Changing the Mindset for Enhanced Pedagogy

Linda RidleyLinda Ridley Lecturer Business Academic Dept.

As a global consultant focusing on change management within organizations, over the past decade I have adapted my thirst for problem solving to the field of education. This provided an exciting trajectory as I transitioned my significant expertise in organizational development into the field of education.

In 2015, I won a competition to become a First-Time Case Writer with The Case Centre, based at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom. Chosen as only one of 18 professors worldwide (just three in the United States), this was an affirmation of my efforts to integrate business practices with pedagogy. My case study examined the implementation of symptomatic thinking1 in a corporate environment with an aim towards encouraging authentic leadership in a world of changing demographics.

My thesis was that traditional approaches to diversity learning are remarkable in their consistent gaps when it comes to addressing historical inequities as an avenue to understanding future opportunities for business when inclusion is emphasized. The current environment of changing demographics, not only domestically but globally, requires, indeed, deserves a more focused approach to addressing this multicultural landscape as the majority/minority language takes on a different shape. The case provides the background and substance to educate the reader in that regard.

The case study method is utilized by business professors worldwide at the graduate and undergraduate level. Cases can focus on a myriad of areas – in addition to all spheres of management, other disciplines such as accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, international business, marketing, negotiation, social enterprise, and strategy are included. In my business, management and marketing classes here at Hostos, I have students collaborate in teams to analyze business dilemmas, using case studies. After group discussion, students then provide answers to directed questions. Students are stimulated and challenged as teams are encouraged to critique and even debate other teams’ responses. The result is healthy dialogue and scaffolded learning.

The past several decades have displayed a focus on diversity in the workplace throughout the corporate environment. Questions remain: has the effort been at all impactful – or, due to its symbolic nature, has it only been a distraction? What behaviors would have been better emphasized to achieve full participation and opportunity by all actors in a firm?

Considerable research has revealed that attempts at diversity are clumsy at best; and spurious at worst.2 The challenge for firms has been to develop a “business case” for why those contributing groups represented by women and people of color should be promoted to levels of leadership within the corporate environment. The unfortunate result, after decades of trial and error, are policies designed to tighten the grip of white males on business through the creation of artificial glass ceilings beyond which only a few from the affected groups can reach, with a tenuous hold. Cutting-edge research on symbols and symptoms tells us that the refusal to examine in totality the history of discrimination and racism allow us to perpetuate a mythology that prohibits any real growth.3 That mythology, of white male supremacy, is enhanced through impotent diversity programs replicated throughout corporate America.

Race remains one of the most hotly controversial and highly complex issues in our society. In American society, race is politically and socially defined. Race has been used to reinforce already powerful groups, while weakening those groups with less power; prior to and even into the twentieth century, race determined a woman’s political rights and social status.

As we engage with a student body here at Hostos that is in the midst of a changing demographic environment, we are being encouraged to enhance our skillset regarding the need to equip our students with tools that are effective in changing their mindset. This often requires transformative methodology that addresses the mindset. Our student population is preparing to exit into an environment in which they need all the tools available to them, especially as they encounter mythologies designed to threaten their future success. The beauty of my case study is that it demonstrates the utility of symptomatic thinking in the pedagogical process. I presented a poster at the Hostos Research conference to display this idea.

This begs the question: what would other disciplines look like if symptomatic thinking were incorporated? Here at Hostos, wouldn’t it be beneficial to incorporate new tools that can assist us in transferring knowledge?

In the discipline of Natural Sciences, for instance, Prof. Vyacheslav Dushenkov suggests that the application of symptomatic thinking is essential for encouraging students to eliminate stereotypes.

In the discipline of Business Communications, Prof. Sandy Figueroa provides her students with an opportunity to incorporate symptomatic thinking into their learning processes. Student sharing regarding their experiences becomes spontaneous, as they change their mindset towards a new way of problem solving.

Even in the discipline of Mathematics, Prof. Lauren Wolf suggests that symptomatic thinking may be beneficial for encouraging students to expand their worldview, as they examine previously held assumptions that may or may not be accurate.

But what is symptomatic thinking? Why do we need it in business? How would it work in a pedagogical environment? What about the instructor population? Could they benefit?

I posit that it is important that we faculty reflect and question our own teaching practices. As educators, it is important for us to understand the dynamics of symptoms and symbols on the thinking process and behavior. According to Jung (1964), “a word or image is a symbol, when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. A symbol is anything that implies, in any way, something more than is obvious and immediate in the casual observer” (p. 21). Further, Ridley (2001) tells us “Symbolism is used to mythologize history, manipulate behavior, and set in motion a way of thinking that creates the phenomena of racism, neurosis and other forms of mental illness. Symbolism, through its mythological content, has caused the distortion of scientific facts. Nothing can be accomplished by thinking symbolically. Our decisions should not be made from mythological assumptions. A thoroughgoing, careful reading of history tells us that it is only when we are not able to face the realities of life that we tend to mythologize and distort anything and everything that we do not want to be true. Symbols produce myth, superstition, and ritual, and these elements cannot be allowed to stand if we are to progress” (pp. 5-6).

Indeed, it is commonly accepted by all scholars that there are only two ways of thinking and behaving: symptomatically or symbolically (Ridley, 2008, p. 122). We want to practice thinking symptomatically in all interactions with our students, hence modeling behavior they can emulate.

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