The following are my takes from Chapter 1 of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, and the Rest of Y’all Too by Christopher Emdin.
Chapter 1 is called Camaraderie: Reality and the Neoindigenous and lays the groundwork for the book. It goes right in on what our school knows as Habit of Work 1: I come to class ready to learn. Renaissance assigns 20% of a student’s grade to four Habits of Work, which are akin to an effort grade. Emdin wonders how students even perceive HoW 1, and if how teachers perception of “ready to learn” might be really different from many of our students’. He wonders if we make many of our students invisible by not seeing that even if they do not fit into a narrowly defined “readiness”, that many students do come to class “ready” in some manner. He notes that we “privilege people who look and act like us, and perceive those who don’t as different and, frequently, inferior.”
The question of what “ready to learn” means is a tiny piece of a larger subject: how in touch with students are teachers who are different from their students in terms of race and class? How much do we value the communities in which our students live? How well do we understand the communities, especially if we do not live there?
Emdin notes that “to be in touch with the community, one has to enter the physical places where the students live, and work to be invited into the emotional-laden spaces the youth inhabit.” He notes that many students feel an alienation from the norms of school, and that many students who live in poverty experience many of the emotional challenges associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When students come to school, Emdin believes that students are expected to leave their day-to-day experiences and emotions at the door in order to assimilate into the school culture, a process that Emdin calls personal repression.
The challenge is this:
- How do we truly see our students, recognize their experiences, and acknowledge the fact that where students live impacts their outlook?
- How do we better connect the world that students spend most of their time in (their neighborhood, their home) with the school?
Emdin plans to use a framework called neoindigeneity to help teachers learn how to “attend the relationship between place and space.” This means looking at how youth become disaffected by the educational institutions designed to serve them.
How do we create safe and trusting relationships with urban youth of color? Emdin discusses Reality Pedagogy, in which space is made to hear from youth about “how and where teaching and learning practices have wounded them” to help students and teachers have discourse about where students are academically but also emotionally and psychologically. Honoring each student’s unique perspective on school and not having assumptions about students—giving each student a voice to shape the narrative of their educational experience is the point of this. Giving teachers space also to unpack their own expectations and preconceptions is a part of this approach.