Impressions, Ruminations, Treatises Essays on Intersectionality, Praxis, and the Educational Arena
Impressions, Ruminations, Treatises
Impressions, Ruminations, Treatises Essays on Intersectionality, Praxis, and the Educational Arena
Institute for Recruitment of Teachers Andover, Massachusetts
Impressions, Ruminations, Treatises Institute for Recruitment of Teachers ÂŠ 2013 Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Cover artwork and partition images ÂŠ Amber Wiley.
Contents Foreword 7 From the Editors 9
Impressions In (Critical) Service to Others, We Serve Ourselves 15 by Diego Duran-Medina The Context of Representation in Pedagogy and Research 19 by Paul J. Edwards From Student of Color to Educator of Color: The Place of Evolving Identities 22 by Toby Wu
Ruminations A Peter Pan Pedagogy: How a White Woman Helped Me to Teach Race 27 by Donavan L. Ramon Pedagogies of Critical Diversity: Teaching Cultural Identity in Composition 32 by Chris A. Eng Here I Stand: Ruminations on How My Multiple Identities and Experiences Shape My Scholarship 38 by Elizabeth Gil ’Murika’s Educational Ontological Quandary 43 by Richard Meyers Ruminations on Presence, Position, and Purpose 49 by Danica C. Tisdale Fisher
Treatises Sacred Ground, Traveling Light: Personal Reflections on UniversityCommunity Tourism Engagement 55 by Rolando D. Herts Scrap the Gap: Moving Toward a Paradigm Shift in Education 68 by Luis Omar Rosario Muy Listo y Bien Educado: Literacies from Home into the Classroom 80 by Rodrigo Joseph Rodríguez Editorial Board 89
t is with great pride that we launch this collection of essays and opinions by IRT alumni. Teaching, counseling, and administrating
in schools, colleges, and universities across the nation, our alumni have their fingers on the pulse of pressing problems confronting education in the United States. Working firsthand with todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s students, our alumni are in an ideal position to counsel us in ways to upgrade the system and institute innovative and constructive reform. IRT is committed to sponsoring the scholarship of our former students and to encouraging their engagement in critical dialogue with other educators. There are far-reaching educational concerns that fall outside of research related to articles or books intended for publication to substantiate tenure requirements. What is an effective secondary school curriculum; in what ways are writing, math, and science skills most effectively taught? Should teachers concentrate principally on ways their students should take standardized tests? Lastly, what is the role of ESL or TESOL in secondary curricula? Concomitantly, at the professoriate level, what is the historical role of the university in society; how must it change as we move into the future; and how can a diversified community of scholars and administrators ensure a successful, if not necessarily smooth, transition? How far have these institutions truly come in the mission of embodying diversity not only from the bottom up but also from the top down? Finally, what work remains to be done?
Impressions, Ruminations, Treatises offers a space for our alumni to reflect on these issues and many others so that they might move through their careers thoughtfully, strategically, and with greatest impact, while offering guidance and pearls of wisdom to others. We assure you that we intend to publish a new collection of essays and opinions in the near future. In the meantime, we welcome your feedback. Please send your comments to LaRose Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. We especially want to thank Phillips Academy Head of School John Palfrey for the Academyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s financial backing of this endeavor and for his encouragement to spread the educational commentary of our former students to a wider audience. Kelly Wise Founder, Former Executive Director Institute for Recruitment of Teachers Asabe Poloma Director, Interim Executive Director Institute for Recruitment of Teachers
From the Editors
ntersectionality. Praxis. Education. Each of these words alone evokes intricate and precarious networks of ideas, politics, positionalities,
and agendas. Taken together, they define the intensely rewarding though frequently fraught terrain that educators, generally—and educators of color, specifically—must navigate in order to become effective, impactful, and inspiring teachers and leaders. IRT alumni chose the topic for this collection, “Intersectionality, Praxis, and the Educational Arena,” and it is a focus that gets at the very core of IRT’s mission, while underscoring that earning an advanced degree is only the beginning of the challenge to truly create institutions that embrace, encourage, and embody diversity. There were three possible categories for submission, offering alumni multiple ways to contribute to the collection. For Impressions, we wanted brief essays on the theme, which were either fully developed short arguments or initial thoughts on the chosen topic. In Ruminations, we were looking for essays that were more sustained meditations on the topic, with some reference to the scholarship. Finally, for Treatises, we sought articles that engaged existing scholarship for the purposes of expansion or critique. In all, we looked for submissions that not only posed questions but also offered solutions for negotiating the opportunities and obstacles that intersectional identities engender within the educational enterprise. We are pleased by the number and quality of the submissions we received for this first collection. Of the submissions, 25 percent came 9
From the Editors
from alumni working at elementary and secondary schools, while the other 75 percent were comprised of alumni employed as faculty and administrators at institutions of higher education. The majority of our submissions came from men, who submitted 65 percent of the essays, while women accounted for 35 percent of submissions. The pieces, while varied in approach and emphasis, are thoroughly immersed in experience, theoria, and praxis. Diego Duran-Medina calls for a critical approach to service learning, while Danica C. Tisdale Fisher responds to microaggressions with her writing and her commitment to being both present and a presence in academia. Paul J. Edwards’ inquiry into who has the power of representation through images generates the guiding questions for his students, and Donavan L. Ramon takes us on a narrative journey where a chance exchange on a bus reinvigorates his mission of motivating students to think critically about race and ethnicity. Chris A. Eng similarly rivets us with his unflinching assessment of a “neoliberal multiculturalism” that would reduce “diversity” work to celebratory notions of a “post-racial” moment. The calls are for a reimagining of our educational landscape. Rolando D. Herts’ treatise, for example, on the role of Rutgers University and his own training as an urban and regional planner in preserving, celebrating, and reviving the city of Newark, reaffirms the interconnections between university and community, while Luis Omar Rosario’s writings offer strategies for schools and school systems to function with the goal of community sustainability and custodianship in mind. Toby Wu’s provocative questions challenge educators to be more critical about the end goals of curricular design and how those goals serve students of color not only in the classroom but also in the larger world. Rodrigo Joseph Rodríguez underscores the importance of creating classrooms that value “home” languages, knowledge, and stories, and Elizabeth Gil intrigues us with her 10
From the Editors
discussion of the “funds of knowledge” that students from marginalized populations possess, as well as her ownership of the “funds of knowledge” that she brings to her PhD program. Finally, Richard Meyers offers a provocative Marxist deconstruction of current educational models, specifically highlighting the ways that programs such as “Race to the Top” strip students of their humanity and reduce them to widgets. All of this amidst Amber N. Wiley’s haunting artwork of a shuttered school, the struggle on a T-shirt, and the misty dream of diversity. We are delighted to congratulate the prize winners for the first collection: Diego Duran-Medina for his Impression, “In (Critical) Service to Others, We Serve Ourselves”; Donavan L. Ramon for his Rumination, “A Peter Pan Pedagogy: How a White Woman Helped Me to Teach Race”; and Rolando D. Herts for his Treatise, “Sacred Ground, Traveling Light: Personal Reflections on UniversityCommunity Tourism Engagement.” When we announced plans for this collection earlier this year, we did not know what kind of response we would receive. As this is the inaugural collection, it was something of a leap of faith for our alumni to extend themselves into the unknown by writing a piece for consideration. To our delight, the excitement of the alumni from the beginning stages of this project right through the end has been unwavering. We are confident that the pieces we have selected will both inspire and set the tone for generative dialogue about teaching and thinking about diversity in 21st-century classrooms. David Allen Assistant Principal Bard High School Early College LaRose Davis Associate Director Institute for Recruitment of Teachers 11
In (Critical) Service to Others, We Serve Ourselves by Diego Duran-Medina
ne of the most powerful ways to fully engage multiplicity of identities is to consider how we—whether as student, scholar,
teacher, or administrator—and our respective institutions engage with communities through service. This type of civic engagement can take on many different forms, but here I am speaking specifically of a “critical” approach to service learning. How can service within an academic setting help deepen, sustain, and strengthen identities within elite, privileged institutions? Think about the institution you work for/with: What does its mission say about service to others? Most likely there is a sentiment about helping others by using the knowledge and skills gained through education. Now find the evidence for it: How many teachers are engaged in classroom instruction that is tied to service in a community? Are students actively employing their education and talent for the purpose of improving communities? Are there administrators and offices charged with implementing a service mission? These are important questions because they establish a foundation for generative questions around how we can fulfill our multiple identities and responsibilities while maintaining a sense of purpose as people of
color in elite, selective environments where identity and service can collide in painful ways. I have been fortunate enough to work with service learning, community service, and activism in independent school settings and often have wondered what it means for me to be doing this work as a Latino and person of color. There is a certain feeling of trepidation and hesitation as I lead groups of mostly white students and faculty to “impoverished” areas, where inevitably, issues of race, privilege, class, geography, and gender form a dangerous undercurrent that is often felt but ignored. Here we run a risk, and it must be a calculated one: There is an explosive danger in simply assuming that all service is good, that we can simply rely on good intentions to serve the “other.” I believe our responsibility is actually to bring forth difficult, uncomfortable questions around identity through service-learning pedagogy. We can and should demand more of our students, faculty, and institutions by using critical service learning as a vehicle and tool for discussion and confrontation of not only the visible causes, but also the underlying foundations of poverty, exclusion, silence, and marginalization of communities, especially those in our institutional ecosystem. This is deeply personal work. Whether we are students engaged in service, faculty leading classes into the field, or administrators shaping the mission of our institutions, we do this work with both our heads and our hearts. Our identities collide with our responsibilities as we look across and see “clients” that may look, sound, or live like us, like the neighborhoods we grew up in and “escaped.” We are confronted with the harsh reality that we have gained elite status and yet still remain outside, on the periphery. I posit that in order to break through not only the questions around identity intersection but also the questions around power 16
In (Critical) Service to Others, We Serve Ourselves
and privilege, we must have a more nuanced and complicated definition and vision for service. We must embrace and hold the tension between two competing ideas: an idea of doing good, by doing right. This concept increasingly has been explored, most notably by Tania Mitchell, a scholar who essentially argues that critical service learning should “encourage students to see themselves as agents of social change, and use the experience of service to address and respond to injustice in communities” (51). Using this definition, we can shift our pedagogical stance as educators in three important ways. 1. We can commit to moving beyond community service, and instead to positioning service within our classrooms and supporting classroom instruction that raises questions around service, power, and privilege. 2. We can commit to rethinking what it means to develop students not only as scholars, but also as change agents, requiring a more nuanced praxis and approach to technology and using it to give voice and access to those who have been silenced. 3. We can commit to using our unique place of privilege within our elite institutions and begin the work of seeing them as institutions with a public mission, engaged in mutually beneficial partnerships with communities. The work of “doing good, by doing right” is not easy. It is exhausting, emotionally and intellectually. It requires administrative resources, solid leadership, and a delicate interplay among the head, the heart, and the hands. Yet, the work is critical to sustaining our work, and most important, to sustaining ourselves. Critical service learning allows us to ask difficult questions of ourselves and of our 17
institutions. In doing so, we find ways to make meaning of our relative privilege and elite education so that we may, with confidence and strength, upon having served, know that we fulfilled both a personal and an institutional mission. Reference Mitchell, Tania D. “Traditional vs. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the Literature to Differentiate Two Models.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. no. 2 (2008): 50-65.
Diego Duran-Medina (IRT ’12) was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Currently he is a first-year doctoral student in the Higher Adult and Lifelong Education program at Michigan State University. He has worked in service learning and civic engagement across grades K–16 for more than seven years, and has developed programs around activism, art, media, and service. He founded LeadServe Consulting in January 2013, helping independent schools implement quality service learning worldwide.
