David Segura, a new assistant professor of education and youth studies, is the first person to tell you he’s a big data guy. He explains the interdisciplinary nature of EDYS, why stats matter, and thinking big picture and little picture.
What are you teaching this semester?
I’m teaching two courses. One is EDYS 164: Socio-Cultural Perspectives in Education. The class tries to focus on this idea of difference--how we have to acknowledge difference for the positive things it brings, the assets that different people provide, while also understanding that historically, we’ve used difference to other people and really oppress them. How do we break out of that cycle?
The other one is Practicum in Teaching: EDYS 300, and this course is a mini primer before student teaching, so this class is geared towards practitioners or soon-to-be practitioners. This course is filled with everyone--people who are trying to be kindergarten teachers, third grade teachers, up to high school teachers who are more content-specific people. You need to have a second major at Beloit in order to be certified. But that being said, there are a lot of commonalities around teaching: You understand that your students are key, that they’re all different, that you have to teach them different. At the end of the day, we’re all about developing students, not making sure they’re all the same.
I was a former teacher, and teaching about teaching is always a very reflective process, just like teaching is—even more so because you see yourself sometimes making those mistakes that you’re trying to tell them not to make. It’s humbling because you know your content, and you go in and you still mess up.
What was your path to becoming a professor?
I was initially a science major--ended up doubling in biology and chemistry. I realized I wanted to enter something so I could give back. I’m the son of immigrants. It’s something they instilled in me: You work for the next generation to do better and you give back to those around you, if you can. I realized that being a physician would have been really nice for me, would have brought me a lot of money and a lot of status, but I said, “You know what? I feel like teaching would feel much more about giving back.”
I entered an education master’s program for certification. I had a professor who was an amazing person. What she was trying to do there was to teach the next crop of math teacher educators. She said that was a much more powerful way of affecting change. That really stuck with me.
When I started teaching, I started a doctoral program. I found that teaching, you saw all these practical issues with little frame of reference for how to understand them. The doctoral classes gave me a really big picture analysis. Being in both spaces gave me a really interesting perspective. My degree is technically in policy studies and education, so I look at big picture stuff, not necessarily classroom stuff, and my research isn’t necessarily in the classroom stuff.
What big picture things did you study?
As I was learning more, I became very interested in race and racism in education and how it happens in the classroom, reflecting on my own process. I got accused of plagiarism by a professor in an [undergraduate] honors course. These things that happen that you sort of brush off as, “Oh, it isn’t racism,” until you start thinking, “Maybe it was.”
As you start learning, you become very angry and upset. I still really remember [my advisor] sat me down like this and asked, “So do you think education is a problem in the U.S.? Do you think there’s racism? Do you think that certain groups get better education than others?” I was like, “Of course.” She said, “Well, how do you know?” She really pushed me to delve into stats.
I’m still working on this grant at my home university that looks at how we prepare science teachers. We’re really looking at how do science teachers come in and how do they develop how they think about these larger social, political, economic issues?
I think because we are so ingrained into the social reality of students, we must stay current--that’s our call as academics. I think all of us believe wholeheartedly that education is the way out of every social problem you can have, at its foundation. I think what education does is it’s a true mixing pot--not like the melting pot theory of the U.S. On my bookshelf, I have poly sci, I have psych, I have literature, I have feminist theory, I have this stats book, I have cognitive science. We are truly trying to understand this problem, and we don’t care how we understand it; we just care to find a way out of it.
Every field has its own stake in education, and education has its stake in every field. Education courses are an opportunity to investigate that and dabble in it and become more nuanced about how you’re thinking about your field because you’re going to get other viewpoints, no matter what, because we’re interdisciplinary.