Assistant dean publishes research on fostering democratic practices in the classroom

The assistant dean for campus life and director of residence life authored a chapter on ontological inquiry and democratic practices for "Un-Democratic Acts: New Departures for Dialogue in Society and Schools."

Uchenna Baker, assistant dean for campus life and director of residence life, has authored a chapter on ontological inquiry and democratic practices for “Un-Democratic Acts: New Departures for Dialogue in Society and Schools.”

<em>Un-Democratic Acts</em> is a new volume on the&nbsp;<span style=”color: rgb(107, 103, 103); font-family: Arial, verdana, sans-serif; text-align: justify; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);”>ideals of democracy and democratic leadership to promote passionate debate, critical thinking, and change</span>
In her book chapter titled “Fostering Democratic Practices in the Classroom: An Ontological Model,” Baker advocates for educators to reconsider the ways in which they engage students in the classroom.

Baker, the 2016 recipient of the Illinois Distinguished Qualitative Dissertation Award through the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, utilized material from her research to author this chapter. Her research invites educators to consider ontological inquiry as a pedagogical approach to engaging students in the critical inquiry and self-reflection for the purpose of developing their capacity for lifelong learning, agency and leadership.

She writes: “What ontological inquiry calls for is the ongoing commitment to the discovery of who we are being. It calls for us to consider a paradigm where we do not have all the answers but rather we are constantly engaging with the questions in order to remain present with how we are showing up in the world, how the world occurs for us, and ultimately discovering what our contribution to the world will be.”

In her research, Baker offers an autoethnographic narrative that chronicles her own personal journey in ontological inquiry. Baker also utilizes participatory action research and individual interviews to engage other educators in critical self-refection and dialogue about their own experiences with leading and being lead in an ontological leadership course. 

One educator shares: “The primary frustration is the willingness to be in the gap, in the breakdown, and reconcile the cognitive dissonance. In an ontological inquiry the question is where is the gap going to show up, and am I willing to be in that gap to deal with it? The challenge is in becoming comfortable with questioning the premise of something. We have to be willing to inquire into the premise of our beliefs to reveal our faulty assumptions; otherwise we put them in action and they become the truth. The truth becomes something to protect and we hold on. To engage in ontological learning, we have to have a beginner’s mind.”

Baker argues that educators must be willing to engage in the same inquiry that we are inviting students to participate in. Doing so requires a level of authenticity, vulnerability and humility on the part of the educator. Baker calls upon instructors to rethink the power structures created in the classrooms and demonstrate a willingness to allow themselves to be the student and for the student to become the educator at any point in the classroom. Doing so creates a spirit of investment and collaboration that calls for everyone to be accountable for the learning and success of each other.

Educators are called to consider new pedagogical practices that invite students to experience themselves as part of the future they want to create. Baker asserts this will require from both educators and students a commitment to a better future for themselves, others, and society. It will collectively require educators and students to critically think about who they are being in the world, how they show up in the world, and what their contribution to it will be.

Baker’s book chapter is part of a collection of chapters that focus on democratic leadership and practices that seek to promote a more fair and just society.