The Context of Representation in Pedagogy and Research by Paul J. Edwards
ftentimes at my old job as an audiobook director, I would get into conversations about family, business, or politics with
the narrators I worked with. During the early weeks of the Arab Spring, a narrator brought up how many Libyan people had become refugees in Italy. To her, these displaced people were not victims of war but a problem for Italy. In her words, if you have one spider in your attic, you can leave it alone; a few thousand and you have to get rid of them. For me, this represented how our language can hide and obfuscate our meaning. I do not think my coworker considered how her words turned these living, breathing human beings into common vermin, yet getting rid of “spiders” has rarely meant returning them to a positive habitat. The 20th century’s genocides reveal how often we turn to acting on the belief that our very neighbors are vermin. The uses of the term “rats” in the Holocaust and “cockroaches” in Rwanda to define people are perhaps the starkest examples of this behavior. Interactions like these have led not only to my own research, but also to how I want to work with young people. The power of representation goes beyond literature, film, and art, and becomes key
to how history is told. For this reason, when I work with students I have key questions I want them to ask. 1. Who does the subject think they are? 2. Who or what do others think of the subject? 3. What is the context and history surrounding the subject and these others? The purpose of these questions is to turn literary questions into ones of history. The reframing of first person narrative, third person narrative, and the narrative setting becomes a meaningful framework for ethical history. In my own research, I have looked at how images of Black America have infiltrated German culture. It surprises many of my colleagues and professors that in 1927, a German composer, Ernst Krenek, wrote a “jazz” opera, Jonny spielt auf, with a black American musician as a central character. However, the character, Jonny, became an important point of discourse for the liberal Left of Weimar Germany and the ascending power of the National Socialists. For the Left, the opera and Jonny represented an injection into the culture that was trapped in the past. Jonny could lead to a new future of liberation in culture and art. Yet for Nazis, Jonny represented the corruptions not only of black American culture, but of Jewish “degeneracy” as well. The Nazi Regime made this clear in 1938 when it put up a festival in Düsseldorf called the Degenerate Music exhibit with a black male saxophone player on the poster. The problem I make clear in my work is not simply Nazism’s cooption and eugenicist construction of race, but the very use of the black male image to construct meaning. The problem I see is the complete negation of personhood for a conversation of the Black image. Just as the conversation with my coworker was one of 20
The Context of Representation in Pedagogy and Research
representation, my work and my teaching reveal how images hide, distract, and remove concerns for the human body.
Paul J. Edwards (IRT â&#x20AC;&#x2122;11) is a graduate student in American studies at Boston Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s American and New England Studies Program, and a Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow. He graduated from Wesleyan University with a BA degree, with honors, in music, with a focus on ethnomusicology and music history. His interests include the ways images, objects, and buildings precede human interaction and often become obstacles for human contact.
From Student of Color to Educator of Color: The Place of Evolving Identities by Toby Wu
y family came to the United States when I was 8 years old. I knew pretty much no word of English. I was in a pullout ESL
class from 2nd to 4th grade. I always scored significantly lower on my reading standardized tests than on my math tests. None of my teachers in my elementary school looked like me. From 2nd to 4th grade, I knew only one other Asian American student. Everyone else was African American, Latino, or both. From 5th grade onward, my peer group became whiter and more Asian. My first language was not offered as a second language course until high school. I do not recall reading any books in elementary school that reflected my own culture or had characters that looked or lived like me. My parents rarely came to school events, and the ones they did attend had Chinese interpreters. At home, I took on the role of the primary and basically only English speaker. I am the first in my family to graduate from a postsecondary institution in the United States. These were some of the most significant experiences and markers of my schooling and education. Collectively, they came to define my identity as a student of color, and an immigrant student of color. They defined me as separate and apart from all the traditional and 22
From Student of Color to Educator of Color
seemingly mythical narratives of school and childhood that I learned somewhere. I was an exception. In effect, I learned to see myself as largely separate from institutions that I was actually a part of, and even in a larger sense, the nation that I grew up and live in. I went to some of the best public schools in New York City, and yet, I graduated largely devoid of any real solid sense of identity, community, and citizenship. There were so many untapped curiosities and missed connections, and there were only a handful of teachers who really cultivated the voice I have. Many of them were educators of color. Now that I am in that very same role, I try hard to pay forward the best of my own education. I hold an unconditional recognition that urban students of color lead complex lives. They are making big strides for their families, learning to navigate worlds that their families may never even imagine. They are growing into the shoes of their family, community, and heritage. As an educator of color, I take the best of what I know and share with them and plan backward, as we do with content standards. What does it take to develop the habits of a transformative community leader, beyond those of a strong reader? How does one come to code-switch without the slightest sense of cultural loss? How do we form complex and dynamic relationships to the media around us? How do we build a sense of citizenship that is both critical and immense? What does it take to cultivate a lively and intellectual spirit in my students to live rich and meaningful lives, perhaps working to transform the inequities they inherit and experience? I believe that we can start by building on the premise that our students can and should have an enduring relationship to knowledge, that they are both inheritors of and contributors to our history of knowledge. When our students walk into our classrooms, they are already growing into these shoes, taking first steps to break into them. Even 23
the most mundane content standards are, in effect, inducting them into that history of knowledge, however politicized and contested. When my first graders are learning to write expository passages about their hands, they are learning to practice acts of literacy to interact with the world and to construct meaning about their lives, even if this schooling is not a shared experience at home or in their communities. When they are describing their neighborhoods, they are working up Bloomâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s levels of cognition, hopefully and eventually toward creating a vision that they desire more than settling for the one they observe to be true. These are the enduring understandings I want for them, and this is the place from which I teach. I am more than just a colorful face. My evolving identities as both a student and an educator of color actively contribute to my practice.
Toby Wu (IRT â&#x20AC;&#x2122;09) teaches first grade in Oakland, California. As a proud graduate of New York City public schools, he is committed to the potential and the impact of a strong urban public education. Prior to teaching, he led youth programs and development work at Chinatown Youth Initiatives in New York City. Toby earned a BA degree from Swarthmore College and an MA degree in education from Stanford University. He is based in San Francisco.
From Student of Color to Educator of Color
A Peter Pan Pedagogy: How a White Woman Helped Me to Teach Race by Donavan L. Ramon
“Racism don’t exist anymore, right?” Her eyes were big and hopeful. “Yes it does,” I said through clenched teeth. “But I am old enough to remember the marches, the sit-ins, and the hound dogs—oh, the dogs—but today we have a black president who I’m gonna vote for again in a few days!” “Good for you.”
t was a very early and very long bus ride from New York City to Boston last fall, during the last weekend before the 2012 presidential
election. The white woman sitting next to me was a senior citizen who wanted to talk about the novel she saw in my lap. Even though she saw me reading, she kept talking, and I reluctantly told her that I study African American literature. Then we had the exchange recounted above, which became the impetus for my racialized pedagogy. A few minutes after I tersely affirmed that racism still exists, I tapped her on the shoulder and explained how it is still relevant. I take my job as an educator very seriously and wanted to enlighten her about this “post-race” society, especially because it was unlikely that she would find someone to correct her racial logic in her final destination of rural Maine. With that said, we discussed stop-and-frisk, 27
the school-to-prison pipeline, and food deserts, among other topics. By the end of our ride, she was surprised to discover that these racist practices continue. I would be more shocked if they didn’t. While she hurried to find her connecting bus, I almost ran to my hotel to write the course description for my upcoming spring writing class, Race and Ethnicity. The conversation I had with her sparked several ideas about the ways in which I would teach this subject to my undergraduates. She assumed that racism is no longer an issue because it is not hypervisible (“oh, the dogs!”). I decided at that moment to disabuse my future students of this notion. In order to accomplish this task, I first assigned Chapters 1 and 5 of Beverly Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? This text includes a range of terms that are pivotal to understanding race, which I quizzed my students on during our second class. They needed to understand her definition of words such as “prejudice,” “internalized oppression,” “white privilege,” “racial hypervisibility,” and most important, the distinction between “active racism” and “passive racism.” By beginning with the definitions of these terms, I was able to contrast the overt racism of the past (such as Jim Crow signs) with the more structural racism evident today, including the topics I discussed with the woman on the bus. Moreover, forcing my students to memorize definitions early on helped them to apply these concepts to all our readings throughout the semester. From our first session, I was adamant about making them understand the distinction between racist people and racist actions. It is easier to render people “racist” after hearing them make offensive remarks, but since most people reject this as an epithet, it forces them to be very defensive. Having a “black friend” is never enough 28
A Peter Pan Pedagogy
to mitigate the charge of racism, for example. This, in turn, leads to conversations being stymied because an accusation of racism is translated into a character attack. Instead, my students learned to call out actions that are racist, which can lead to productive dialogue about improving specific behavior. People are less willing to listen and change, unless they are made aware of particular examples that warrant criticism, rather than their entire being. Next, we annotated excerpts from M.K. Asante’s book It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop, and the title chapter from Michelle Alexander’s bestselling monograph The New Jim Crow. The former introduced more useful terminology that built upon Tatum’s definitions. For instance, Asante’s ideas of the ghetto being an “urban playground” helped to stimulate a fruitful discussion of gentrification, while his provocative term “corporate sharecropping” taught my students about the exploitative nature of hip-hop culture—a culture that many of them participate in. With Alexander, we went section by section through Chapter 5 in order to examine how the “system of mass incarceration trap[s] African Americans” (185). I carefully scaffolded the readings in this way because I wanted my students to understand that the terms Tatum described from the outset are not limited to educational settings, as her title suggests, but are elastic enough to encompass contemporary urban culture as well as the law. I made sure that my essay questions built upon each reading. Each assignment forced my students to think about the overarching question that I posited on the first day: “How are elements of slavery and Jim Crow still present today, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation?” Every time I asked a variation of this question, I thought about the woman on the bus, who would have rendered it moot before we ran into each other. She inspired my lecture on 29
African American exceptionalism, which refers to the tendency to point out a few African Americans and suggest that if they are doing well, then the plight of other blacks is not as bleak after all. This is exactly what the woman on the bus did when she suggested that having Barack Obama in the White House is tantamount to the end of racism. Yet the president is one person who is lucky enough to have an Ivy League education—a privileged academic pedigree that is out of the question for far too many men of color. After we returned from spring break, the reading part of the class was over and the research part began. My students had to write three drafts of their research papers that centered on anything relating to race. I hesitated to give them such broad parameters since these were transfer students who did not have much experience writing research papers at their former institutions. However, once I started commenting on their drafts and saw them applying our critical terminology, with eloquence and finesse, to topics that included environmental racism, interracial marriages, and microaggressions, I realized that they learned something after all. This was reaffirmed in the summer when I received their evaluations. Almost unanimously, they described my course as highly effective in forcing them to think critically about race and ethnicity. I guess that my students—who were predominantly white—did not have to consider race too often before stepping into my classroom. As I complete my doctorate and prepare for a teaching career, I consider myself very lucky to have figured out the formula that works when teaching race. Beverly Tatum, M.K. Asante, and Michelle Alexander provide a generative combination: Placed in tandem with one another, they reveal the systematic racism that continues to hinder people of color. This summer’s controversies over the 30
A Peter Pan Pedagogy
Voting Rights Act, the George Zimmerman trial, and New York’s stop-and-frisk policy serve as stark reminders of the prominence of racial prejudice. Before spring 2013, I had never taught a writing course that focused on race, which explained why I could not even write a course description without apprehension. My crippling fear disappeared, thanks to the lady on that Peter Pan bus who compelled me to think critically about teaching race to people who are naïve. Though I wanted to end our conversation prematurely when she suggested that racism is now extinct, I’m glad that I hesitated. As far as my pedagogy is concerned, that dialogue was just the beginning.
Donavan L. Ramon (IRT ’08) is a graduate assistant at the Rutgers University Center for Race and Ethnicity and a doctoral candidate in English, focusing on African American literature. His dissertation provides a new taxonomy for racial passing narratives of the 20th century. Don is also the first Member-at-Large for Diversity with the Northeast Modern Language Association. He earned a BA degree in English at Hunter College CUNY, where he was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow (2007).
