Neat application of anthropology

Professor brings life experience into classroom –

CLEARLAKE — Students were elevated higher than they expected after
taking an anthropology class taught by Forrest Davis, Ph.D. Students
connected with the real-life experiences and issues Davis brought into
the classroom during a summer session offered at Yuba College Clear
Lake Campus.

“I don’t think any of us knew what the class Cultural Anthropology was
when we signed up. It was just another graduation requirement for the
junior college,” said student Bonnie Vaughn. “But, when we arrived, Dr.
Davis made it clear he was here for us; he was our employee; his job
was to help us understand cultural anthropology and if we fail, he

Davis says that it’s all about bringing the material to the students in
a way that they can truly understand. The 65-year-old professor uses
personal experiences to relate lessons in anthropology and cultural
diversity to his students, which Vaughn and others said helped them
make a connection with the material offered through the class.

“He shared his life story with us. He taught us by drawing on his own
life experiences rather than just repeating words out of a book,” said
Vaughn. “We could all relate to it and it made us feel like we could be
something too.”

Dr. Davis said he struggled as a student. In high school, he was a D
student with low self-esteem. “I was just another struggling student
with no possibility of ever doing anything,” the Alabama-born professor
said. “After (high school) I decided I couldn’t do anything but go up.”

Davis began teaching at the community college he had attended, Los
Angeles Valley College. He went on to further his education at UCLA,
where he obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and finally, his Ph.D in
anthropology in 1986. Currently, he teaches at CSU Sacramento in the
Bilingual/Multicultural Education Department, where he’s been
instrumental in developing an education program specifically designed
for failing students. Davis said he was able to incorporate concepts
used at CSU Sacramento into the teaching tactics he used on the Clear
Lake Campus.

Davis said it is vital to identify proximal development among students,
which is the difference between what a student can learn without help
and what he or she can achieve with help. “When you identify the zone
of proximal development you know exactly which way to motivate for
success,” he explained. “It’s about actualizing potential. Most people
don’t know what they can do. They have the potential they just don’t
know it.”

According to his students, Dr. Davis has a way to actualize the
potential in his students. Vaughn said that Davis’s teaching style
helped open communication, which initiated the participation of all of
the students in the class. “We learned by being involved,” Vaughn said,
adding that students who normally slide by got involved in the
classroom discussions as well. “Dr. Davis has the ability to help
students achieve and improve themselves. He told us we could make a
difference in this world with our knowledge. He showed us a world void
of prejudice by never excluding any class member no matter how
different he or she was from us. It was neat because he gave us his
full attention and he cared. He made us believe in ourselves and
everyone participated in class discussions like we were home sitting
around a dinner table talking as one family. There was no tension in
the classroom and we talked about a lot of hot topics”

Kristen Deutsch said Davis’s class helped her achieve in other classes.
“What we were learning in anthropology was tying into other classes,”
she said. “It made subjects clearer in other classrooms.”

Davis said that he learned of monogenesis early on in life. Monogenesis
is the theory that all human life is derived from one, single origin.
“To bring that point forward is the first step,” he said. “We are all
of one species. Culture is a better description of race. Racism and
prejudice are just bi-products of what we’ve experienced.”

Davis teaches by creating a culture within the classroom. From day one,
boundaries were set as to the behavior he expected from his students.
“You have to develop that collective energy. If we pull that collective
energy together, there’s nothing we can’t do,” he explained. “You have
to make the classroom safe; make it a culture. Once you do that,
everyone in there is going to benefit.”

Davis has been a Lake County resident for the past four years and
currently commutes to Sacramento to teach. He is nearing retirement and
said he would like to help foster educational change in the local
community. He said he doesn’t really care about the paycheck as he
doesn’t have to be burdened with personal success. He said a bigger
reward would be realizing a positive change in the community.

Davis, who has a grandchild who will be entering Lower Lake High School
next semester, would like to contribute to the educational
opportunities available to local students. “On the other side of a
problem there is a solution,” he said. “I believe that through the
development of a community-based collaborative model we can make these
schools more affective. That’s what this community needs and it can be
done. We need to work together to bring these schools and these kids to
a certain level. If we put this model into place, we can do some of
these things without money.”

Several of Davis’s students have expressed a desire to see the
professor return to the Clear Lake Campus. Davis said that is an option
he would definitely consider if the opportunity presents itself.

Contact Denise Rockenstein at


One response to “Neat application of anthropology

  1. Dr. Forrest Richard Davis is a stellar man, with a HUGE brain. This, I know.

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