I joined Saddleback College in 2012. Since then, I have taught over a thousand students how to think critically about politics. And they have taught me even more.
Most semesters, you'll find me teaching American Government, International Relations, and Comparative Politics and Government. These courses are designed to introduce students to the core ideas of the subfields. Each subfield has core ideas that have been developed over decades of research and debate. Sometimes those ideas are in the form of concepts, like democracy, sovereignty, and federalism. Sometimes they are in the form of theories, like the median voter theorem, modernization theory, and democratic peace theory. Such concepts and theories are oftentimes complex. My job is to package and explain them in a way that makes them "click" in a student's head. In the process, students pick up a lot of information about the world, like what race relations are like in Brazil, what's in the Bill of Rights, and what steps countries have taken to fight climate change.
In addition to learning the nuts and bolts of the subfields, students in my classes are trained to develop critical thinking skills. They become better able to analyze the world around them, separate fact from speculation, understand a theoretical argument, and evaluate evidence. It is my hope that everyone leaves my courses with a finely honed B.S. detector that will ring loudly whenever somebody says something like, "Everything in the world can be explained by…"
To be honest, I used to think political science was pretty dry. It was only after a few classes that I fell in love with it. I remember what it was like to be thrown a bunch of information and expected to memorize it. Learning felt like a chore. And so, I try to make my courses interesting, even to those who aren't passionate about political science. In my American Government course, we run a semester-long simulation that I invented. Each student chooses a role – a member of Congress, a lobbyist, a constituent, to name a few – and attempts to influence a congressional bill according to the interests of that role. The roles incorporate real world information. For example, a constituent is not just a generic constituent, but a resident of, for example, California’s 45th Congressional District. As such, she is required to research the district to determine how the average member of that district would feel about the proposed legislation. Once she knows her own position, she can begin lobbying her representative. Her representative, meanwhile, is hearing also from lobbyists and party leadership. She must balance these competing interests. She's learning about the lawmaking process in a way that complements my lectures and the assigned texts.
These teaching tools, and others that I use in my classes, have been developed bit-by-bit, through trial-and-error, since I started teaching in 2005. Since then, online education has grown massively. Online education is an exciting frontier. I try to stay at the cutting edge of it. I have been a pilot faculty member in the State of California's Online Education Initiative, receiving training and revising my courses to meet their high standards. My American Government course has been judged to meet their criteria for inclusion in the State's coming Course Exchange.
I have taught an unusually large number of different courses. Altogether, it adds up to more than 75 sections. Here is the full list:
- American Government
- International Relations
- Comparative Politics and Government
- Political Theory
- Introduction to Political Science
- Theories of International Relations
- Theories of Comparative Politics
- International Relations in the 21st Century (Master’s level)
- Women and World Politics
- Gender and International Relations
- Sexual Politics in Europe
- Food Politics
The last few on that list were my idea. Those are topics about which I am interested. I did a lot of research on them, which turned into a dissertation, a publication, and the courses you see above. The common theme of those topics is the politics of everyday life. Many of things we think of as unrelated to power and politics are, in reality, heavily influenced by them. Who we love and what we eat are shaped by politics in ways we don't easily see. I find that idea fascinating and exploring it in depth has taught me a lot about how power works.
When I am not in the classroom, I volunteer as the Chief Executive Officer at a nonprofit organization that I founded called America for Animals. We build technology that facilitates community empowerment around issues of animal welfare. (That picture above is me helping out at one of the free spay-neuter clinics we sponsor in Tijuana.) The nonprofit sector provides great career paths and my door is always open to talk to students about that.
Please feel free to reach out to me.