Pedagogies of Critical Diversity: Teaching Cultural Identity in Composition by Chris A. Eng
nder the persistent rhetoric of economic crisis, educators throughout the humanities are pressed to demonstrate measur-
able outcomes and to rationalize how their teaching imparts tangible skills to students. Meanwhile, administrators systematically target ethnic studies as divisive and its critical knowledge as “unpatriotic.” In what follows, I ruminate about the conditions of (im)possibility for true intersectional praxes in the university through my subject positioning as an Asian American studying and teaching in a public university. I offer this particular account to map out the exigency and strategies for the work of critical diversity, which interrogates how material conditions of what Jodi Melamed terms “neoliberal multiculturalism” are made possible by discursive frames that flatten uneven power relations under celebratory notions of difference and the guise of economic rationality. Amid these attacks on the humanities and ethnic studies, the work of critical diversity is both more precarious and more imperative than ever. We are confronted with a sophisticated institutional approach to “difference” in which the presence of racialized student bodies is 32
Pedagogies of Critical Diversity
leveraged as proof of diversity in place of drastic institutional shifts that eliminate the dissemination of critical knowledge in the classroom. The institution at which I teach and study, the City University of New York (CUNY), illustrates a larger trend of massive restructuring across academic institutions nationwide. The Pathways initiative proposed by its Board of Trustees allegedly serves students by “streamlining education,” which, in effect, casts ethnic studies, along with a number of other courses, as disposable, or outside the “core” education. In order to map out and dismantle the material connection of this policy with tuition hikes as a systematic reversal of the gains made by student activists for open admissions at CUNY to New York’s minority communities, it is especially crucial to open discussions of the often uninterrogated term “culture” by addressing race and class. In this sense, I would suggest that teaching ethnic literary studies in the classroom provides an important opening through which to trouble these frames. Questioning the demands of the contemporary neoliberal university, ethnic literary studies serves as an intersectional praxis toward the goals of social justice by inviting students to question normativizing knowledge that violently fixes minority subjects as knowable and hierarchically imbued with differential value. As educators, we have the opportunity to create a space within our classrooms for our students to participate in this epistemological project. As a graduate student who, like many others, is also part of a critical mass of contingent labor, I have been teaching an introductory course on composition at CUNY Queens College. I had the privilege and challenge of introducing these topics of race and inequity into classroom discussion through conceptualizing the course under the special topic of “Cultural Identity.” I say “privilege” because this introductory course functions as one of the few required English 33
courses in higher education and is tasked with teaching technical, practical writing skills. In the process, social differences are encoded as irrelevant to such skills and as unwelcome topics within the syllabus. “Cultural Identity,” however, also risks reproducing neoliberal multicultural responses that affirm equality and diversity through a “post-racial” value of colorblindness, which often manifests as a passionate refusal to discuss race. In framing my course, I asked a question that educators working for critical diversity often negotiate: How may discussions of race be foregrounded as necessary for fostering students’ critical reading and writing skills within the allegedly objective rubric of composition? To foster such conversations, I assigned Nam Le’s short story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” along with other ethnic literary texts, to my students and asked them to think about how it complicates “cultural identity” through its compositional nature. That is, Le’s story and its self-reflexivity about the processes of writing helps us consider the ways in which raced subjects are historically and materially constructed, emphasizing heterogeneity and shifting positionalities while calling attention to the different genres and labels through which such compositions are valued and rendered legible. As protagonist Nam struggles with an upcoming deadline for submitting his collection of short stories for a fellowship, his father drops in for an untimely visit. Nam himself plays with this conflation between cultural identity and ethnic literature by juxtaposing his tense relationship with his father, histories of war and trauma, and his ambivalence and ultimate decision to write an “ethnic story.” I opened the class by pointing my students’ attention to Nam’s exchange with a friend debating about “ethnic literature” and what 34
Pedagogies of Critical Diversity
writers who are marked by race are expected to produce. Writing down the friend’s claim that “ethnic literature is hot” (9), I asked my students to think about what associations they make with this term. What happens to their understanding or expectation of literature when the modifier “ethnic” is attached? A generative discussion ensued, one that illuminated the ambivalent meanings of “ethnic literature.” Many noted the role of “ethnic” as marking a difference that is exotic. Others pointed out the expectation of reading autoethnography and “truth” about the writer’s cultural identity, rather than fiction. While some suggested that “ethnic” actively attributes a literary text as being subpar and of lesser value, others wondered whether it describes an objective judgment of the piece. Similarly, claims that ethnic literature allows readers to “learn about other people’s culture” were balanced with the proposition that it importantly intervenes in remembering forgotten histories of violence. Just as the discussion became centered on dominant tropes of parent-child conflict within Asian American literature, other students were skeptical about constraining the text within a familial frame, questioning, along with Nam, how memories of a family massacre and trauma from the Vietnam War may have affected his father. These confusions that my students pointed out speak to how the text actively plays with the notions of liberal multiculturalism that dominate our understandings of race and ethnicity. Rather than thinking about whether Nam’s memories of his father are “real” or “fake,” my students and I discussed the instability of representing a “true history” as Nam necessarily engages with fiction writing in order to try to apprehend both the atrocities of the war that his father experienced and the possible legacies of trauma. Nam’s writing process elucidates how composition becomes part of negotiating 35
our sense of self along side the tensions of history/memory, trauma/ forgetting, and writing/silence. As such, Le’s text was crucial in the kinds of questions and discussions in which it allowed my class to engage throughout the semester: the compositional nature of cultural identity; the blurry overlaps among race, ethnicity, and culture; how culture and politics intersect; and how cultural production and representation becomes a realm to interrogate and rewrite these politics. While I concede that my unique thematic approach afforded me the distinct possibility of initiating such a conversation, I would assert that teaching ethnic literary texts allows us to strategize about “how to be in the institution, but not of it,” in the words of Kandice Chuh. How can we transform precarious institutional conditions and the most unexpected courses into sites of critical diversity that unsettle our very understandings of knowledge production? If “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” names the “verities” that Faulkner argues we must write about, Le’s text suggests and presents a crucial opportunity for a classroom discussion that foregrounds how these alleged universals—just as the very assumptions of knowledge production, academic practices, and institutional discourses—must be examined: not against, but through particularities of race. References Ahmed, Sara. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. Print. Ferguson, Roderick A. The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Print. Kang, Laura Hyun Yi. Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/ American Women. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002. Print.
Pedagogies of Critical Diversity Le, Nam. “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice.” The Boat. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. 3–28. Print. Melamed, Jodi. Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Chris A. Eng (IRT ’09) is a PhD candidate in English at the CUNY Graduate Center, with primary research interests in Asian American studies, critical ethnic studies, and queer discourses. At CUNY, he is a co-organizer of the Revolutionizing American Studies initiative and the Mentoring Future Faculty of Color Project. Chris serves on the board of directors for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, chairing the programming committee.
Here I Stand: Ruminations on How My Multiple Identities and Experiences Shape My Scholarship by Elizabeth Gil
olitical hopefuls send me mailings touting their advocacy for “female” causes. I receive those mailings in both English and
Spanish, but that might be the case for everyone at this point. The teacher’s union wants me to vote as an educator. These attempts to reduce me to a single identity overlook the reality that I am complex— I am a blend of many identities: Latina, female, child of immigrants, educator, renter, urban, bilingual, heterosexual, Catholic, daughter, sister, friend, middle class, first in my family to be born in this country, student of history, listener, observer, reflective practitioner, and lifelong learner. While several of these might not fall into the category of “identity” for some, they have to for me. If I did not possess these intersecting identities, I could not stand where I do, with the perspectives, knowledge, goals, hopes, and aspirations that I have today. My identities have shaped how I view myself as a student, an educator, and a human being; now they shape how I view myself as a developing scholar. Aware of my various identities, I ask myself what is important—and the answers guide how I approach different aspects of 38
Here I Stand
my life to form a coherent whole. What do I want for myself and for my family? What do I want as I continue my education and—tied to this— what do I want for my students, their families, and their communities? How can I use my knowledge not only to continue to grow but also to have a positive impact on the experiences and lives of others? As I learn more about the myriad circumstances that influence education, my interactions with noneducators lead them inevitably to learn more, too, about the complex forces that are at play. As an educator, I am a lifelong learner. If I don’t keep learning, I will stagnate—and my students won’t get as rich an experience as they might otherwise. If I don’t keep learning and listening, I potentially will be a lost resource to the communities I serve. If I don’t keep learning, listening, and observing, I won’t understand the new populations of students I meet, especially when my familiarity with Spanish and Latin cultures (diverse themselves) is not sufficient. This perception, the reliance on the familiar as sufficient for dealing with new and unfamiliar situations, permeates schools. “He really should go to another school,” says a teacher about a newcomer from Africa in a largely black American and Latino school, because the language and cultural tools this teacher had relied upon for so long did not meet this student’s needs. Instead of viewing the student as lacking, how could the school community have addressed its own development to be able to meet his needs? He was not in the school to meet us where we were. We were there to meet him where he was. In my students and their families, I have seen the beauty of immigrants becoming acquainted with schooling in the United States and supporting their children and their children’s schooling however they can. I have imagined what it was like for my immigrant parents to learn what the school system expected of them. While I was aware that these families might be disadvantaged information-wise, in my mind and 39
in my interactions I looked more at what they did have. Quiet did not equate to the absence of care about, or involvement in, their children’s education. Not having experience in the U.S. education system did not mean not having formal education at all. They might not have learned fractions in a classroom, but they cooked, they shopped, and they had plenty of mathematical knowledge to impart through experiences with household economy. My students and their families might not have come with knowledge of English, but they were far from devoid of language skills. My students may not have been proficient in English, but their first language was a base from which to develop a second, and sometimes third, language. Reading a newspaper in the native language informed literacy practices; discussing and asking questions developed oral language and thinking skills; watching the news in Spanish showed an interest in current events. Moreover, even parents who did not have many years of formal schooling held valuable knowledge to pass down to their children. Mothers who attended classes at the school showed that they valued formal education as well, and their children took notice. They would tell me that their children would ask: “What did you learn in class today?” As I worked with them, I emphasized the value of what they knew and how it transferred to their children’s formal education. These families also brought with them essential noncognitive abilities and traits. Support. Esfuerzo. Eagerness. Respeto. Responsibility. Esperanza. Belief. Fe. Now, my own schooling has given me a new language to express how my knowledge, emerging from the intersection of my identities, impacted how I approached these families and their learning; not to pursue a “deficit model” but to respect “funds of knowledge” (González et al. 2005). Through my practice, I saw that “lived experiences [can] become validated as a source of knowledge” (González et al. 2005, 42). Using this lens, I worked to “build on the 40
Here I Stand
language and cultural experience of students, their most important tools for thinking” (González et al. 2005, 276). For over a decade I served as a teacher in New York City public schools; thirteen-and-a-half years of interacting, observing, learning about, and learning from—and now I am back in school full-time. A few times, I have thought—why didn’t I do this years ago? I stand here now because this is when I am meant to stand here, with all the roles I have played and with the identities that have shaped me: my immigrant background, my urban background, all of the learning experiences I have pursued, my historical training feeding my understanding of the larger contexts that we, as educators, sometimes do not know or consider, and my exposure to both the successes and the mistakes of others. I was not meant to pursue this degree years ago. That fire was ignited on March 3, 2011, as I watched doctoral students present their research, work that really could have an impact on what we know about New York City schools. Right there I made my decision: It was time to take the next step. Sitting in class at Michigan State University first semester last year, I read my professional biography in the writings of economist Richard Rothstein. As a teacher, I felt the daily, lived experience (my own “funds of knowledge,” in a sense) being rejected by the language of reform and “no excuses.” My argument never had been that economically disadvantaged students could not attain high academic achievement, but that this was made much more difficult by the obstacles that grew out of poverty: malnutrition, poor health care, and high mobility. I had the language and research now—aha! It wasn’t just what I was feeling all that time or what we educators in East Harlem pointed to in order to protect ourselves. There’s data to back it up. While the reality of what we cannot control can be disheartening, this new information 41
also was freeing for me. My students’ and their families’ experiences and realities were on paper and documented. My colleagues’ experiences were validated by this economist who looked at how aspects of economics—ever more prevalent—affected our kids’ education. I came away with more language and a way to better argue the truth as I have experienced it—and my acquisition of the words to form the arguments keeps developing as I read and discuss more. When I have completed my doctorate, I need to be able to take this great level of knowledge and thought and push it into practice, on the ground. I need the feedback loop running from thought and scholarship into practice and back to thought and scholarship—to be something more than great thought, to become great action and, with time, to develop a new reality for Latinos in the United States. So, in the future, when I hear that the educational attainment gap is closing for Latino immigrant-family youth, I will know that I had a part in making that happen. Reference González, N., Moll, L. C., Floyd Tenery, M., Rivera, A., Rendon, P., Gonzales, R., & Amanti, C. (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practice in households, communities, and classrooms. González, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.) Mahwah, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates.
