For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too by Christopher Emdin

8. Competition

  • Chris starts by describing the process that rival gangs go through as they compete for a head to head hip-hop battle. It involves battles between members to select the gang’s representative. Then the members engage in collaborative research so as to feed their man with content to use during the battle. When the final battle happens the result is usually the decrease in tension between the gangs.
  • Chris suggests that teachers take this battle format into the classroom. The content for the battle is the subject being studied in class. What this does is to bring the culture of the streets into the classroom, which should make the students more likely to engage and less likely to make them feel that they are being attacked by the foreign culture of the traditional classroom.

9. Clean: Change the World and Dress Well Doing It

  • Here we take on the issue of the clothing and fashion statements that poor neoindigenous choose. They make a statement that they are somebody as the spend an outsized part of the students’ financial resources on clothing. Chris suggests that teachers look for opportunities to wear some clothing that fits in with student culture even if it’s just a pair of cool sneakers. They should also take an interest in what students wear and listen so they can enter into conversations that feature them. Also, don’t enforce dress codes that rob students of their chance to make a fashion statement.
  • Another key idea is that you should avoid letting your classroom resemble a prison, like many classrooms in poor urban schools. A graffiti wall is one way the students can make the classroom their own and it doesn’t cost much. Artistic forms of self-expression are necessary if you want students to engage in a rigorous manner. Above all show respect for students’ unique culture. You can also let students know about the bias that people from other cultures will feel when they see how the students are dressed and how they behave. See if they can figure this out themselves.

10. Code Switching

  • The key here is for students to value their own culture while understanding and appreciating the codes of other cultures. Chris gives examples of words that can be stated in English, scientific terminology, and neighborhood slang. In this way, street slang is celebrated and the student culture is respected. By comparing student cultures to cultures they are likely to experience outside of school or in other classes, you arm the students to be successful as they move from culture to culture switching codes as they go. Seeing that the teacher has made an effort to learn and use their language should also be motivating.

11. Curation and Computing

  • Chris introduces the art of museum curation of artifacts from cultures that the museum curator has no direct contact with, and likens it to what white teachers can do with artifacts from the hood. He also suggests that you allow students to become curators of their own cultures. Videos are one powerful way to do this. He mentions how one student made a video of his teaching to prove that he yelled and raised his voice too much.
  • He also suggests that you allow students to use social media in class as a powerful form of ethnography. This can help teachers gain insight to the world of the students. By banning social media you send the message that it can’t be used for learning. Create a class Facebook page focused on current content and expect the students to contribute. Twitter can be used as well even if you don’t have computers by doing a paper version in class. Metalogues are online conversations between groups of four students initiated by questions provided by the teacher. In each case, the teacher can follow the conversation and contribute if necessary.

Conclusion: Thoughts on Transformative Teaching

  • Here are some final thoughts from Chris. 1) Take risks that try to do damage to the system rather than the student. 2) Work to empower students rather than breaking their spirits. 3) If you don’t value the students there will be no motivation to take risks to engage them. 4) Your success will depend on how successful you think the students can be. 5) You cannot teach someone who you do not believe in. 6) Planning is important, but there are times when you have to let the plan go. 7) To be effective you need to define what effective means. 8) Avoid people who are unhappy and disgruntled about the possibilities of transforming education.

Christopher Emdin

  • Chris is an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as associate director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education. He is the creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement and Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S., Emdin was named the 2015 Multicultural Educator of the Year by the National Association of Multicultural Educators and has been honored as a STEM Access Champion of Change by the White House.
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