Creating a culture of academic achievement in Black schools/classrooms

Peace Family,

I want to reflect on some of the elements that I believe are needed in order to promote and ensure academic achievement for African-American children in U.S. schools and classrooms.  In writing this post, I am bringing in my experiences of teaching at an African-centered charter school in Chicago this past year.  Let me first say, this was one of the best teaching experiences I’ve ever had.  Although I was the teacher, I was really a STUDENT there and I say that because I learned so much about how schools can exist in terms of teaching Black children.

So, I want to reflect on my experiences there in order to provide an answer to the question:  How can schools create a culture of academic achievement that optimizes student learning for African-American children?

  1. Have a teaching/administrative staff who authentically care for the well-being of students in a holistic fashion.  There is a lot of research that supports this idea of critical care, love, and hope within the schooling contexts (suggested resources at the bottom).  We need teachers who understand that in order to begin teaching students, an authentic relationship of trust, love, and genuine rapport needs to be established first.  A role model who comes to mind with this concept is Ms. Marva Collins.  I am a huge fan of her teaching style and if you have not heard of her, I encourage you to read her work.  Ms. Collins started her own school in her home in Chicago in the 1980s, the Westside College Preparatory school, in which she infused tough love/discipline with the mastery of academic concepts, such as the Latin language, phonics, pre-Algebra & Calculus, Black history, Shakespeare, and college-level vocabulary.

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Ms. Marva Collins truly believed that every child has the potential to become masters of their own minds and she was determined to bring that genius of out of every child.  She genuinely cared about each of her children and their lives are proof of that care.  You can watch an excerpt of 60 Minutes here, where you can listen to some of her former students, their experiences with Ms. Collins, and the impact her pedagogical style had on their personal and professional lives.

2.  An equitable distribution of funds and economic resources.  This is MAJOR.  We can have all of the caring individuals in the school all we want, but if the schools do not have the dollars or other economic resources, then that creates a disadvantage for the children in those schools.  It is important that policymakers realize that the so-called ‘achievement gap’ primarily exists because of a historical and institutional legacy of poverty.  Although this achievement gap, or educational debt, is rooted within historical and structural systems of racial inequality, exclusion, and oppression, this educational debt primarily exists because of poverty.  To that end, schools and classrooms need monetary funds and economic resources to support student learning for African American children.

3. Create an educational environment that supports the cultural pride of African American students.  This factor cannot and should not be undermined nor overlooked.  This is crucial to the academic achievement levels of Black students in U.S. schools.  When African American students have a strong sense of their cultural identities, histories, and backgrounds, they are more likely to achieve Academic success.

This includes, but not limited to a variety of elements, such as:

-1) the use of cultural, ‘native tongue’ languages as acceptable and meaningful.  Places where African American students can use Ebonics or Swahili is significant in that can utilize the cultural epistemologies and knowledges that are already embedded within African American oratorical and linguistic systems;
-2) curriculum that is infused with an accurate and truthful history of the experiences of African-Americans in America, including our histories on the Continent–Africa–prior to enslavement.  To teach African-American history without a discussion of who we were prior to the African Holocaust, or the Atlantic slave trade, provides a narrative that African Americans did not have a history or an identity prior to enslavement….as if we didn’t exist prior to Europeans’ desire of our bodies and labor for slavery purposes.  Of course, we did have a history and multiple identities and purposes in all African countries and this needs to be taught as well in this curriculum;
-3) students can also be taught about how to adorn their bodies in ways that represent cultural pride.  So, at the school where I was a teacher, it was encouraged, and at times, mandated, that teachers, students, and staff adorn our bodies with African clothing.  It was also common for many girls at the school to wear their hair in its natural state.  This was such a beautiful sight to see so many young African American girls wear their hair in Afros, locs, twists, and other natural hairstyles.
-4) a diet that reflects the values and traditions of African-American nutrition.  Now, I want to be very specific and clear here–this diet can and must contain foods that are nutritionally whole.  At this school, where I worked, we had ladies in the kitchen who prepared HOMEMADE meals everyday, that were vegetarian and, if necessary, vegan.  As part of the culture of this school, meat was never served at the school.  The founders of the school believed that African American children should have access to nutritionally sound diets, so they ensured that children were not eating meats, processed foods, or foods high with sugar and salt.  And on Thursdays, were “soul food Thursdays” and maaaaan, this food was so good!  And it was so tasty, that you did not even think about the fact that you were not eating meat.