Elizabeth Gil ( IRT ’95, ’11) is a K–12 educational administration doctoral student and graduate assistant at Michigan State University. Her research interests include the connection between parental involvement, supportive elementary school experiences, and college access and success. Prior to returning to MSU for her doctorate, Elizabeth, a native New Yorker, taught in New York City public schools, where she worked with children, parents, and teachers for more than 10 years.
’Murika’s Educational Ontological Quandary by Richard Meyers
wide range of teaching experiences leaves me stumped as to the direction and future of our fixation on standardized tests with
reductionist answers that fit neatly into Scantron bubble sheets. I have a recurring dream in which I am on the Larry King Live show with Arne Duncan attempting to respond to the prompt: “What is the most important challenge in American education today and how would you overcome it?” I answer the question off the cuff, pulling from my lived experience, all the while being fetishized by the popular media as a “Native American” with ties to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and poverty. Duncan’s ghostwriters and staff prep him, scripting out a cool-sounding epigram/aphorism—something like “all we need to do is inspire our children and give them a chance.” As a former ghostwriter for the government, I’m admittedly a bit jaded when it comes to many of our elected officials’ ability to think on their feet outside of a controlled discourse. Answering questions in real time for the media is about bundling up complexities in society, and attempting to frame a bounded product that is supposed to represent knowledge, albeit an overly simplified demonstration similar to marketing commodities. The Scantron mentality piggybacks well and reinforces the concrete-operational logic described by Piaget, never actually working to build and 43
develop the formal-operational logic stage he so poignantly articulates in his theory of cognitive development. In America, or as the popular comedy show South Park depicts ’Murika, we are fascinated with commercials pitching beer, fashion, vanity, and health so that we somehow can attempt to purchase a notion of happiness through a quick fix. A theorist, a French fellow named Lacan, stated that “needs are satiable while desire is insatiable.” So goes modern capitalism and commercialism. It is hard not to conflate our economic system and logic of the market as though it is human nature and inextricably intertwined with education. This inevitable and somewhat inescapable reality of validating the connection to education and jobs is hard to question, yet the ability to truly embrace a far greater and more meaningful purpose seems to elude our pragmatic discussions. Herein lies the problem that I hope to touch on in this rumination: Human beings are not widgets or products! A quick Google search of Duncan’s whorunsgov.com profile states, “He wrote his undergraduate thesis on America’s underclass and mentored children while playing professional basketball in Australia.” I couldn’t help but get a bit hung up on the terms “underclass” and “mentored”—being a sociolinguistic anthropologist and a writer tends to impose certain perspectives on my interpretations! So, how does my perspective on education, broadly speaking, measure up to the perspective of this education CEO from Chicago? We share some seemingly parallel commonalities: I went to an “elite” undergraduate institution, as did Duncan; I was heavily involved in sports to the professional level, as was Duncan; my father is a social studies teacher, not a psychology professor like Duncan’s; my mother is involved in American Indian child welfare, similar to Duncan’s mother’s involvement in the social welfare of children 44
’Murika’s Educational Ontological Quandary
at her own center; and I majored in anthropology, while Duncan majored in sociology. The insertion of my “written” identity side by side with Duncan’s is intentional on my part, and follows suit with how America hungers for the individual narrative that validates an identity we all can relate to somehow. I do this not because my identity is essential to building my credibility, but because people don’t seem to dig hard enough beneath the surface to truly expose the complexities of cultural upbringing, socioeconomic variables, and psychological factors—all of which are involved in shaping people’s outlooks and philosophies. We often accept the superficial, glossy headlines and first layers of discourse or stories. On paper, I am just as qualified as Mr. Duncan, if not more so with graduate training and teaching experience behind me, to share my views on education in America. Though he and I would be considered similar if one were to construct curricula vitae for paper comparison, I believe we are a million miles apart in our reference points and notions of personhood and philosophical outlook on what it means to be an “educator” involved in American education. I have taught in upper-income, suburban schools as well as in lower-income, inner-city domains at the junior high and high school levels. I also have taught my tiyospaye (extended family) in a K–12 school in South Dakota. I have taught at Middlebury College, been an adjunct professor at American University in Washington, D.C., and now am building a program in American Indian Studies at South Dakota State University, in addition to being the university’s director of tribal relations. I have taught, and been a student, alongside “underclass” students, some of who are “Dominant” culture and others of a “Minority” 45
background (the quotation marks note the difficulty in ascribing these two categories without invoking discussions on socioeconomic class, which perpetually evades popular American discourse). I’ve been on an American Indian reservation, as both a student and a teacher, where the Dominant and Minority cultures are themselves “Minorities.” Acknowledging this wide array of disparate locales and domains as an educator and trying to pinpoint the most salient challenge I see in American education is a bit tough. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome in American education is the notion of creating homogenous and standardized automatons that are satisfied with “Racing to the Top.” I recall Mr. Duncan spearheading a “Race to the Top” program. It’s one of those idiomatic epigrams that need dissecting. His overall position on education superimposes the private sector model of production and compensation on education. This clouds the creative potential of education. Maybe that works for companies and the capitalist drive for profit, but I do not believe it instills a thirst for knowledge beyond the self, or a desire to forge a healthy community. From any of the locations in which I have taught, the question that always arises is how to connect with the students to allow learning to occur. Rapport is one of the most crucial elements for facilitating the transmission of stories, knowledge, and dialogue—all crucial elements to acquiring education in the broadest sense. Superimposing the business model paradigm of “racing” to some notion of the “top” assumes that there is a finite spot to be reached in an arborescent, hierarchical schema. The standards-based education mentality upheld by Duncan is based on the belief that setting baseline standards and establishing measures can improve individual outcomes in education. However, this empirical push and pressure to 46
’Murika’s Educational Ontological Quandary
try to legitimize progress for policy purposes is somewhat troubling. Once a firm grasp of scientific methodology and concepts of what it means to “frame” data and close data sets in order to manipulate them is understood, the more interesting questions seem to arise regarding the theoretical and ontological frame used to circumscribe data: Meaning that the questions of to what “standard,” defined “by whom” and “for what,” are usually missing from the discussions on education, as people jump immediately to terms and idioms like “deficiencies” and “Annual Yearly Progress” without even knowing what is actually being measured culturally. With regard to American Indian education, what constitutes knowledge and viability in a cultural sense for a tribal community versus the cosmopolitan knowledge needed to master SATs or other tests for entrance into an “elite” institution are distinctions often left unarticulated. Lest I leave a portrait of American education to fester in a pool of gloom, as the trajectory of its current status indicates, it behooves me not to insert a more plausible option that nurtures both the humanity and the creativity of students and educators. Imagine the possibilities of reducing class sizes so that the economic need for more teachers becomes essential. The incredible impact could realize what “elite” colleges and institutions already understand: Low student-to-teacher ratios yield superior learning environments that nurture creativity. The Finnish hold creativity, and the profession of teaching, in high regard; they pay educators well, with great results. Major adjustments are necessary if the United States is to climb back from its fallen stature in the educational sphere so that it is on par with the other global industrialized nations. Put simply, we need more teachers and smaller class sizes with an emphasis on creativity and writing. Test taking assumes answers to reality in a bounded way, whereas writing 47
intimates wrestling with the complexities and nuances of cultural collision, diverse human interaction, and interpretation—all integral to successful civil society and a communicative global community. Education should be an enriching and creative journey that attempts to blend the diversity of society in hopes of achieving a more harmonious global community, not one that has a few people at the “top” imposing a structure of standards for those who are “underclass.”
Richard Meyers (IRT ’97) is an Oglala (Lakota) Sioux tribal member. He currently serves as South Dakota State University’s director of tribal relations and the program coordinator/director of American Indian studies. In 2004, he attained an MA degree in cultural anthropology from ASU and an MA degree in English from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. In 2008, he earned a PhD degree in cultural anthropology from Arizona State University.
Ruminations on Presence, Position, and Purpose by Danica C. Tisdale Fisher
s a woman of color, I am constantly reminded of how I am both received and perceived within and outside the academy. As a
woman of color with a PhD who has chosen to work in administrative capacities in higher education, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m even more aware of the ways in which my identity creates unexpected opportunities and presents unique challenges. As early as my second year of graduate study toward a PhD in womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s studies, I knew I would not pursue tenure-track teaching positions. I had a keen sense of my personal and professional interests, and a clear understanding of the kind of work that would suit with my diverse skill set. Before graduating, I completed an intensive grant-writing course, sought a summer internship with an educational organization, and eventually was hired as a full-time employee of a well-respected national nonprofit. My first job after graduate school was in fellowships advising at a small, private liberal arts college in Southern California. I was quite fortunate to be hired by an energetic and innovative supervisor who recognized that my unique skill set would add value to her office, even though I was overqualified for the position. A progressive white ally to communities of color on campus, she was hopeful that as one 49
of a handful of black faculty and staff, I would bring a much-needed perspective to conversations on diversity and inclusion that were ongoing at the college. From my first day on the job, she insisted that I be introduced as “Dr. Fisher” and that students be encouraged to address me as such. Though I hadn’t really given the matter much thought or weight, I understood her desire to ensure that I be acknowledged as a scholar and as an administrator. To her, it was important that I assert my position as both an administrator and an intellectual in an environment that often had been labeled as unwelcoming and hostile to students, staff, and faculty of color. On one of my first official outings as a member of the administrative staff, my supervisor introduced me to a retired senior administrator as “Dr. Fisher.” She explained to him that she felt it was important that students acknowledge me in this way, and that faculty and staff recognize my experience and accomplishments in the academy. She went on to articulate her delight in having someone with my credentials on her staff. The older white gentleman seemed quite perplexed and looked at us squarely before pronouncing rather sternly, “Well, we don’t really do that here. We’re pretty informal.” My supervisor and I stood still for a moment, both of us stunned by his abruptness. Something in his words, and in the way he said them, had stung. I wasn’t quite sure how to name it in that moment, but I knew that I had been reduced and dismissed. Moreover, I’d been silenced as I unsuccessfully searched for my voice and for the proper response. For a moment, I thought that perhaps I was being too sensitive. Then I stepped back and realized that his microaggressive response was an overt attempt not only to put me in my place, but also to preserve and maintain an established hierarchy that was not prepared to 50
Ruminations on Presence, Position, and Purpose
assign me more power or privilege than it thought I deserved. Further, it occurred to me that the very reasons why my supervisor felt it was necessary that I be afforded the respect of a title I had earned were the same reasons why he could not afford me that respect. The fact that I was the only African American on the administrative staff, at any level, to hold a PhD, and that this fact, in and of itself, was significant in this particularly homogeneous community, was of no significance to him. This kind of indifference has been the hallmark of treatment that people of color have experienced at the institution. It also became the reason why I saw my work thereâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;both inside and outside the scope of my job descriptionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;as critically important. I share this story as just one unfortunate incident in what turned out to be an invaluable working and learning experience. I extended myself as a mentor to students who were eager to build relationships with people of color on the campus, and I worked to attract and retain the interest of several students who had not considered the fellowships process as a viable academic pursuit. I was a noticeable presence on the campus and helped to increase the visibility of the fellowships office across the institution. Furthermore, in an act of self-preservation, I reached out to build my own network of professional colleagues of all backgrounds who I believed to be allies and who I eventually called friends. I now serve as an administrator at a university that, in many ways, is diametrically opposed to the college where I served before. However, similar conversations on diversity and inclusion persist here, and many of the same tensions that emerge from difficult dialogues are in this new place, as well. Recently, a student whom I mentored at the college where I formerly worked reminded me of the role that I must continue to play in these spaces. She visited me in Boston before traveling to Nigeria for an exciting research opportunity. After an often-marginalized and 51
isolated college experience, she now is spreading her wings and finding supportive communities that are pushing her toward excellence. This leg of her journey is the culmination of years of hard work and many hours spent sitting in my office thinking through and planning her next steps. We laughed about some shared experiences in our former community and talked about the exciting opportunities that lay ahead for her. At the end of our visit, she expressed that having me at the college and as a mentor had made a difference in her life and in the lives of others that I’d worked with in that year. Her words affirmed my desire to continue the work of challenging institutional hierarchies by being present, intentional, visible, and engaged. I think back to my exchange with that retired administrator and understand it as an essential moment in my development, both personally and professionally. It was not the first time I had been challenged in such a way, and it most certainly will not be the last. I am, however, made more confident by the knowledge that my presence and position as a black female administrator in the academy is important and necessary. I’m also reminded, as spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson writes, that my playing small will never serve the world. I believe I am fortunate to have learned these lessons at this point in my career, and I am more determined than ever to help others do the same.
