“Drawing on his own experience of feeling undervalued and invisible in classrooms as a young man of color and merging his experiences with more than a decade of teaching and researching in urban America, award-winning educator Christopher Emdin offers a new lens on an approach to teaching and learning in urban schools. Putting forth his theory of Reality Pedagogy, Emdin provides practical tools to unleash the brilliance and eagerness of youth and educators alike—both of whom have been typecast and stymied by outdated modes of thinking about urban education. Lively, accessible, and revelatory, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too is the much-needed antidote to traditional top-down pedagogy and promises to radically reframe the landscape of urban education for the better.” Source: Beacon Press.
Excellent distillation of urban studies, race-gender oriented critical-theory, and education philosophy applied to the urban classroom, for a non-academic audience.
This book was written for me (and for you, too, especially if you teach or are interested in the education debates).
A personal anecdote: Kids hang out in my room after school, including many I don’t teach (they come with friends). Anyways, one day this spring 2016 semester, I had to kick everyone out due to a faculty morale-building activity (well so that wasn’t the name of the event, but its purpose, close enough). When I told the students where I was going, one of the friends looked at me and said,
“Why do the teachers need morale building? Is it because they feel so bad working with all the black children?”
I think that’s the first time I’ve experienced the phenomenon known as “mouth gaping open.” I stood there dumbfounded for a good moment, as my perspective was knocked fully out of orbit. The only reason I’m still here, 10 years later, despite all the bull bursting the seams of the system and despite the current atmosphere of teacher-demonization, is my kids. And the reason teachers in my district need “morale building” is 100% related to policies, directives, testing, etc, percolating “from above.”
But, after thinking about it for a moment, the student’s comment made sense: here we are, a staff of majority-white teachers, a 99%-black student body, and there’s the news everyday, another black kid getting shot by authorities, droves of teachers leaving the cities (5-year turn-over rate in DC Public Schools where I teach), etc. & so on.
My school is not 100% like those Emdin describes, because we are an application school in not-quite the lowest-income part of DC. Teachers at my school have stuck around (not all, but a lot more than in the rest of our District). In Southeast DC, for example, there are some schools that have a turn-over rate of 1-2 years, meaning every other year, 100% new staff is in place. And (in my obviously biased opinion), we’ve been making some progress on the issues Emdin describes, like engaging children on their own terms and working closely with families. Still, there’s so much to learn here, and it saddens me that there really are schools (probably a majority of urban schools, I would not be surprised) where the situation is as bad as described by Emdin.
The other aspect of this work that saddens me is that, read away from the academic world, it might even sound radical, when all it is is a reiteration of basic commonly accepted paradigms in the education-research world. Reminds me of my eternal struggle in grad school: the disconnect between academia and “the real world” (ever notice there are no people with education masters or PhDs making education policy decisions? Next time you wonder why there is an “education crisis” in the US, start here).
Basically, the premise of the book is the obvious fact that we have mostly white teachers imposing pedagogical methods and employing experiences born in privilege, teaching black and Hispanic urban children. (Sigh, already I am imagining the hate-filled comments on a Hill or Politico forum if I were to post even just that sentence. Thank goodness this is my book blog). The problem is even broader, because the entire system is built on a structure that privileges some over others (just take a look at American jails as an example). What this means in education is that it’s not just white teachers who adopt these pedagogies of subjugation, but really, most teachers, because most have been taught to teach in ways that value obedience, physical rigidity, etc.
Emdin employs the term neoindigenous to draw parallels between colonized indigenous groups and urban students in public schools, and frames urban pedagogy as an extension of Freirean critical pedagogy. Like Freire, who drew from a rich tradition of liberation theology, Emdin uses the black church as a model for implementing the “Seven Cs” of urban reality pedagogy: cogenerative dialogues, coteaching, cosmopolitanism, context, content, competition, and curation. After introducing the framework (25%), the remainder of the book is an exploration of the 7-Cs in practice, with some aptly and beautifully illustrated examples.
I have one complaint, but it’s not detracting from my rating: Emdin should have done more to contextualize his research and to broaden its appeal. The book is written for a popular audience, for teachers, policy-makers, and others who don’t necessarily have PhDs in education or critical theory. Sadly, imho, much of the U.S. (judged by The Hill and Politico forums, which I visit too frequently) isn’t ready for this, as it stands. I was thinking the whole time, if I was some of the commentators I’ve seen on said forums, I would be denouncing this book as radical nonsense. But that just couldn’t be farther from the truth: Emdin’s research is really no great revelation, I mean, of course it’s critically important, but it’s in no way radical based on other prior research. It’s just that that research never makes it public, so this may seem to come out of nowhere. I would have appreciated a chapter placing this work in a broader context, explaining it as a logical and natural extension of everything that has come before. That probably wouldn’t convince those who believe academia is the spawn of the devil, but then again, I’m not sure anything would.
Overall, an absolute MUST READ for teachers who work in urban schools (white but also any other demographic), HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all teachers in the US, and also for policy and district leaders and anyone else interested in the “crisis” in US education.
*I received a free copy through the GR giveaways program. For which I am eternally grateful, because I needed to read this book, and I should have bought it regardless of whether I won