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So, in sum, I want us to consider the various ways that we can improve our classrooms, schools, and educational environments for the success of Black children.  These are just some ideas that I have–I will do another blog where I explicate some additional ideas.

I also want to suggest some academic researchers who, for decades, have provided rich scholarship on the curriculum, instructional practices, and theoretical frameworks for ensuring academic achievement for African American students in U.S. schools.  Their books, academic journal articles, lectures, and scholarly presentations are replete with excellent ideas.  If you just do a google search on their names or YouTube some of their lectures, you will see their work.  I also want to give a huge salute to each of these educators, whose work have impacted my own thinking and teaching practices very deeply.

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(In no particular order–just names as they came to my mind)

Vanessa Siddle-Walker
Gloria Ladson-Billings
Maisha Winn/Maisha Fisher
Lisa Delpit
Ernest Murrell
Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan
James Banks
Carol Lee & Haki Madhubuti (Mama Safisha & Babi Haki)
Jawanza Kunjufu
Geneva Smitherman
Geneva Gay
Jacqueline Jordan-Irvine
Molefi K. Asante
Joyce King
Tyrone Howard
Janice Hale
Peter Murrell
Michele Foster
Marva Collins

Sincerely,

~Dr. Manning

Multiculturalism=Multiple Truths: Sylvia Wynter Style

When I first thought about or heard the term ‘multiculturalism’, I would naively think about–what my advisor used to say–“Food, Fun, & Festivals”.  I would picture a flag being raised that was respective of a person’s culture; a pot of food that is customary of a particular culture; or some sort of cultural dance or song or something.

It wasn’t until I was enrolled in my doctoral program at UW-Madison where I read the work by Dr. Sylvia Wynter, a professor of African Studies, who, in a postmodern/poststructural fashion expands, blows up, and re-imagines concepts of blackness, race, history, truth, power, humanity, and “the figure of man”.

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After reading some of Wynter’s work, I began to think more seriously about the term multiculturalism.  Sure, multiculturalism & multicultural education paved the way and opened doors to have critical discourse around cultural diversity and ethnic/race studies in K-12 and higher education.  But, multiculturalism is deeper than that.

Multiculturalism is really about expanding a singular definition of truth.  I’m just going to stop here and discuss this concept of truth.  What is truth? What is reality?  If we are only seeing truth, in say a positivistic, objective form, then truth is always objectively and singularly defined.  Those who hold power are able to construct one narrative of “truth” and it can be accepted by a multitude of people without question.  In a positivistic form, truth can be defined through “scientific rationality”

However, if truth is conceptualized in a constructivist, subjective realm, then truth has multiple sides and multiple facets.  It is multi-layered.  That’s because truth, then is not easy to define, but it is filled with multiple perspectives, multiple experiences, and multiple layers.  This is the essence of multiculturalism.  It involves multiple ways of seeing reality and seeing the world.

Multiculturalism is not just the “food, fun, & festivals”–multiculturalism involves the bringing in of multiple perspectives, voices, constructs, narratives, histories–multiple truths, with mutual respect. 

In my undergrad class today, we discussed “Distorting Latino History: The California Textbook Controversy” by Elizabeth Martinez in Rethinking Schools: An Agenda for Change.  And this article is significant in multicultural education theory discourses, because it is presenting a version of truth and history that is not dominant and that is not commonly found in K-12 history textbooks.  This is the essence of multiculturalism.

So, going forward, let us be mindful of how we define multiculturalism.  Let us also be mindful of how we construct history and the narratives that go along with it.  And most, importantly, let us be open to multiple truths. 

Peace.