Danica C. Tisdale Fisher (IRT ’00) is a program administrator in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, where she oversees the Active Citizenship Fellowship, Honos Civicus honor society, and Tisch College Fund. A graduate of Spelman College and Temple University with BA and MA degrees, respectively, in English, Danica earned a PhD degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies from Emory University in 2012.
Sacred Ground, Traveling Light: Personal Reflections on University-Community Tourism Engagement by Rolando D. Herts
A Traveler’s Epiphany O land and soil, red soil and sweet-gum tree, So scant of grass, so profligate of pines, Now just before an epoch’s sun declines Thy son, in time, I have returned to thee, Thy son, I have in time returned to thee.1
he transformational power of travel is integral to American cultural heritage. From Richard Wright’s classic autobiography
Black Boy, which documents the protagonist’s life-altering voyage from rural Mississippi to Chicago, to Robert Frost’s timeless meditation on the power of following paths not often followed, the traveler is a symbol of freedom, independence, serendipity, and even rebirth. My traveler’s epiphany started on a quiet, sun-drenched afternoon drive along I-287 in central New Jersey, where an exurban The second stanza from Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer’s poem “Song of the Son.” The poem is published in Toomer’s 1923 novel Cane. 1
section of the highway arcs in multiple directions. I had traveled this way to my dissertation field research residence in Newark many times after visits with my adviser at Rutgers-New Brunswick: Simply follow the signs to I-78 East, marked “New York City.” For some reason, this time I was not paying attention to the signs, because I came to a proverbial point of divergence. Whether by some unseen force or my own carelessness, I found myself on the off-ramp that led to I-78 West toward Pennsylvania. Of course, I did not fully realize my error until I merged with light traffic heading directly toward the late afternoon sun. I managed to feel only slightly annoyed with myself, as I was certain that the next exit would allow me to turn around and access I-78 East traveling toward Newark. The exit I took turned out truly to be a road less traveled, a road into a place of the past. An intuitively inspired right onto Rattlesnake Bridge Road took me breezing down a hill with bucolic landscapes on either side of me. As I approached the end of Rattlesnake Bridge, I found myself in the center of a sleepy hamlet called Lamington. I made a right onto a two-lane highway, as the majority of the community’s major structures—a church, a school, a country antiques shop that was once a general store—were in that direction. About half a mile later, I felt compelled to make a right onto a one-lane road that provided frontage to a stately colonial manor. I continued down the road, passing a few other impressive homes until I felt gravel crunching under the weight of my vehicle, which prompted me to reduce its speed significantly. Inching along, I found myself on a dirt road surrounded by towering woods, much like one might find in the rural South. I looked to my right. Atop a small embankment, there was a modest-looking wrought iron fence mounted in stone with steps leading to a gate. “Curious to find this here,” I thought to myself. 56
Sacred Ground, Traveling Light
I turned the car around to get a closer look at a granite plaque situated at the entrance. The plaque read â&#x20AC;&#x153;Lamington Black Cemetery.â&#x20AC;? I was astonished. I had never heard that a burial site for former slaves and free Blacks even existed in this area. I got out of the car and ascended the stone stairway, not once thinking of getting back to Newark. My thoughts were only of being immersed in the quietude of that sacred place. Perhaps the same unseen force that brought me there also led me to a weathered wooden bench among the trees. I sat there and reflected on how my traveling spirit had been longing to find a place that would welcome other weary travelers like me who wanted to find a home.
Photo credit: J. Graham
Traveling a Road Less Traveled: Discovering UniversityCommunity Tourism Engagement While sitting on that bench at Lamington Black Cemetery, I began to reflect on certain aspects of my life. Over the past decade, I had experienced several professional incarnations. I had served as an administrator, teacher, researcher, and public service professional in a variety of settings, including the University of Chicago, the rural Mississippi Delta region with Teach For America and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the University of Georgia, and Rutgers University in New Brunswick and Newark. The serpentine path that I had traveled to these various destinations was characterized by an overarching theme: my unwavering commitment to help develop mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationships among underrepresented populations and institutions of higher education. Indeed, it was the university-community partnerships and engagement movement that inspired me to pursue a PhD in urban and regional planning. Before matriculating through the PhD program at Rutgers, I was not aware that tourism planning even existed as a subfield, nor was I aware of how it eventually would influence the trajectory of my dissertation research process and, more broadly, my career in higher education. I was enlightened by readings about community-based tourism development (Garcia and Claver 2003; Mason 2003), regional tourism partnerships (Araujo and Bramwell 2002), the connection between festival/event tourism and destination image development (Buhalis 2000; Getz 2008; Holcomb 1999), and collaboration theory as a way to understand how tourism organizations and their stakeholders should partner locally and regionally (Bramwell and Lane 2000; Jamal and Getz 1995). I even discovered scholarship on colleges and universities serving the public as affordable tourist attractions and as 58
Sacred Ground, Traveling Light
promoters and stewards of socially responsible tourism development (Connell 1996, 2000). Collectively, these writings provided insights into connections between tourism and university-community partnership activity, which ultimately led me to codify university-community tourism engagement as a new line of research (Herts 2013). Navigating the Lonely Town of Newark While at Lamington Black Cemetery, I reflected further on how tourism-planning scholarship framed my incarnation as a housing and community development intern in the city of Newark. I fell in love with Newark that summer: its architectural and artistic attractions, its jazz and hip-hop music heritage, its cultural festivals, and its internationally diverse citizenry. In that brief time, I envisioned Newark as a destination for people who, like me, appreciate the thrill of discovery in unexpected places. While Newark has emerged in recent years as a sporting event destination with the opening of the Prudential Center, the idea of Newark being redeveloped through tourism was quite far-fetched just a little more than 10 years ago. It is important to note the political and social context of the time. In 2002, the entrenched incumbent mayor, Sharpe James—who now is viewed as a textbook example of corrupt municipal government regime building and its legal, cultural, and developmental consequences—in a close race beat the younger candidate who many viewed as Newark’s brave new hope, Newark’s current mayor and New Jersey’s Democratic U.S. senatorial candidate, Cory Booker. Walking the streets of downtown Newark as an intern a few months after the infamous 2002 election battle,2 The 2002 Newark mayoral election is the subject of the 2005 Academy Award-nominated documentary Street Fight, directed by filmmaker Marshall Curry. See http://www.streetfightfilm.com/ for more information. 2
I realized as I spoke with area residents that hopes for a change in Newark had burned out and into nothing, like visually elusive wisps of summer pavement heat. Sidewalks swarming with locals were navigated hastily by a smattering of office types who, like me, chose to escape their isolated, air-conditioned perches for a quick bite or errand. As a newcomer to Newark and to New Jersey, my aim for going out for lunch was less about needing to eat and more about wanting to connect; to understand the stateâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s largest city and the cultural dynamics among the people who lived and worked there. I observed that for office types like me, Newark could feel like a lonely town. The divisions between locals and office types were clear. Locals gathered intermittently during their strolls to slap hands and backs, sometimes hugging if it was someone whom they had not seen since high school; smiling in some cases, and in others, side eyeing the occasional office type with steadfast suspicion. Among this group, familiarity was key, and trust was like hard-earned currency that bought respect and credibility in the streets. Office typesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;often distinguished by crisp attire, smart bags, and designer sunglassesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; walked briskly to their destinations as if on autopilot, oblivious to exchanges among the locals and their meanings. This could be any major city at lunchtime, of course; however, the sheer concentration of locals who came downtown by bus, by light rail, or even on foot was astounding. The four corners of Broad and Market streets were anchors of their social world. This was the place to catch up on the latest gossip, to hear the latest bootlegged tunes, to buy and sell the latest gear, or simply to be seen. Ultimately, these interactions seemed to be about attaining and maintaining social capital, a quite valuable asset in the insular urban domain of Newark. 60
Sacred Ground, Traveling Light
Working at an affordable housing organization in one of the office buildings on tony Park Place, I found it ironic to hear the pervasive contempt for locals at lunchtime. I learned that Newark’s Gateway Center—the corporate mixed-use development connected with skyways so that its office types would never have to touch the streets of Newark3—was considered one of a few safe places to go out for lunch. In order to get there safely from Park Place, one would need to walk through the moderately safe Public Service Energy & Gas plaza (“Be sure to avoid the bus stop around there, because ‘they’ like to gather there,” I would hear time and time again). I learned that walking to the Ironbound for lunch—while it was a mere 10 minutes away on foot taking the sidewalks—really was not a good idea, because you never knew what you might run into on the streets, unless you made your way quickly to the Gateway Center. Lunchtime did not offer very many options: Either stay in the office and freeze under the air conditioning, or venture outside and devise ways to avoid real and often disturbing images of poverty, disinvestment, and failed municipal government manifest in some members of Newark’s local population. That summer of 2002, the hope that something would be done to change these images seemed to have gone. Two distinct worlds remained that rarely, if ever, came together. How could such an environment welcome visitors? What tourist would want to come to a place where even daily downtown visitors (i.e., office types) found it a chore to go out and enjoy a local restaurant due to safety perception and destination image issues? Moreover, what present and historic racial and socioeconomic tensions might be aggravated by an image cleanup for the sake of For a critical analysis of Gateway Center as a symbol of racial and socioeconomic segregation in Newark, see Thomas Dolan’s “Newark and Its Gateway Complex” in Rutgers-Newark’s online magazine The Newark Metro, available at http://www.newarkmetro.rutgers.edu/reports/display.php?id=17 (retrieved August 22, 2013). 3
attracting visitors to the city? With crime and gang activity rampant and a general malaise about change for the better ever occurring, the prospect of Newark ever becoming a tourist destination was dismal in 2002, as it had been in previous years, according to locals and office types alike. Newark in Qualified Context Being among the spirits in Lamington Black Cemetery reminded me that the progress of my people came through struggle, through sacrifice, through radical thoughts put into action. Tourism development in Newark was, and still is, by some standards, a radical concept. Between observations gathered during my summer internship in Newark and tourism planning readings collected through coursework, I began to believe that tourism partnerships could help to bridge Newarkâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dichotomous social environment: the realm of the elitesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;represented by higher education institutions like Rutgers in Newarkâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and the realm of the streets. My doctoral qualifying exams clarified how planning theory could be used to realize my vision of advancing community-based tourism partnership development in Newark. I wrote about how critics of the so-called rational planning model illuminated injustices and failures of urban renewal projects from previous decades. They sought to make amends by advancing new paradigms such as communicative planning and advocacy planning (Friedmann 1987; Yiftachel 1989). The scholars behind these alternative planning approaches intended to give voice to marginalized and underrepresented groups upon whose communities comprehensive municipal and regional master plans had been imposed without their input. Despite such efforts to right the wrongs of the rational planning model, most alternative approaches have been criticized for 62
Sacred Ground, Traveling Light
continuing to advance aspects of the rational model that inspired these alternative responses in the first place: an emphasis on the primacy of expert knowledge and assumptions of equal access despite structural inequalities based on race, class, and gender (Allmendinger 2002). As an African American planning scholar dedicated to improving quality of life for underrepresented and marginalized groups, these critiques caught my attention. Sandercock (1998), in particular, speaks to the importance of empowering marginalized groups by engaging them in planning processes that ultimately can create positive, sustainable quality-of-life changes in their communities. As I wrote the theory exam essay, I began to see a new path unfolding before me. It was time for me to act on what I observed that summer in Newark. It was time for me to put thought and theory into action, to give a shot at bringing two social worlds together in the lonely town that somehow made me, an office type and a visitor, feel at home. The Road Ahead My time at Lamington Black Cemetery helped me to appreciate that the path I had been traveling, while seemingly serpentine, had been unfolding as it should all along. I do not claim by any means to have had a smooth ride. The road wasâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and still isâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;curvy, bumpy, and perilous at times. From nearly leaving my doctoral program voluntarily in 2003 to being struck by a car as a pedestrian in 2008, I had many daunting challenges before arriving at Lamington Black Cemetery. Yet there I was, alive and basking in the blessed light of the sun, surrounded by welcoming spirits revealing next steps in my progression in that sacred place.
