Black History Month: Bradley says plant mustard seeds
Black History Month: Bradley says plant mustard seeds
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
KOKOMO, Ind. – As a young boy growing up in Ohio, Todd Bradley walked to school each morning with his mother, a school administrator. Their conversations helped to shape how he lives today, and carried into his teaching career, decades later.
“She told us, ‘Always be sure you try to plant mustard seeds in each other. That’s all we can do,’” he said, explaining she was encouraging him to share ideas the other person can consider, that may grow into expanded wisdom.
Now as an associate professor of political science at Indiana University Kokomo, that philosophy informs his teaching style.
“My goal isn’t to change a student’s mind,” he continued, “My goal is to give them another layer of critical thinking about complex topics so when they leave my classroom, they will have a new perspective on something they took for granted, or believed because it’s what they grew up knowing.”
While he believes Black History Month, celebrated the month of February, is important, that philosophy is also why it’s even more critical to infuse his curriculum with information about contributions African Americans have made in the world.
The month “gives people an opportunity to at least learn superficially about how African Americans have shaped and built our country, and how they continue to nurture our system,” said Bradley, who has taught here since 2003. “It’s important to highlight and provide people mustard seeds for them to have these conversations with others.
“It also gives people seeds to do research beyond February, and have more intelligent conversations about the importance of these individuals who have contributed to our country, past and present. It’s important to highlight not just past accomplishments, but current ones of African American males and females, not just during Black History Month. I weave those accomplishments throughout the academic year. I want students to go beyond, to know the people, and embed this information in everyday conversation.”
One teachable moment occurred in his first year teaching, when a student told Bradley he was the first “colored” professor he’d ever encountered. The student meant no harm — he was using the word his parents told him was appropriate.
“It was a golden opportunity as an educator, to be gentle with the person, and demonstrate that words can hurt, and words can be powerful,” he said. “That was an opportunity for me to demonstrate to him that certain terms were outdated. I was able to teach him the right language, and we were fine after that.”
Those types of interactions with students are what he loves most about teaching at IU Kokomo. The small classes allow him to get to know them, and the travel opportunities with the Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) program provides additional chances for conversation.
“Within two to three weeks, I make it a point to know my students’ names, every semester,” he said. “You have the chance to learn about students, to learn from them and from their lives, pre-IU Kokomo and while they’re here. Those opportunities enhance their learning, and I learn from them.”
As a political scientist and self-described political junkie, he provides an atmosphere that allows everyone to speak in class, whether they agree with the majority viewpoint or not. That allows discussion of controversial topics, such as elections and race relations.
“I’d like people to have rational conversations, logical conversations, and make sure whatever side they’re on, they speak the truth,” he said. “Make sure the facts are there, and have logical, informed, civil conversations. That’s what democracy should be about.”
He’s optimistic that civil conversation can lead to change.
“Race still matters,” he said. “We should not look at people superficially based on ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and other superficial factors. I think there’s an opportunity for us to grow and become more united. Ideally, it would be nice to happen in my generation, but it may be the next.
“One day it may happen, in terms of moving beyond the physical nature of people, to looking at, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, the content of their character.”
Description of the video:
Todd Bradley sits in The Red Chair at Indiana University Kokomo
The words, “Todd Bradley, associate professor of political science” appear on the screen.
Todd Bradley sits in a large red chair in the library. Bradley is shown in slow motion as his voice over begins. Soft piano music begins. From some angles, you can see the microphone Bradley is speaking in to. Throughout the video, the view changes to see Bradley from different angles, however; he speaks to the interviewer off camera the whole time. During parts of the video, the words, “The Red Chair at Indiana University Kokomo” appear on the screen.
“I’m Dr. Todd Bradley, and I’m an associate professor of political science. Get to know people that look different than you do, or think ideologically different than you, I have republican friends, democrat friends, independent friends, we get along quite well, we may disagree on a lot of policies but we’re still civil to each other. It’s not about getting the edge on someone, it’s about getting to know that person’s life outside of their political slant, it’s about getting to know their family, and their hobbies, and if we can at least try to do that on a daily basis I think we would eventually get to that ideal state that we mentioned earlier, getting beyond the physical characteristics of people. I think we can all play a role, we have a long way to go, but we can all play a role to nurture our democracy,” Bradley says to the interviewer off screen.
Bradley continues, “the first year I got here, in 2003, interestingly, a student said to me ‘Dr. Bradley, you’re the first colored professor I’ve ever had,’ and that was just astonishing to me. Even coming from a relatively small city in Ohio where I’m from, because I had never heard that before, and this was 2003, not 1803, so I asked the student ‘what color am I?’ and I did not want to embarrass him in front of the class, and I thought, ‘let me use this as a teachable moment.” So, I said, “you can say I’m African American, or you can say I’m a black professor, but colored is quite outdated.’ And he had no concept that that was such an outdated term, because his parents had told him that’s what they call people like me. That was a golden opportunity to me as an educator, beyond a political science professor, but just being genuine with the person, and illustrating to them that words can hurt, and words can be powerful, and the student became one of my best students.”
The screen fades to black. Only the words, “The Red Chair at Indiana University Kokomo” remain on the black screen. The piano music fades to quiet.
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.