Category Archives: Teaching

What Educators Can Learn from President Obama’s Back to School Speech

petchauer

By Emery Petchauer

We now know that President Obama’s recent speech to America’s youngest citizens was not, as some feared, a 4-page/18-minute ideological conversion into “socialism.” In the words of comedian Steve Harvey, “Now that we done got that out the way,” we can turn to a bit more productive and realistic dialogue including what educators at all levels can learn from the speech. Here, I think, are three important lessons:

New media and technologies. President Obama (and his speechwriters) demonstrated awareness that new technologies, media, and related gadgets such as iPhones, Twitter, and Google are now everyday facets of students’ lives. These—and their widespread implications on learning—are no longer just optional ways to improve instruction. Rather, teachers must understand the habits of body and mind that new media produce in students and the educational imperative to design learning experiences based up them. In other words, it is important not just to understand what exactly Twitter is but also understand that it reconfigures a) how people think about their social relations and b) those very real social relations.

Vicarious models of success. Instead of giving only vague and general advice to students, the President supplemented his advice with a few vicarious models of success in the forms of students Jasmine Perez, Andoni Schultz, and Shantell Steve. Within these examples were clear appeals to different ethnicities, geographical locations, challenges that students might face, and avenues of professional success. While the inherent limitation of the speech format did not allow for much beyond these quick examples, they illustrate the larger point that students benefit when they see people who they believe are “like them” overcome obstacles on their ways to success. Structuring learning activities and environments so that students have direct contact with vicarious models of success does more to increase students’ classroom engagement and persistence than telling them repeatedly they “can do it.”

Honesty. The President’s statement that “Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute” is not news to students. However, someone in a position of power engaging in this kind of truth telling is. This sentiment is true for different reasons: sometimes shortsightedness on the part of students hinders them from seeing the relevance of assignments; sometimes teachers simply make assignments boring. Regardless, telling the truth and naming this unfortunate feature of learning environments puts both teachers and students in a position to move past it. Beyond the narrow realm of homework, honesty is seldom an unstable educational starting point. 

In closing, let me be clear and state that compared to variables such as teacher quality, educational resources, and curricular (ir)relevance, the President’s speech can do little to significantly change the 2009-2010 school year for students. This does not mean that he should not have given the speech; indeed, it was a kind and appropriate gesture to the country’s youngest citizens, and I hope that students will be deeply inspired by it. Another cohort who should be inspired and educated by the speech is those who stand at the front of the classroom, self included.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

 

 

Understanding the “Tools of Whiteness” (Notes from AERA, Part 2)

By Emery Petchauer

petchauerA common figure in teacher education is that roughly 90 percent of public school teachers in the United States identify as White. As the percentage of ethnic minority students continues to rise, teacher training and professional development often include diversity training or a focus on multicultural education. Alternative routes into teaching such as Teach for America, which place teachers most often into “urban” (read: ethnic minority) classrooms, also devote a significant amount of training time to these areas. Though this focus on diversity in professional education is a good starting point, I often think that it is a major error in reasoning to think that the mere existence of it will affect teachers in any meaningful way.

These currents in teacher education, in my estimation, are what make the work of Dr. Bree Picower of New York Universityso important. Her work illustrates how some white preservice teachers actively maintain dominant racial hierarchies in the midst of multicultural training by using what she calls “Tools of Whiteness.” This means that when white preservice teachers encounter ideas, theories, or perspectives that might cause them to re-examine notions of privilege, power, or oppression, there are systematic ways that they can actively resist doing so. 

The phrase “Tools of Whiteness” is particularly revealing when we consider the social mechanisms that buttress dominate (and dominating) ideologies such as white supremacy. Tools such as hammers and screwdrivers are small items with even smaller counterparts (nails, screws), but they are the fundamental units that make sophisticated and towering structures resist forces that might alter them. Similarly, it is unexamined assumptions and taken-for-granted notions that maintain complex ideologies.

In the realm of teacher education, Dr. Picower illustrates through empirical research how Tools of Whiteness generate from three main areas: teachers’ emotional experiences, existing dominant racial ideologies, and performances of identity. In other words, when teachers are challenged to think beyond their current white-normative ideologies, they draw from these three areas to avoid, refute, or subvert issues that would have them do otherwise. Findings such as these illustrate the important point that it is less passive resistance and more active protection that sustain dominant ideologies in teacher education.

It is important to note that it is not the intent of this research to demonize teachers who hold such views nor suggest that all phenotypically white teachers hold them. Essentially, the concern is for both the students and teachers. Paulo Freire reminds us that oppression dehumanizes both the oppressed andthe oppressor. In this way, having a better understanding of Tools of Whiteness helps teacher educators better strategize how to create learning experiences and curricula that will enable their preservice teachers to see the inadequacies and inaccuracies of their views and the need to develop more inclusive ones.

Related Links:

New York Collective of Radial Educators

Social Justice Teacher Plan Book

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

 

Intellect and Discipline: The Keys to a Successful Academic Career

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

I have a good friend who is the most brilliant individual I know.  He has a mind that most of us would kill for — at least most academics would.  He is well-read, possessing a deep, almost stunning, knowledge of diverse subjects.  He thinks in innovative and refreshing ways.  He also has the “proper” educational background to succeed as a professor.  In fact, given what is often valued in society, he could go just about anywhere with his three Ivy League degrees.  What is the problem you might ask?  He lacks discipline!  He is fascinated by everything, yet easily bored.

I typically feel confident in my intellect.  However, I did have a professor in graduate school once tell me, “Marybeth, you may not be the smartest person, but you work harder than anyone I know.”  Of course, he was probably right no matter how much the comment stung.  He had a point now that I think about it.  One can be wonderfully, almost beautifully intelligent, but it doesn’t amount to much unless you are disciplined. 