After completing my qualifying exams, I accepted a position with the Office of University-Community Partnerships at RutgersNewark. The office manages three organizational units related to community-based tourism planning and development: community partnerships and engagement, conference and event management, and campus and visitor information. Taking the position has allowed me not only to watch tourism planning and development efforts come to fruition in Newark, but also to connect Rutgers with such efforts and to connect community entities with Rutgers, thus allowing me to apply various aspects of my university-community tourism partnership research to the real world. Within the past year, our office has worked with the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau and other community partners on a number of projects to promote the city and our campus as cooperative destinations. We organized the filming of a series of videos featuring Mayor Booker to promote Super Bowl XLVIII in New York and New Jersey. We launched the WorldHost/ Rutgers-Newark Visitor Service Training Program, a workshop that I facilitated toward stimulating job readiness, entrepreneurialism, and pride of place among unemployed Newark residents, as well as Rutgers-Newark students who are from the city. Soon, we will be traveling to the University of Le Havre in France to present a paper on metropolitan universities and community tourism engagement. The paper will feature Rutgers-Newark as a case study. These and other activities were revealed to me that day in Lamington Black Cemetery, not in actual, vivid color, but as sunlit impressions of interesting opportunities that would come if I remained true to myself and to others about what I was brought here to do. I am hopeful that this is the dawning of my vision. 64
Sacred Ground, Traveling Light
Photo credit: J. Graham
Still Traveling O Negro slaves, dark purple ripened plums, Squeezed, and bursting in the pine-wood air, Passing, before they stripped the old tree bare One plum was saved for me, one seed becomes An everlasting song, a singing tree, Caroling softly souls of slavery, What they were, and what they are to me, Caroling softly souls of slavery.4
I left Lamington Black Cemetery that sun-drenched afternoon lifted by ancestral energies. I am a brave, new son still traveling; a strong, shining beam of light with the beauty of life and wisdom radiating from within, ready to share stories of struggle and triumph and the lessons that my traveling spirit has learned. There are places where travelers go to renew their spirits, travelers like me who have stories and lessons of transformation to share. The penultimate and final stanzas from Jean Toomer’s poem “Song of the Son.”
These places remind us that, despite the challenges and disappointments we may encounter along our paths, our spirits of light remain intact. We also are reminded that we are fighting to tell the stories of spirits that came before us, stories that live on in places hidden and places found. At Lamington Black Cemetery, I found a reflection of my traveling spirit and the work that it must continue to do to give voice to communities that historically have not been heard. I since have learned that Rutgers actually has figured prominently in preserving Lamington Black Cemetery. As I continue my journey, I am confident that I will encounter more places like Lamington Black Cemetery where spirits can be renewed unexpectedly. I also am confident that there is much more that educational institutions can do to renew traveling spirits by promoting and celebrating places of history, heritage, and healing. References Allmendinger, Philip. (2002). Towards a post-positivist typology of planning theory. Planning Theory, 1 (1): 77-99. Araujo, L. M. de and B. Bramwell. (2002). Partnership and regional tourism in Brazil. Annals of Tourism Research, 29 (4): 1138-1164. Buhalis, D. (2000). Marketing the competitive destination of the future. Tourism Management, 21 (1): 97-116. Bramwell, B. and B. Lane, eds. (2000). Tourism collaboration and partnerships: Politics, practice and sustainability. Clevedon: Channel View. Connell, J. (1996). A study of tourism on university campus sites. Tourism Management, 17(7): 541â&#x20AC;&#x201C;544. Connell, J. (2000). The role of tourism in the socially responsible university. Current Issues in Tourism, 3(1): 1â&#x20AC;&#x201C;19. Friedmann, J. 1987. Planning in the public domain: From knowledge to action. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sacred Ground, Traveling Light Garcia, M. and N. Claver. (2003). Barcelona: governing coalitions, visitors, and the changing city center. In Cities and Visitors: Regulative People, Markets, and City Space, Lilly M. Hoffman, Susan S. Fainstein, and Dennis R. Judd, eds. Oxford: Blackwell. Getz, D. (2008). Event tourism: Definition, evolution, and research. Tourism Management, 29(3): 403-428. Herts, R. (2013). From outreach to engaged placemaking: Understanding public land-grant university involvement with tourism planning and development. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 17(1): 97-111. Holcomb, B. (1999). Marketing cities for tourism. In The Tourist City, Dennis Judd and Susan Fainstein, eds. New Haven: Yale University Press. Inskeep, E. (1991). Tourism planning: An integrated and sustainable development approach. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. Jamal, T., and D. Getz. (1995). Collaboration theory and community tourism planning. Annals of Tourism Research, 22: 186–204. Mason, P. (2003). Tourism impacts, planning and management. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann. Sandercock, L. (1998). Towards cosmopolis: Planning for multicultural cities. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. Toomer, J. (1923). Cane. New York: Boni and Liveright. Yiftachel, O. (1989). Towards a new typology of urban planning theories. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 16: 23-39.
Rolando D. Herts ( IRT ’94, ’00) is associate director with the Office of University-Community Partnerships at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in Newark. His research interests include university-community engagement, community-based tourism planning, place promotion/marketing, community and regional development, and interorganizational collaboration. He holds a BA degree in English from Morehouse College, a master’s degree in social science from the University of Chicago, and a PhD degree in planning and public policy from Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
Scrap the Gap: Moving Toward a Paradigm Shift in Education by Luis Omar Rosario
he statements, perspective, and motivation behind this piece are strongly informed by my own journey as an educator, member of
the community, and cultural custodian. I must acknowledge the development and practical experience I have attained as a Rites of Passage facilitator under the Sankofa Passages Program in both Philadelphia and Boston. These experiences have allowed me to view the context of our young men of color at the experiential, emotional, schoolstructural, family, and developmental levels. While these powerful experiences inform me, I have been intentional in including historical and intellectual sources to support both the background and argument I utilize in this treatise. The inspiration I have acquired from my “work in the trenches” is backed by a more structural analysis of our society in political, economic, social, and cultural frameworks. Introduction The academic achievement gap is the most widely discussed subject in the American education system. According to the National Education Association, the academic achievement gap is “often defined as the 68
Scrap the Gap
differences between the test scores of minority and/or low income students and their white and Asian peers.” According to the website of The Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, the disparity is even larger between young men of color and other groups (2013). Statements, images, audio clips, videos, workshops, and educational recruitment fairs use language referring to the achievement gap to push specific agendas. The two most common goals have been to either make theoretical arguments about our school systems or recruit teachers and other educational professionals directly to work with underserved student populations. For instance, Teach For America (2013) acknowledges that “children who are born into poverty are half as likely to graduate high school as their peers in other communities.” KIPP Charter Schools (2013) states that “most students entering our schools perform well below in English and math,” adding that they dramatically increase those scores while enrolled in a KIPP school. In addition, the School District of Philadelphia (2013) holds dear to the vision that “all children can reach their potential and that the achievement gap can be eliminated.” Moreover, the two most overarching policies in education, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top, heavily utilize comparative assessments (test scores) to determine how schools nationwide receive funding. These systems are broken, as schools that are in the highest need of resources often are ignored by the incentives provided for reaching higher benchmarks. This orientation toward repairing this gap in test scores, grades, attendance, and dropout rates has failed us as educators, community members, students, and citizens of the United States. In this paper, I propose that a different lexicon be used in reference to the challenges we face in education. I will utilize Gloria Ladson-Billings’ idea of “educational debt” as a more holistic framework to analyze the foundational causes of the academic achievement gap. To understand 69
and take ownership of a new language and a new lens, first we must understand our current paradigm more fully. To this end, I will give a brief historical analysis of some of the factors that prevent our communities from engaging in a holistic education. Then I will discuss how the current dialogue and implementation of assessment-centric school reform has failed our students tremendously. I will discuss what is required in terms of expanding our lexicons, agenda-building faculties, and future frameworks for restructuring our system of education. This agenda-building stage ushers in new and expanded responsibilities and positions of honor among our educators, who currently are treated as assembly line employees. Lastly, this document serves not only as a treatise but also as a call to action for administrators and teachers to reimagine and restore their rightful place as community members. Background and Foundation As we know our story, we know our power. â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Listervelt Middleton
To truly understand the myriad factors that affect underachieving students, who are disproportionately students of color, we must comprehend the tangible factors that undergird the lives of our communities. Schools do not exist as islands; they have a very intimate and complex relationship with the communities in which they exist. I will analyze several historical and material conditions that have hindered underserved communities from being honored by both public and private forms of education in this country. Ladson-Billings (2013) uses a metaphor of educational debt to describe the cumulative injustices that have occurred against marginalized communities. She argues that to look at the achievement gap on an annual basis 70
Scrap the Gap
gives us a very short-term view of what is occurring in our school system (5). Instead, by looking at the long-term factors that contribute to these constantly recurring patterns of school arrangements, we can better understand how to address these factors. I will expand upon these factors by speaking directly to the experiences of African American and Latino populations, to frame an action plan. Historical Debt Ladson-Billings (2006) argues that, by looking at history, we can analyze the damages imposed upon populations of color by “the major leaders of our nation who endorsed ideas about the inferiority of blacks, Latino/a and native peoples” (6). The long-term material conditions caused by the policies of this country are not discussed often, and largely are ignored by educational policy makers and the media. Yet, these policies are collectively the largest contributors to why many of this country’s institutions have oppressive relationships with people of color. For example, while the slavery of African peoples is typically at least acknowledged by the media and school curricula, the present and long-ranging effects of slavery are overlooked as a historical footnote. The slave trade was much more than an isolated act of history. In order to quell the very real threat of rebellion, mutiny, revolution, and war, European slave merchants created a long-term plan of pacification that was meant to ideologically hinder recently enslaved Africans. According to Adams (2006), this process was extensive in Haiti, when the Spanish responded with war, slavery, and widespread cultural domination to the rebellions launched by indigenous Taino and Carib caciques1 such as Caonabo and Anacaona (15). This process of violent assault and colonization Chieftains and community leaders.