 

Suggested References by Sylvia Wynter:

S. Wynter (1979). Sambos and Minstrels, Social Text

S. Wynter (1987).  On Disenchanting Discourse: “Minority” Literary Criticism and Beyond, Cultural Critique

S. Wynter (1994). Do Not Call us Negros: How Multicultural Texts Perpetuate Racism

S. Wynter (1995). “1492: A New World View”

 

Critical Thinking & Questioning in the Classroom

Hi Everyone,

I’m teaching an undergraduate course this semester titled, “Schooling in Diverse Communities” and I’m really enjoying it so far.

As an educator, one aspect of my teaching philosophy is that of freedom of thinking.  We talk a lot about freedom of speech, voice, press, religion, etc….but we don’t emphasize enough the freedom of thought.

In class today, I was going over an assignment: An assignment in which students have to read the assigned texts, write a critical reflection of those readings (not a summary) and then pose 3 questions they have about the text/the ideas presented in the text/the author’s perspective, whatever.  I also encourage them to formulate their own opinions about the text too–opinions that might diverge from the author’s point-of-view.  I also said that these questions are not necessarily answerable at that particular moment; these are just questions that are not necessarily rhetorical, but they are lingering/hanging questions that the student should have about the text.

One student then asked, “Well, where do the questions come from?”

And I said, “They come from your head.  These are questions that originate in your mind”.  And I can tell that she had a hard time grappling with my answer.  And we continued to have some more dialogue about the assignment, but I also shared with her (and the rest of the class) a key aspect of education: That education should prepare you to think.  And when a person is raising a question, that indicates that there is some thinking happening.

Why are we not comfortable with asking questions? As a society, it is often frowned upon if we ask questions because it can be interpreted as being offensive; as being disrespectful to authority; as being uneducated about a particular concept or idea or whatever.

The purpose of an education is not to just receive a piece of paper after a certain period of time, but we should also be taught how to critically think, how to raise critical questions, and how to take charge of our own learning.  At this moment in history, it is more important than ever to be comfortable with formulating well-thought out opinions and questions.

You are the sailor of your own ship; you are the author of your own book.

Peace,

~Dr. Manning

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Black Male Educator’s Conference–Oct 2017

Good Morning Everyone,

I saw this on my social media, sent to me by Dr. Camika Royal.  I think the presence of Black male teachers in K-12 classrooms is a topic that deserves much attention in educational reform conversations.  I definitely support the presence of ALL male teachers, regardless of their racial background, but Black males, I believe are uniquely significant.  I will do a post on this topic later, but for now, I just want to publicize this event.  I do plan on attending the conference and I will take notes.

Stay Tuned!

~~Dr. Manning

 

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Why Educating the Minds?

We are experiencing a serious crisis in public education.  Many schools are being closed down and students are being bussed and shipped around their communities on a quarterly basis.

It’s a problem that many students in urban schools don’t have access to proper nutrition and are served processed and sugary foods on a daily basis in the cafeteria.  It’s a problem that many schools cannot afford full-time, on-site school nurses, counselors, social workers, and school psychologists.  It’s a problem that many students are graduating from 8th grade, yet they struggle with basic literacy and numeracy skills.  It’s a problem that a growing number of students in urban settings are homeless, with no proper shelter, food, or family to support their needs. It’s a problem that many students are experiencing an achievement gap in America–or what Dr. Ladson-Billings refers to as an “educational debt” (see Ladson-Billings, 2006).

These are just some of the issues I’ve experienced firsthand–and there is much educational research to support these claims.  While I won’t do a whole bunch of citing and academic referencing in this blog, I do want to acknowledge the educational researchers who have been analyzing, publishing, and presenting on these topics.

In this blog, I will share thoughts, concerns, and ideas that I believe can help us think about how we can improve our urban educational systems.  This blog specifically focuses on students in urban schools because this is where many of the major problems lie–specifically due to systems of poverty, racial discrimination, and additional structural inequalities.  I will also offer insight from specific books that I’ve read, conferences that I may attend, and thoughtful conversations that I may have with students, professors, and additional professionals who are wrestling with similar concerns.

Please feel free to offer comments to help us improve our schools.  This is NOT a blog for blame or shame.

Thank you!!
~~Dr. Manning