Race in the Classroom

Here's an interesting article from the Chalkbeat blog.  It's an interview with Amy Stuart Wells, a Teachers College professor.
For the first time in the nation’s history, the overall student population is now less than half white. And while many schools remain deeply segregated, others are growing more mixed as Asian, black, and Hispanic families move to the suburbs and whites settle in gentrifying urban neighborhoods.

But there is a difference between diverse schools and ones that are integrated, says Amy Stuart Wells, a Teachers College professor who has long studied race and education. History has shown that seating students of different colors side by side isn’t enough — real integration requires schools to adopt inclusive curriculums, teachers to reflect on their own biases, and students to learn how to interact across race and class lines, she says.
She rightly points out the challenges that face teachers.  She also acknowledges that it is important to work towards finding and training more teachers of color but the for here and now, the current teachers need the support for this kind of more broadly-based classroom.

I can't blame many college students for not becoming teachers; more than ever, the demands and the criticism is great. 

One idea I would just have to see in action:
One of the sessions at the conference will focus on science instruction in diverse classrooms. Something like science or math seems very straightforward, so how do you factor in diversity or culturally responsive teaching?

The title of Chris Emdin’s talk is called “Reimagining Rigor.” He’s challenging these notions that by using hip-hop pedagogy it’s not a rigorous way of teaching science. It’s going to be really powerful.

It’s a common theme, whether it’s science or math, and certainly with literacy and social studies, is giving students ownership and allowing them to interpret and reinterpret in their own language some of the scientific data and information that we talk about in one way. That’s so important in the real world. You ask any scientist and they say that’s what we do.
I have to say that I know many scientists and I'm not sure I agree.  I think she is saying that in science, language evolves as more is discovered or work is done in new ways but I'm not seeing the hip hop connection.  It also supposes that kids across all races would relate to hip hop. 


Anonymous said…
Here's a kid who agrees with Chris Emdin.


Quality rap artists understand the use of rhythm, meter, and complex rhyme structures, and can use their talents to say anything they want. If they want to talk about science, that's great. I wouldn't want to get all of my science information that way, but I can see that it could be really helpful.

For other uses of poetry and music that can help with learning, check out Tom Lehrer's song about the elements, or Jonathan Coulton's song about the presidents of the USA.

Anonymous said…
Well, the idea of using music to learn is certainly nothing new - look at Animaniacs from the early 90s. Or Schoolhouse Rock, come to that. And of course everyone's talking about Hamilton nowadays, how it's brought a relatively obscure chapter in history to life for so many.

The problem with using any popular music as a curriculum is that it becomes dated so quickly (again, think of Schoolhouse Rock - and what hip hop are we talking about? Early 90s rap sounds significantly different than much of what's on the radio today). And hip hop is really easy to do poorly. And you really have to hit that sweet spot where kids won't just laugh at it.

It's a cute idea, but unless they're talking about something like, taking actual current radio hits and somehow connecting them to the subject material, I don't see how it's particularly revolutionary.

I guess when they said "language," I thought they were talking about changing scientific terms but maybe it is just about music and rhythm.
Anonymous said…
I do not think that anyone is lobbying for the use of popular music as a curriculum.

Chris Emdin is advocating for a teaching approach that creatively includes art and culture into STEM subjects. He uses hip hop as a bridge to engage kids and make STEM accessible.


A few key quotes from Chris Emdin - "I argue that the more teachers can consider the unique culture of their students, the more relevant and accessible their education will be."

And - "In short, to make STEM more fun and accessible, we must STEAM forward with art and culture, and expand the face of STEM to include youth who are most ostracized from these disciplines. The chief way to do this is to meet them on their own cultural turf."

I'll just say that if the goal is to make education "fun" just so kids will learn, we're going to run into some major problems.
Anonymous said…
Fun isn't the goal. The goal is learning. Fun can be a powerful resource to engage kids, allowing them to learn.

I want my kids to enjoy learning. I want them to look forward to going to school. I want them to be creative and explore. I want my kids to have fun and be lifelong learners.


Anonymous said…
Hmm. Perhaps I'm being overly cynical (it does happen). I just feel like if you really want kids to enjoy learning, well... The very best teachers I had weren't the "cool," "fun" ones who wanted to meet the kids on their turf. They were the ones who were passionate about the subject matter and excited to share it. And sure, they didn't belittle the kids and were excited to help them make their own connections, but... Usually they were nerds who were at least 20 years older than their students, and they stayed authentic to their own culture. I don't know, maybe this guy is the next Mr. Holland's Opus (though again, hardly revolutionary) but I'm picturing Amy Poehler's Cool Mom instead.

Mark, that's a good goal. But real learning can be hard and a stretch and kids need to know that.

I think interesting teaching that motivates might be the better route.
Anonymous said…
I don't think it has to be either/or. Different things work for different students. The best case is that the teacher does what works for each student. Maybe the best we can hope for is the teacher does a few things that work for most of the students.

Anonymous said…
Melissa, I completely agree with you. Rigorous learning is the goal. And getting there can be very hard and a stretch for kids.

I think we might slightly differ in the path(s) towards this goal. I do not see fun as a distraction or diminishing the pursuit of rigorous learning. Rather, I see it as a critical first step. If enjoyment(fun) is not a component of learning we will not be able to achieve the goal of rigorous learning. Strip away enjoyment(fun) and learning becomes a chore.

Josh Hayes said…
I think it's easy to misrepresent what Emdin is suggesting. I just finished reading his book, "For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood (and the Rest of Y'all Too)", and I think it's much more aimed at overcoming the tendency of teachers to regard their own culture and cultural background as normative, which promotes the idea of teachers parachuting in and helping those poor little [your ethnic group here] kids. You know, like TFA does.

Now how much of the specifics will apply to one's particular situation is hugely variable, and of course every teacher has to take that into account, but I think the goal is to meet one's students where they are, in the life they live, rather than trying to impose one's own cultural values by fiat. The initial comparison he makes is to the "Indian Schools", where the idea was to educate the poor benighted Indians and turn them into as close to upstanding white folks as could be managed (not very close, of course: after all, they weren't white!). Similar approaches were taken in Australia. Nowadays we are horrified (rightly) by this, but we have to be vigilant against the unconscious tendency to try to, what, "convert" students to our perspective? Teach them to be themselves, might be the short way to put it.

And sure, music and rhythm and jokes and fun are a great way to get stuff across. Last year I had my students act out some of the jobs of a cell: they put on labels that said "STARCH" and "CELL MEMBRANE" and the like, and had to assemble a bit of hamburger, pass it into the cell, break it down to constituents, send them where they needed to go, and get rid of the waste products. They thought it was really stupid and giggled a lot, but after a few run-throughs, they had it down and they all ACED the test on it. It was silly, it was fun, and man, did they ever internalize the information.
Thanks Josh for that great example.

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