasheed is the Associate Professor of Education at C. W. Post Long Island University.  She received her undergraduate degree from Stony Brook University in Philosophy, did her Master’s work at The New School in Philosophy, and earned her Ph.D. from TC’s Philosophy and Education program with a concentration in Urban Policy.  Rasheed has spent time researching at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University and at Columbia Law School.  She is a published author and serves on a public school diversity task force.

You’ve had the fortune of studying with some amazing people.

Yes.  At the New School I studied with Richard Bernstein, Agnes Heller and Reiner Schürmann.  At Stony Brook, I studied with Seyla Benhabib and Chomsky.  And at TC I was fortunate enough to study with Nel Noddings, Rene Arcilla and Maxine Greene.

Please tell us about your Ph.D. work.

My doctoral work was on Existentialism.  I was fortunate to have a really nice group of committee members.  My dissertation was on Maxine Greene’s work and I contextualized her aesthetic pedagogy within the existentialist tradition of Jean Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty and I further explored the possibility of ‘creating a curriculum of existentialist action’ in the classroom. This curriculum is one that would empower students to create meanings in their own lives and in their own learning. While a doctoral student I was invited to give a talk at a Colloquium on my dissertation and Maxine Greene responded.  It was quite an amazing experience.  This work eventually got published into a book in 2007, “An Existentialist Curriculum of Action.”

As part of my work on Maxine Greene and the Lincoln Center Aesthetic Education Partnership I was a principal investigator on a $500,000 grant from the federal government. Using an ethnically diverse school district that was involved in the Tilles Center Arts Education partnership at Long Island University, I undertook a year-long case study. I explored the relationship between truancy, at-risk students and grades as it pertained to the positive role of the aesthetic education in the lives of students.

What is an existentialist curriculum?

My work examines the existential phenomenology that underlies the work of Edmund Husserl, Sartre and Merleau Ponty, and contextualizes it within Maxine Greene’s work on education. Using existentialist notions of responsibility and freedom, I attempt to subvert our current understanding of curriculum and its role in the lives of our students.

The ‘existentialist curriculum of action’ provides a new language and the educational tools for teachers and students to become particularly reflective and aware of their surroundings. In light of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and other policies that teachers are inundated with today, the biggest challenge I am confronted with is to elucidate the pressing need and importance of ‘a curriculum of action,’ to my students.  When I have my in-service and pre-service teachers asking me time after time, “Dr. Rasheed, how do I create these spaces of existentialist learning in an era of test driven mandates?” I tell them, “If you are committed to the existentialist pedagogy of freedom and responsibility, let your students take risks and show them how.” What I emphasize in my classroom is that the most important thing is creating transformative learning spaces for our students and our teachers. So not only will they have ownership over their own learning but they will also be empowered to serve as activists and make changes and connections at the local, national and global level.

You are a teacher educator and a published author—both goals of many TC students.  How did your time at TC bring you to where you are today?

I loved the program.  It was excellent because it gave me the flexibility to chart my own research agenda.  I was always interested in pragmatic issues pertaining to how educators can positively implement policy change, and given my philosophical background, I used philosophy as a tool to explore that.   I was able to take a lot of courses outside the Philosophy department:  I took classes in the Curriculum and Instruction, Urban Studies, Peace Studies, Comparative Literature and the History department at Columbia.  I was given the freedom to formulate my own work and I had a nurturing environment.  It all went by so quickly—I wish I had more time!  The feedback on my work at TC is something that I look back on fondly, even now. It trained me to become a detailed scholar, writer and a thinker. Above all it set the high standard for my future work as an academic and researcher.I’ve been fortunate in my transition from a doctoral student to a research scholar and my progression has been very organic.  I got a position while I was still a TC doctoral student at the Post Campus of Long Island University.  The position has given me the academic freedom and flexibility to design my own research.  They are very nurturing and supportive in terms of my work; both at the teaching and research level.  Now that I look back, working towards my tenure I think I was very focused on publishing in top tier peer-review journals in my field.  Once afforded the opportunity of tenure, my research trajectory has somewhat changed.  Now I see myself more in the role of an informed practitioner and a public intellectual taking on cutting-edge, global issues as they pertain to issues in Philosophy, Education and Ethics.  Tenure affords me that protection.  I think my diverse scholarly background at Columbia helped me transition into this role.

I took the opportunities and grooming that were made available to me at TC and used them to my advantage.  TC gives you tools as a scholar and I’ve really used them to my benefit. With TC, I have the connections already made, and it’s just facilitating them further. TC has a big network, and that’s very important.  For my own research agenda (which has been very productive), making connections at other universities and really making a name with my own scholarship has been a very positive experience. For my first sabbatical, I was at NYU at their Center of Gender and Sexuality.  My mentor who was also a TC contact set it up and made the recommendation on my behalf. I continue to share my work with my TC colleagues and faculty. And the TC engagement has continued through my second research that I’m working on right now.

