For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood. . . and the Rest of Y’all Too (Emdin)

I am the target audience for this book. I am one of the white folks who teach in the hood. I’ve been doing it on and off for 20+ years and expect to do it for the rest of my career. And I wish I had this book 20 years ago. For those who read teacher education books regularly, you know that there are some books that are philosophical and some that are practical. I loved that this was a combination of both. For a short while, I was irked by the occasional grand statement. And conclusions that include the phrase “would probably” concern me.

I got over it. Quickly. Swept away by Emdin’s combination of evidence, anecdotes, and pedagogy, I became a firm convert. Certainly, there were times I wanted to argue with him. For example, I think he places too much emphasis on grades. I recorded my brilliant rebuttals in the margins.

Emdin’s practical suggestions on how to work with students he calls “neoindigenous” are challenging and, I think, definitely worth considering. I do not want to be complicit in anything that smacks of educational colonization (Emdin’s examples from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School are sobering), but I am not sure I can try everything at once. The logistics of the cogen – a kind of secret student-advisory board – seem particularly challenging. And I was not persuaded by the need to or my ability to keep this sort of thing secret.

A wise student of mine once said, “Every time someone wants to do something for black kids, they roll out a basketball.” Are we doing the same thing with rap / spoken word / hip-hop? Certainly as someone who has turned out to have many more skills with words than basketball, I value words more. But should I have students turn a scene from, for example, Romeo and Juliet into a rap? What message does this send them? And there are some black students who don’t like and/or are no good at rap.

I am willing to be goofy about handshakes, and I do try to listen to the music that is popular with the students. I could definitely do more co-teaching. And while I got into the community more as a younger teacher, I definitely have less energy for that now. I also have children. Still, I could do more.

I agree with Emdin (and Bill Ayers before him) about the dress code, but there is something to be said about teacher consistency. Is this the battle worth fighting? Considering what could go wrong, is the grafitti wall the choice I want to make?

I agree with so much of what Emdin offers (my students are brilliant) and find this book inspiring. My plan is to share it with colleagues. It would be very useful to have allies in this work.




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