For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood

Some colleagues and I are reading Christopher Emdin’s “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … and the Rest of Y’all Too” (2016). I found the book's arguments applicable to anyone who leads – not just in an official “teaching” capacity – so I am sharing highlights.

Emdin, a professor at Columbia University, argues that issues plaguing American urban education (e.g., achievement gaps, suspension rates, and high teacher turnover) persist because teachers often lack awareness of how they affirm and re-establish the power dynamics that created these inequalities. He proposes that the educational model employed in largely black, urban schools are modern incarnations of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a boarding school for Native Americans from 1879 to 1918 that immersed pupils in mainstream white American culture. In this structure, "successful" indigenous students could not achieve such academic status without divorcing themselves from their home culture and identity. Today, Emdin said, teachers recruited to urban schools still hold misconceptions that emanate from a similar savior complex: That urban students need “cleaning up” (which presumes they are somehow “dirty”), and that the teacher can give them “a better life” (which indicates their present life has less value). These biases manifest in multiple ways: Ignorance of the correlation between challenging socioeconomic backgrounds and sophisticated fashion/aesthetic tastes (including the importance of baseball caps) and the connection between students’ in-class participation and evidence of students' artistic expression in the classroom are examples of biases that shape ineffective school policies.

The primary purpose of the book is to promote contemporary Pentecostal pedagogy, whose implementation Emdin explains via “the seven Cs”:

• Cogenerative dialogue, or cogens, are conversations between students and teacher(s) about improving the classroom. These small groups meet outside of class and are collectively responsible for addressing class issues and recommending – and implementing – solutions.

• Coteaching means giving cogens opportunities to help write lesson plans, to locate teaching resources, to arrange seats in class, and to find methods for teaching assessment.

• Cosmopolitanism fosters “socioemotional connections to the classroom with the goal of building students’ sense of responsibility to each other and to the learning environment” (p. 105).

• Context and content involves getting to know students’ social spaces, and using these experiences to connect out-of-school context and classroom teaching. For example, using pictures of street signs, store fronts, and elevators from students’ own neighborhoods in math class instead of generic pictures from the web.

• Competition collectively motivates students by allowing them to write a poem or rap about class content, or to play more Jeopardy-like (group) games.

• Curation involves understanding the importance of the online community and using this platform for class exploration.

Like I said, this book is applicable to multiple realms, and led me to contemplate the teaching practices I employ just because they are what I saw, not because research supported them as effective. I highly recommend a deep dive into this book.