You were a recent speaker at the TC’s Colloquium in Philosophy and Education.  How did you get involved and what did you take away from the experience?

I was on a doctoral committee of a TC student and I met David Hansen that way.  David is amazing and I wish I had him as a teacher!  Unfortunately, he came to TC after I graduated. I am interested in his work, which is similar to my own.  In teaching a doctoral course on Facilitating Transitions, I’ve used his work and the students loved it.  When I was at Columbia Law School for my second sabbatical last year, David invited me to come and present my work and research.  He has been instrumental in really reaching out and creating continuity with alumni.

At the Colloquium, I received such excellent feedback from the TC students.  The student body at TC seems to have a solid and a coherent research agenda and their questions came out of very contextualized places.  The students, some of whom who shared their work with me, are engaged in really interesting, cutting-edge issues focusing on bridging the gap between philosophical theory and practice. In the program and in his research, David is always bringing us back to the question of learning and education in the classroom.  And that’s very important.  Given that we are in Philosophy of Education, I think David has really fine-tuned what it is that our students are looking at—both for the students and the program.  In terms of giving them the necessary philosophical foundation, giving them a voice, and showing how their work matters in the bigger picture.  I was really struck by that.  David has really created a space to bridge the gap between the theoretical practice of Philosophy of Education and its practical implementation.  It was great to be there and be part of the interesting conversations that was going on.

What are you working on now?

My current manuscript and research looks at the current discourse on sexuality pertaining to Islam, Sexuality and the War on Terror.

I did my sabbatical at the law school because I am looking at European laws surrounding the hijab, and German laws specifically around immigration, because they are very similar and talk the same language in terms of portraying Muslims, particularly women, in a very patronizing tone.  I’m looking critically at the different policies surrounding these issues and seeing if we can contextualize these issues within a non-polarizing discourse.  On one side of the current discourse surrounding Islam, is a focus on liberalism and the Western discourse on ways to free women, and on the other side the current Eastern discourse talks about fanaticism and the need to cover women up more.  While these polarizing discourses are going on, I’m looking to see if we can come up with a third space to effectively examine these issues. I explore the possibility of formulating a third space that frames a ‘non-appropriative’ understanding of the other within an ethical framework. This is where I really enjoyed looking at David’s work:  It’s a notion similar to Cosmopolitanism but I’m looking at it from Luce Irigaray’s perspective of the ethics of the erotic, which I’m using to talk about the third space. I’m finishing the manuscript and hope it will be in publication next year.

I’m also a part of the diversity task force in my children’s school district.   I have two kids and I have the fortune of knowing and being privy to the nitty-gritty going-ons in schools. This task force work keeps me grounded because it brings me back to the concrete implementation of my theoretical work in Philosophy with teachers and practitioners. On this topic, in collaboration with the ex-principal of my children’s elementary school, I just finished a paper that got published:  It uses very theoretical research (that of Luce Irigaray’s work on teaching) to look at issues Muslim kids and parents face in a school district like Port Washington, New York. Using the elementary school as a case study the paper explores effective policies that were successfully implemented to address issues of diversity in schools.

When I talk both about the issue of diversity and relate it to my current research on post-colonial discourse, the question I keep returning to is; Can we come up with a pedagogy of difference that really helps us understand the notion of the “other” with an ethical framework?  These are issues that at the end of the day really confront my children, my students and me.

What’s next?

I’ve started my next piece of research. I am looking at the whole concept of effective learning in the university classroom using Philosophy.  Some people say, “The students are just not smart enough these days,” or “Our students are not interested in the Liberal Arts anymore.” My latest research looks at how it’s not about the students being smart enough, but how we as educators can create tools for authentic learning to happen in the classroom and given the ever rapid and technologically changing landscape of how our students define learning, what do these tools look like?

Anecdotally, TC Philosophy alums seem so happy!

We really love what we do.  Philosophy, unlike other subjects, is not compartmentalized.  Just yesterday I read an article in the New York Times about philosophy and it’s practicality in every day life.  This is something I discuss with my students, something that infuses every aspect of my teaching and hopefully their thinking as well (by the time they are done with my class!).  As part of an initiative at my university I’m currently working on the Common Core Standards for the AACU (Association of American Colleges and Universities).  All universities will have Common Core standards as a part of their rubric assessments, and they’re using philosophical terms to come up with these rubrics.  It is really interesting how Philosophy infuses every aspect of our life.  And making my students aware of this interconnectedness is why I love to do what I do!