toward African, Taino, Carib, and Arawak peoples continued strongly in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States. Despite the widespread physical and economic brutality that people of color have faced, “African people never forgot who they were” due to cultural resiliency, community building, and adaptation to new lands (Adams 1995, 32). Yet, according to Albert Memmi (1965), the process of colonization necessitates the creation of institutions that uphold the colonizers (primarily European) and degrade the largely African and indigenous colonized (91). One of the foundational institutions of Western society is the school. What is most relevant to our students of color is what they are learning about themselves in their educative process. An analysis of today’s schools strongly supports that there is a trend of negligence and damage being inflicted toward students of African and indigenous decent. As of September 25, 2013, the Schott Foundation’s research shows that white males have a 26 percent higher graduation rate than black males and a 20 percent higher rate than Latino males. This trend is the crux of the achievement gap argument, yet it neglects the histories of subjugation and cultural onslaught previously discussed. Taking a walk in today’s public schools reveals a continuation of the patterns that began with slavery and colonization. Young boys of primarily Latino and African American descent are treated in specific ways that hinder their potential to receive a holistic education. They are detained, suspended, and expulsed more frequently than any other youth population. While researchers such as Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu (2011) demonstrate that students benefit greatly from engaging in their multiple intelligences (kinesthetic, oratory, spatial-logical, etc.), schools continue to rely disproportionately on repetition and regurgitation of speech and written word. Most 72
Scrap the Gap
poignant of all is that the ethnicity and worldviews of most teaching staff do not reflect the cultural diversity of the student population. According to Pedro Noguera (2003), “the discipline practices utilized in schools bear a striking similarity to the strategies used to punish adults in society” (342). Even newly built and aesthetically pleasing schools experience dynamics of forced silence, linguistic assimilation among English language learners, and a discipline process that is punitive rather than transformative. This is especially true for young men of color. Economic Debt The wealth gap between people of color and white people has been increasing dramatically over the past few decades, although there has been a disparity since the founding of this country. According to Claud Anderson (2001), white people held about 20 times the wealth of their ethnic counterparts before the most recent economic recession (17). Materially, this is the largest gap we have to address in this country. Without the financial, political, and social resources that wealth brings, not only will marginalized communities continue to experience an “academic achievement gap” yearly, but also their potential leverage to change the situation politically will continue to decrease as other, wealthier communities become more resistant to lending their economic aid. Much of the economic disparity takes place within the realm of home ownership. Historically, the white population has owned their own homes at a higher proportion than people of color. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2013), non-Hispanic whites have a 73.3 percent homeownership rate compared to 42.9 percent for the black population and 45.9 percent for the Hispanic population. 73
According to NPR (2013), between 2007 and 2010, Hispanic families lost a staggering 44 percent of their wealth while black families lost 31 percent, a large part of which can be attributed to the loss of homes due to foreclosure. The question of housing has strong implications because wealth has historically influenced politics in this country. Thus, it is of little surprise that cities in which people lose a large portion of their wealth also are subject to a reduction of services in their school districts due to a lack of tax funds and related economic factors. The relationship between community wealth and school success is reciprocal. On August 10, 2013, the Philadelphia school district announced that schools might not open on the original opening date of September 9 because of a lack of funds from the city and state. After a number of harrowing days of dialogue, protest, negotiation, and silence, the district received the $50 million required to run a barebones program in most schools. Many schools in the city currently are running without counselors, security, secretaries, assistant principals, and the myriad staff that support educators and students on a daily basis. Seen merely through a decontextualized year-by-year framework, this situation is an anomaly. However, through the lens of historical inequalities and misallocation of human and financial resources, the school district inevitably is following an economic and political pattern of dismantlement. Action Plan: How to Respond Holistically to the Debts The debts that have â&#x20AC;&#x153;accruedâ&#x20AC;? against our children of color get occasional attention in university classrooms and in political meetings, but these dialogues are missing an essential ingredient: practical agendas. Much of the dialogue concerning the achievement gap has taken place 74
Scrap the Gap
without considering the historical, economic, and cultural factors that have tangibly accrued against people of color. In response, I propose an ideological and logistical overhaul of at least two aspects of our educative process: teacher training programs and schools. Teacher Training Programs Universities and teacher training programs have an enormous potential to assist in ameliorating some of the aforementioned factors by reorienting their relationships with the communities in which they reside. As a practical example, large universities such as Temple University in Philadelphia, Columbia University in New York, and Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., can benefit their communities by fostering programs that specifically train community members to become educators, school staff, and school leaders. This would require a change in philosophy on recruitment and would necessitate the creation of more substantial partnerships with local schools, community organizations, and faith institutions. Community members would have a high degree of ownership in their own neighborhoods and could foster a more profound understanding about their neighborhoods. In addition to this structural change by universities, teaching programs must begin to reflect a much more serious understanding of cultural pluralism. There are many efforts to promote cultural understanding among students, but few policies have been enacted that respond to culturally grounded pedagogy. This includes African and indigenous systems of socialization, rites of passage, and community development. Such systems do exist and have existed for centuries. As an example of such a system, Asa G. Hilliard III (1998) strongly affirmed that â&#x20AC;&#x153;the African worldview does not emphasize individuals. The individual is part of a group, an ethnic group, a 75
collective. The individual is bonded through the education processâ&#x20AC;? (109). This collective orientation has been lacking in the urban high schools I have worked at in North Philadelphia and South Boston. These schools emphasized a more individualized and competitive ideal based on the technical skills one could attain in the arts, the sciences, and even activities such as the ROTC. This is linked to how teacher education has been structured to emphasize the importance of strategies and methods for teaching students, especially young men of color (Hilliard 1995). I believe that there must be an ideological and pedagogical paradigm shift concerning the way in which student teachers are ushered into holding the responsibility of becoming community educators. There are many who are doing good work in regard to revitalizing ancient forms of education that emphasize the development of the mind, body, and spirit of the individual in a community context. In addition, teaching in a community entails much more than being an instructor in a building; it entails being a part of the economic, political, and cultural life of that community. Thus, I challenge universities to diversify their teacher practicums to include immersive and contextualized experiences for their student teachers. Although this is a multifaceted challenge, many institutions have the potential to collaborate with their ethnic and gender studies programs, which are actively utilizing critical and holistic styles of facilitation. Schools Every student, teacher, and parent brings with them a world of possibilities. These can be realized if the people involved unify on economic, political, and social levels. Schools have become symbols of an educative process that is disconnected from reality. Yet, school 76
Scrap the Gap
districts, in conjunction with local governments and businesses, can make radical changes by integrating schools with every aspect of their communityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s economic activity. It is completely possible for schools to become centers of commerce and sustainable economic activity (construction, urban gardening, the arts, city beautification), and to prepare their students to be vital custodians of their own home area. This, however, would require a major shift in how schools measure success. While there is a large value in utilizing assessments to measure cognitive measures (such as math, reading, and writing scores), there may be even more value in measuring the economic sustainability of public schools. Conclusion The aforementioned suggestions regarding the overhaul of teacher training programs and schools are long-term and complex. Yet, both propose changes that would drastically increase creativity, purpose, and sustainability around teacher education and the empowerment of schools as economic institutions. Paradigm shifts cannot be prescribed and presented; they can be created only through a gradual and arduous collective process. Yet, we cannot begin to shift our material conditions if our minds remain fixated on the short-term â&#x20AC;&#x153;achievement gapâ&#x20AC;? every year, which has only served to blame our children and schools rather than provide practical steps to respond to our collective task. Holistically training educators and changing the function of schools with the mindset of long-term economic growth would be a small but critical step in providing a more holistic education for our youth. The community members, educators, and leaders involved would incentivize sustainable economic, political, and cultural institutions within their own localities. 77
Ujima: to build and maintain our community together, and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together. I once was told that academic papers are, on average, read by a total of five people. Although there are many great minds at work to institute change, our communities often are excluded by titles, positions, and perceived institutional intricacies. I have thus sought to make this treatise accessible not only to theoreticians, but also to practitioners. With this in mind, I greatly hope that this work can be utilized not as a rigid blueprint, but as a launching pad for dialogue and planning. While I do not pretend that recognizing the effects of an “educational debt” and changing our institutions serves as a panacea, there is much value in scrapping the very limited nature of our current dialogue concerning the achievement gap. With this goal in mind, may this be read, attacked, revised, and discussed by those who are deeply involved: teachers, community members, and students. In accordance with those who have come before us, the institutions we build will serve as safe havens for our future generations. May we continue to build for eternity! References Anderson, Claud. 2001. PowerNomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America. Edited by Kevin Briscoe and Sara Reese. Bethesda, MD: PowerNomics Corporation of America. Callis, Robert R., and Melissa Kresin. 2013. U.S. Census Bureau News. Washington, D.C.: Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division. COSEBOC. “Data Accountability.” Accessed Sept. 12, 2013. www. coseboc.org/policy/data. Hilliard, Asa G. III. 1998. SBA: The Reawakening of the African Mind. Gainesville, FL: Makare Publishing Company. KIPP Charter Schools. “About KIPP.” Accessed Sept. 12, 2013. www.kipp. org/about-kipp/students.
Scrap the Gap Kunjufu, Jawanza. 2011. Understanding Black Male Learning Styles. Chicago: African American Images. Ladson-Billings, Gloria. “From the Achievement Gap to the Educational Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools.” Educational Researcher 35 (7): 3–12. Noguera, Pedro. 2003. “Schools, Prisons and Social Implications of Punishment: Rethinking Disciplinary Practices.” Theory into Practice 42 (4): 342–350. Teach For America. “Our Mission: Teach For America.” Accessed Sept. 12, 2013. www.teachforamerica.org/our-mission. TELL ME MORE. 2013. “Black and Latino Wealth Falls Further Behind.” NPR, 1–7. The School District of Philadelphia. “About Us.” Accessed Sept. 2013. www.phila.k12.pa.us/about/. The Schott Foundation for Public Education. 2012. The Urgency of Now: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2012. The Schott Foundation for Public Education.
Luis Omar Rosario (IRT ’10) is an educator, scholar, and professional development specialist. He earned an MEd degree in secondary education from Boston College’s Donovan Urban Scholar program and currently serves as a Rites of Passage facilitator for the Sankofa Passages Program in Philadelphia. Luis also provides professional development in the critical areas of culturally relevant teaching, organizational leadership, mentoring program development, and positive youth development. He is an avid practitioner of Capoeira Angola.
Muy Listo y Bien Educado: Literacies from Home into the Classroom by Rodrigo Joseph Rodríguez
Sin entender comprendo: también soy escritura y en este mismo instante alguien me deletrea.1 —Octavio Paz, from “Hermandad”
encil in hand, I was instructed to write within the margins of my first-grade writing tablet. There was nothing else: There was
writing to do. We had just heard a story from the basal reader about two characters named Mr. Fig and Buffy, and their adventures were playful and entertaining to our world of young readers. After the oral reading, there were words to shape and form on paper. We had our assignment to start. My classmates and I were to begin writing at our own desks, but in community within our bilingual classroom. Pencil to page, we began as Ms. Selke’s instructions unfolded in fall 1981. 1
Unknowing I understand: I too am written, and at this very moment someone spells me out.
