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For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood – The Must-Read (US) Education Book of the Year

whitefolksFor White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin
First published on March 22, 2016
Beacon Press
Source: Goodreads Giveaway
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“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to unleash the brilliance and eagerness of youth and educators alike—both of whom have been typecast and stymied by outdated modes of thinking about urban education.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.

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Review:

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

17 comments

  1. I will have to pick this up. I teach at a title one school with the majority of students being hispanic or african american. Your anecdote is something I have heard from kids before and it breaks my heart. We are teaching them because we love them and care for them. However, they have inevitably seen another authority figure who did not care or respect for them treat them badly. I think it’s great that this book addresses a topic that many people would rather ignore. Thanks for posting the review. Otherwise I would have never known about it.

    – Jenn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jenn – thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment. I’m also so glad for the GR giveaway, otherwise I would not have found out about it. And YES – you know teachers are so demonized in the media and by politicians, but I do not know ONE teacher who isn’t there because we love our kids.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Congrats on the giveaway!

    I left the education field about a year ago and it I still have conflicting feelings of disappointment and regret to this day. My school was also 99% black and Latino students and even in the one year that I was there, I heard comments like in your anecdote.

    I don’t think I was suited to be a teacher, so it was best to leave the field for someone who had the drive and passion for it that I lacked. One day I will reconcile with myself fully, but I haven’t reached that point yet because I still think about how I failed my students.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Naz for your comment and for sharing your experience. You are such a passionate writer and activist, I imagine perhaps a way to reconcile with the experience may be to write about it and to share your message to those considering the same course of action. I know I am always inspired by your writing. But, of course, do whatever you need to.

      I think it is much better to realize early on that teaching may not be the best fit for you than to trudge through for years. I feel like back when I was in HS, many teachers taught this way, like they didn’t really want to be there, and they were in their 50s/60s! I think actually recently there has been much more emphasis on the CALLING of teaching vs. it being just a job. I think, perhaps, because the current political atmosphere is so antagonistic to teachers?

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  3. I am not a teacher, but I so need this book! My brother and his wife are both teachers. I mean, obviously they are not white, but they work with a lot of non-black educators in a predominately black school. I think I need to bring this book to their attention, and they can pass it along to their coworkers. Thanks for this review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lekeisha, thank you so much for reading. This sounds perfect for your brother and his wife and for their schools and teachers. I really wish this is the kind of book they would assign us for professional development instead of nonsense about testing and standards (I know my math, I don’t need a formula for how to teach a subject I am so passionate about; what I need is to reach and understand my students and my role, especially the ways in which it may be subjugating in any way). Too bad our legislators also do not read books like this. So, please, yes, spread the word!

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  4. Ioana, teaching is close to my heart because both my mother and my aunt were teachers all their lives. I know how hard the vast majority of teachers work, and how much they care for their students. This anti-teacher climate in America is really ridiculous. I appreciate you and how much you obviously care about your job! This sounds like the perfect book for you. Thanks for writing about it – it sounds like one that needs to be read by many, especially in education policy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Laila, thank you so much. What did your mom and aunt teach? I wonder if the climate was this negative when they began. There are analyses of how, during the “common school era”+ (late 19th-early 20th) century, teaching was actually a respected profession… And most teachers were men. Today, over 3/4ths of all US teachers are female. Hm. As for this book and really any others written by professors who research these issues for a living – it would be so helpful if our policy leaders were reading more of them!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mom was a kindergarten teacher in a private school, and my aunt was a writing/English teacher in 4th and 5th grade public schools. From what she’s told me, and from what I’ve observed in our city, there is a HUGE disconnect between policy makers and people actually teaching students.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish this book would have been around when I was still teaching! My ex-husband’s career moved us a lot and I was a Special Education teacher that specialized in Emotional and Behavioral disabilities. Whether we were living in Richmond, Memphis, etc I always seemed to end up accepting a position in a school considered in the “hood.” I think I was always drawn to those schools with dreams of really reaching a student and making a difference. Books we would be given to read were things like “Freedom Writers” or anything by Ruby Payne, but this looks different and an interesting read!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing. I am not familiar with either Freedom Writers or Ruby Payne, so I am definitely going to look into them! I do think one of the best aspects of this book is that it’s written by someone who comes from the community and writes not just from research/books or what he has learned, but from experience. And that is so wonderful to hear about your teaching children with emotional & behavioral disabilities; my mother works in this field as well 🙂

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  6. Oh reading bout your teaching and depressing forum discussions always makes me want to hug you!! No gifs in comments yet but sending virtual hug!
    It’s really wonderful to hear that there are teachers like you out there, every educational system needs anti-oppression overhaul Ithink but the US system of basically segregation, public vs private and low income teachers sounds especially fraught. In Germany, which has lots of problems, teachers are employed by the state and well-paid, we don’t really have private schools but we do have schools in.low income areas which are considered problematic and most all teachers are white middleclass, esp women. The worst is that aftergrade 4 we are seperated into.different schools and only the uppermost form lets you go.on.to uni, so basically after age 11 you are set on your path for life.It’s ridiculous.and hurts vulnerable.communities most.
    Haven’t read much on education but will put this one on.my tbr! Also kudos on the Freire mention! I wish teachers to be over here would read it! I’ve only read other stuff that is close to education, hip hop pedagogy, which is kust an.awesome concept.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bina, thank you so much ❤ xx :*
      So yes, basically the US system is fraught with self-segregating policies – one of which is that even public schools segregate students because of how they are funded. So property taxes in local neighborhood are mostly used for schools which means that if you live in rented apartments and have little income and pay no property tax other than through your landlord/rent, your school will be very different from those neighborhoods where homes cost $1 million dollars (actually VERY common in and around DC).

      The German system sounds very similar to the Romanian one, where you get tracked pretty much like you say, after age 11 or so. The one thing about the US system, which I can't tell if it makes it worse or better (or probably both in different ways) is that teachers are treated awfully in the press, denigrated left and right by everyone (all I have to say on one of those political forums is that I'm a teacher in DCPS and I automatically get spammed with hundreds of comments blaming me for everything wrong in the country and mocking me for not being able to get another job… the motto they like to throw at us is, "if you can't do, teach".)

      Anyways what this means is that I know very few teachers right now in my district who don't REALLY want to be there and at least try to be conscious of issues brought up by books like this one, because really who would stay in such an environment just to have a job? But still this can't be the answer – making teaching so unappealing that only those who have a self-sadistic streak may want to do it for longer stretches of time (that's another huge problem here, the outsourcing to 2-3 year teaching programs, treating teaching as only a stepping stone to 'better' jobs…) And Freire – he's such a staple here, I'm sad that he's not taught more widely though probably not surprised. As for hip-hop pedagogy – I've read articles here and there but not too much systemic reading in this, but I NEED to!!!!!!!

      It seems like US and Germany make for excellent comparisons because they are so different in how they approach education yet the results in both cases are far from ideal…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes that motto is well-known.here too! My mom is a middle grade (I think? Ages 6-10/11) teacher and she works her butt off but ppl never see the work beyond the class hours. Horrible how the system is broken but teachers get the blame! 😦 So good to see that you and colleagues really work there to change things!
    I guess more government should look towards Scandinavian edu system, it at least sounds more sensible, but who knows.

    Yes Freire!! Sadly German pedagogy except for parts of Berlin are super un-radical. It’s depressing, but there’s hardly any radical tradition here, it’s just follow the.law zombies 😦 I need to have a think which title I’ve read, sth connecting hip.hop pedagogy to feminism, but I think there are a few good.books on the subject, but yay for articles! 🙂

    Like

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