‘She challenged us to think critically and find solutions.’
by Greg Cunningham
There was no place to hide in Professor Rita Smith’s class. No matter where I sat, no matter how much I dodged eye contact, she would find me. And not just me– she would find us all. She had told us on the first day of class that asking us questions would be far more important than giving us answers. Fair warning.
This was the routine each week in our course “Common Ground: Followers and Leaders.” The course challenged our preconceived notions in an ever-changing world. Using the Boston busing crisis of the 1970’s and J. Anthony Lukas’s book Common Ground as a foundation, the course challenged us to think critically and find solutions that were overlooked or underutilized to solve both racial and educational issues.
Rita was vibrant in the classroom. She never stopped moving. Her rapid-fire questions at the start of each class used a random method to call on students, which not only kept us on our toes but ensured that everyone participated. She embodied a point she makes on JFY’s February podcast in a story about a lesson a student taught her during her first year of teaching: “It isn’t about the answers, because answers change. It’s the questions that are more important.”
The content of the course was essential: the history and current state of racial issues in Boston. Rita challenged our interpretations of the book, navigated our opinions, and expanded our beliefs. Never the center of attention, she put the spotlight on us, both collectively and individually.
This month, JFY is finally able to turn the spotlight around to feature the elusive Professor Rita Smith and her long and active career in education. Her pedagogy is revealed through her vivid storytelling, recalling memories and recounting events from more than forty years of fully engaged experience.
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