Muy Listo y Bien Educado
“Write inside the lines. Escriban dentro de las líneas. Don’t write out of the margin,” she commanded. “No escriban fuera del margen.” We followed the rules and wrote on cue. We knew what to do and what not to do. Our perimeter was marked; the periphery was forbidden. Nothing was permitted outside the lines. The red lines kept us centered and within the orderly vertical margins of the linednotebook page. This was clear: We could not get out of the lines on the paper before us or in the school hallways. Both of these acts were serious and strict for young scholars in the elementary classroom. In kindergarten, we were taught to remember the same shapes of letters in order to write a different combination of symbols and sounds, but now that we were in first grade, there was a required, and even scripted, arrangement of letters on the page in order to produce writing. Indeed, there was writing and work to do. There was a system and a culture of codes to follow for writing and literacy to happen. We learned how to practice these habits for a writing life. I remember that I missed my Big Chief writing tablet from kindergarten, and the comfort and spaciousness it gave me as a beginning reader and writer. The tablet covered most of my desk and gave me an assurance of being watched over and protected as a fledgling writer of sorts. I was discovering a writing system that began with marks leading to meaning. In first grade, I had a new writing tablet with lined paper that guided my every move. I also missed from kindergarten the jumbo pencils that I had held firmly in my hand as my teacher looked over my shoulder and encouraged me to write words and worlds in Spanish and English. But I was a year older now, and among my classmates, and we had to write. Ultimately, my coming to literacy at a young age in the presence of my Latina and Latino classmates allowed me to experience a social 81
task that would increase my ability to name my realities outside of home, yet remain connected by the spoken and written word as we wrote. The literacies from home were welcomed in school, and I learned about public schooling in my neighborhood elementary school. Also, there were meanings from my parents that I had to learn and decipher in order to understand what was expected of me both at home and at school. —Tienes que ser muy listo y bien educado, Mami explained. —Y bien ilustre también, Papi added. Mother wanted her four children to be as smart as they were clever, and at the same time, well educated and well behaved. Father favored his children being honorable and noble. These ways of being informed our schooling and our coming of age. Moreover, these values and qualities competed with one another in our home life, our schooling, and our education. It was difficult to determine which expectations held the highest merit. In an ethnographic research study about Mexican-origin families in South Texas, Valdés (1996) acknowledges, “Schools validate the culture of the ruling class and at the same time fail to legitimize the forms of knowledge brought to school by groups not in power” (19). Accordingly, Valdés provides the following conclusion, among others: “The adults in the study expressed very positive attitudes toward education. At the same time, none of these adults equated academic success with exceptional abilities or talents” (133). The families described in the research study offer examples of achievement and success not necessarily connected to being bookish or possessing academic degrees. In retrospect, years later, university studies would open more academies and worlds of opportunity for me toward a university 82
Muy Listo y Bien Educado
professorship that would complement the expectations and values that I first learned from my parents. I gained access to institutions and higher education through opportunities that were fought and won for equality and equity in our American society. In addition, the memories of my earliest literacy experiences in kindergarten and first grade remind me of the literacies and habits of mind I practice today that guide my freedom and inform my self-actualization as a thinker, researcher, and educator among many students and scholars. Freedom to Learn and Teach Who has the freedom to teach those who shall follow us? While participating in the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers in Andover in July 1996, I was introduced to bell hooks’ essay “Engaged Pedagogy” (1994), which opens with the following: To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. […] To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin. (13) The mindfulness of learning and teaching that hooks describes resonated with my world as a learner and beginning teacher. My vocation did not seem as foreign as it had once I found a group of teachers at IRT in the 1996 Summer Workshop and their connection to the writings by bell hooks, as well as other thinkers who remained connected to their communities and identities for critical literacy and social justice. My public schooling and liberal arts education merged and became one among scholars as we reflected on the paths we had followed to 83
gain access to more academies for learning and achievement. My public schooling occurred in the early 1980s through the 1990s. Years later while enrolled in an undergraduate seminar, I learned about battles fought and won for my classmates and me to maintain our home languages in these diverse states of America. I had not known about the committed leaders and cultural workers who were dream keepers of our human cultures, world languages, and intellectual advancement while I was a young boy growing up in the late 1970s. Most of my public school teachers in Houston’s East End were African American women who drove from their communities to enter our working-class, Mexican-origin neighborhoods. They shared their unconditional love of teaching and learning. They taught us with patience. They cared. We learned about being disciplined for learning, reading, and writing. They understood children’s resilience and worked on building relationships with us, and oftentimes this occurred through reading and writing. Lent and Pipkin (2013) explain, “[Reading] is a different experience for each person based upon his or her individual traumas, epiphanies, beliefs, and worldviews” (10). The events of our early lives informed how we read and wrote the worlds we inhabited and entered—then and now. Although this happened years ago, I still remember a few classmates and me running in our worn sneakers in the early mornings to greet our teachers after they had parked their Buicks, Datsuns, and Oldsmobiles in the faculty parking lot of Franklin Elementary School and, later, Edison Middle School. (In a reverse role, I meet these students today as an educator myself and in a new century.) Our teachers greeted us with enthusiasm, joy, and care. We helped them with their belongings and our written assignments that they had gently packed and stored. And graded too. 84
Muy Listo y Bien Educado
Our teachers gave my classmates and me hope through the trying times we lived long before and after school hours in our neighborhoods. Some of us knew firsthand the aches, angers, and unpredictability in our homes. However, in our teachers’ classrooms, we forgot about those things temporarily and learning happened. Our reading selections and reading assignments engaged us in learning and opened new worlds with layers of safety and hope that changed our lives. Once, when I did not rise to the challenge in my reading and writing assignment, Ms. Gilbert was direct and reminded me, “Now listen, Joseph, you know you can do better than that, right?” “Yes, ma’am,” I answered politely. In grade school, and as a young boy learning to be clever, educated, and honorable, how else could I have replied? How else? Write It! How do we come to writing within and beyond the home? Where does it begin and what guides a writing life for teachers? The beginnings of handwriting can be described as moving from pictures to icons, and later to syllabograms and ultimately the alphabet. This evolution is important since we often return to this sequence as storytellers whether we are making a slide presentation or helping our students imagine what a writer sees and communicates through language. Each act is dependent on the elements of literacy—listening, noticing, observing, performing, questioning, reading, speaking, thinking, viewing, and writing—to communicate and be understood in the beginning of a literate life. Lapp et al. (2013) observe, “Children can be further guided to understand print concepts by being encouraged to write. As they 85
write and view print they begin to wonder about spacing, spelling, and the content of their messages” (440). Such was the case in the first-grade classroom I described. We were inventors in spelling as we wrote and drew what we imagined. The rules we learned about print standardized what to do next. Spanish was most reliable for our literacies, because we understood that almost no letters were silent in Spanish. Side by side, Spanish and English enlarged our worlds in our attempts to make meaning happen in the two valued languages of home and school. Alongside writing, teachers empower students and promote human diversity by the authors, stories, and projects they choose for learning and dialogue in their classrooms. Like the practice of readings selected by teachers, Johnston and Mangat (2012) argue, Authors create a text by distilling their influences and choices in order to construct the work that they have conceived. Readers, however, approach a text with all of their experiences, influences and “remindings,” which include, but are not limited to, cultural background. (12) In the same manner, my earliest experiences as a beginning writer in the first grade to years later when I was teaching writing in public schools call for helping our students develop writing and reading habits of mind. Lehman confirms, “To help students find topics to write about, they need to see themselves in our [instructional] lessons. They need to be able to imagine themselves doing what we are doing, collecting stories that matter to them, drafting and revising them” (24). Our students’ stories matter as they attempt to write them down on paper—within and beyond the margin and
Muy Listo y Bien Educado
classroom—with the literacies of their own making and practice and those that we teach them in order to build dialogue and relationships. Who determines which societies are literate between home and school, or the academy? Manguel (2013) asserts, Literate societies, societies based on the written word, have developed a central metaphor to name the perceived relationship between human beings and their universe: the world as a book that we are meant to read. The ways in which this reading is conducted are many—through fiction, mathematics, cartography, biology, geology, poetry, theology, and myriad other forms—but their basic assumption is the same: that the universe is a coherent system of signs governed by specific laws, and that those signs have a meaning, even if that meaning lies beyond our grasp. And that in order to glimpse that meaning, we try to read the book of the world. (2) If indeed we are reading the world, then the literacies that we seek to teach to our students and the literacies that we learn from our students must connect them to opportunities for a writing life in our very own classrooms, ranging from early childhood classrooms to the university setting. Their literacies to survive and communicate are just as coherent and significant as those from dominant cultures. Prose (2012) reminds us, “Every page was once a blank page, just as every word that appears on it now was not always there, but instead reflects the final results of countless large and small deliberations” (28). Those deliberations about values and expectations that began in my childhood home through my parents’ advice, and that
were later reinforced in many classrooms of my schooling, provided me the privilege of a literate life to imprint my world on paper. References hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge. Johnston, I., & Mangat J. (2012). Reading practices, postcolonial literature, and cultural mediation in the classroom. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers. Lapp, D., Flood, J., Brock, C. H., & Fisher, D. (2013). Teaching reading to every child (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis. Lehman, C. (2011). A quick guide to reviving disengaged writers, 5–8, Workshop help desk series. Portsmouth, NH: Firsthand Heinemann. Lent, R. C., & Pipkin, G. (2013). Keep them reading: An anti-censorship handbook for educators. New York: Teachers College Press. Manguel, A. (2013). The traveler, the tower, and the worm: The reader as metaphor. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Paz, O. (1991). The collected poems of Octavio Paz: 1957–1987, bilingual edition (E. Weinberger, Ed. and Trans.). New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation. Prose, F. (2012). Reading like a writer: A guide for people who love books and for those who want to read them. London: Aurum Press. Valdés, G. (1996). Con respeto: Bridging the distances between culturally diverse families and schools, an ethnographic portrait. New York: Teachers College Press.
Rodrigo Joseph Rodríguez (IRT ’98) is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Texas at El Paso, located on the border across from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. In 1999, he earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin, and in 2001 he earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Connecticut. His research interests include young adult literature, multimodal literacy, and academic writing.
Editorial Board David Allen (IRT ’93) is the assistant principal at Bard High School Early College Queens. He earned a BFA degree in creative writing from Brooklyn College, CUNY, where he received the Irwin Shaw Award in fiction, the Goodman Short Story Award, and the Ottilie Grebanier Drama Award. Through the help of IRT, he procured a Rackham Merit Scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he completed an MFA in fiction. While there, he also won the Hopwood Award in Major Fiction for his novel in progress, All Fruits Ripe; a Rackham Dissertation/Thesis Grant to conduct research in Jamaica; and a Student Academic Multicultural Initiatives Grant, which he combined with a Caribbean Writers Summer Institute Fellowship to study with some of his writing heroes in Miami. He later returned to Brooklyn College for an advanced certificate in school leadership.
David’s writing has appeared in Riverrun, The Gathering of the
Tribes, and Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, and on Brooklyn Funk Essentials’ 1993 BMG/RCA album, Cool and Steady and Easy. A founding member of The Green Card Writers, he has performed his fiction and poetry in Bahia, Brazil, in Kingston, Jamaica, throughout the United States, and in Belgium and Holland.
LaRose Davis (IRT ’00) is an associate director at the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers. Davis received a PhD degree from Emory University with areas of specialization in African American and Native American literatures and cultures, critical race theory, and place studies. Her recent work considers the ways in which geography and place, as each is uniquely figured in African American and Native American literatures and conceived of by African American and Native American communities, are key forces influencing the ways in which these two communities converge. Her work has been published by Cambridge University Press, African American National Biography, Souls Journal, and Wicazo Sa Review. 89
LaRose is also a creative writer. She has written three young adult fantasy novels: Interlopers: A Shifters Novel (2010), Posers: A Shifters Novel (2012), and skinless (2013).
Jamie Monzo (IRT ’04) is currently a guidance counselor at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan, N.H. Prior to working at Mascoma, she was a senior assistant director of admissions at Dartmouth College and the co-coordinator of multicultural recruitment at Vassar College. She was born and raised in Maine. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in psychology and education, and then earned a master’s degree in educational psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Jonathan Rosa (IRT ’02) is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. At UMass, he holds affiliations with the Language, Literacy, and Culture Concentration in the School of Education, and the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latina/o Studies. He also serves as the founder and director of the Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology Digital Laboratory. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and Latina/o Studies Program at New York University. Jonathan received MA and PhD degrees from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, and a BA in linguistics and educational studies from Swarthmore College. His research analyzes the joint creation of linguistic and ethnoracial categories, with a particular focus on language ideologies and practices associated with U.S. Latinas/os.
Jonathan currently is completing a book manuscript, titled
Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race: Constructing Latina/o Ethnolinguistic Identities in an American High School. In addition to these scholarly commitments, Jonathan is an ongoing participant in public anthropology projects focused on media representations of immigration, language, and U.S. Latinas/os.
About the Artist Amber Wiley ( IRT â&#x20AC;&#x2122;02) is an architectural and urban historian whose research interests are centered on the social aspects of design and how it affects urban communitiesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;architecture as a literal and figural structure of power. She is a visiting assistant professor of architecture at Tulane University. She received a BA degree in architecture from Yale University, a masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s degree in architectural history and a certificate in historic preservation from the University of Virginia School of Architecture, and a PhD degree in American studies from George Washington University. Her photography engages the everyday aspects of the built environment. She highlights moments that represent the intersection between static and lived experiences, and the imprint of life on the city.
Institute for Recruitment of Teachers Phillips Academy 180 Main Street Andover MA 01810-4161 978-749-4116 www.andover.edu/irt