Often students and faculty members will ask me — “How on earth can you be so productive?”  The secret is discipline.  As an academic, you must find time to write and I have learned over the course of my career that you need to compartmentalize your days.  There is always something to do — ideas to explore — and your work will spill over into every aspect of your life if you let it. 

Work expands (read that in a book once and firmly believe it).  So, what do I do?  I write every day but Saturday.  During the week, I usually begin at 9 a.m. and write (and do research) until roughly 2 p.m.  I schedule all meetings and teaching after 2 p.m. unless absolutely necessary. On Sundays, I write in the evenings after my daughter goes to sleep.  I’m not saying everyone needs to do this — but you need a routine, you need discipline.

Why this writing schedule and why this discipline?  As I explained to another  good friend the other day, most academics have a mission that they work toward fulfilling — they live life for a bigger reason than themselves.  I am one of these folks.  I don’t live merely for material possessions, but instead I thrive on the exploration of ideas and the solving of problems.  I consider research a mystery and writing the pathway to solving a mystery.  I am not a dreamer but a doer!  Without this kind of passion and discipline, intellect will get you and more importantly, society nowhere. 

I tell my doctoral students, as well as those masters and undergraduate students interested in a faculty career, that crafting a workable routine that is rooted in discipline will help them succeed.  Having a sense of discipline also means knowing when to say “no” — this is especially important for women and people of color who tend to be asked more than others to do service-related work in the academy.  Having discipline also means learning how much time to spend on teaching and advising.  These areas are probably my favorite part of my job, but I realized long ago that being productive in terms of publications gives you a stronger voice in the academy — a voice that leads to more freedom in the classroom and a greater ability to take care of and advocate for your students.

Lastly, discipline means knowing what you are good at and focusing on that area.  Too often academics try to be good at everything — becoming a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’.  We forget that as professors we have a lifetime ahead of us to explore new ideas.  Focusing on a few ideas at a time — becoming an expert in one or two areas — works to our advantage.  Plus, no one likes a “know it all”!

So back to my friend mentioned at the beginning of this post.  I am working diligently to help him increase his level of discipline.  I’m modeling good behavior.  Hoping that the issue is nurture not nature at play because “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions  (SUNY Press, 2008).

Reframing the School Safety Debate (Notes from AERA, Part 1)

by Dr. Emery Petchauer

petchauerLast month I participated in the 2009 American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting along with thousands of other educational researchers. Each year the meeting is an incredibly stimulating time for me, especially since it comes late in the academic year. One element of the meeting that always stimulates my own intellectual work is hearing research that is a bit outside of my own area of expertise, but that asks piercingquestions and attempts to answer them in creative ways. In this two-part entry, I want to give attention (albeit streamlined) to two researchers’ research agendas from AERA that are doing just this.

If the ideological lines within the issue of school safety could be drawn to create two camps, one would be those who believe that hard-nosed, zero-tolerance policies (including surveillance cameras and metal detectors–as modeled by correctional facilities) are necessary to keep schools safe and remove the “bad apples” when necessary. On the other side of the ideological line would be those who share the same ultimate goal but believe that such policies criminalize youth, make schools look more like prisons, and create dehumanizing learning environments.

Dr. Decoteau J. Irby’s work on school safety and violence emerges from a penetrating understanding of the competing ideologies and discourses on the topic. With such an understanding, he de-politicizes and reframes the issue in a way so that educators, researchers, and policymakers on both sides can see it in common ways and actually work together to make schools safer and more humanizing.

Dr. Irby does this by framing school safety according to the concepts of net-deepening and net-widening. His recently completed dissertation at Temple University applied these concepts in an empirical examination of the changes in the Philadelphia Public School behavioral codes and system of punishment over a 15-year period. Essentially, the study illustrates (a) how over time and according to recent educational initiatives aimed at urban schools, the behavioral code expanded to define and include more student behaviors as deviant (net-widening), and (b) how the penalties for infractions have became more severe (net-deepening). As an example, the study illustrates how a behaviors such as running in the halls were not classified as deviant in the past, and how other behaviors such as cursing at a teacher can now receive more severe punishments through classification as verbal assault instead of simple disrespect.

An approach such as this that gives us new ways of seeing also makes research easily translatable and transferable into the public domain—a quality that is too lacking in educational research. As the Obama administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will have to make some clear decisions with No Child Left Behind in the near future, it is research of this nature that they should review to inform their decisions.

For more information about Dr. Irby’s work, I invite readers to contact him directly at decoteauirby@yahoo.com.

In part 2 of this entry, I will give attention to Dr. Bree Picower at New York University and her work on the “Tools of Whiteness” explaining how White teachers in urban settings maintain dominant racial hierarchies.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

Ain’t I A Professor?

Ain’t I a professor?
Living an Authentic Academic Life as a Black Intellectual

By Robin Hughes

newlastword-robin_hughesIn the last couple of months, I have mulled over an audience participant’s comment, which occurred during a national conference. To put it mildly, it has been quite bothersome. The comment/question was directed towards me. I took it as what seemed to be a passive aggressive assault on a paper that I had presented. During that presentation, I noted that it was a waste of time engaging in what some professors refer to as “playing the game”. I went on to state that other colloquialisms need to be reconceptualized as well. I stated that as scholars, we should not play games. We should care less, instead of being careful. We should consider tipping the boat over, instead of not rocking the boat, and that we should blow up the bridge instead of not burning any. My point being that these colloquialisms have influenced academic life, research, writing, and service to such an extent that it continues to mimic and perpetuate the same “mainstream and meaningless” jargon with little variation or voice from marginalized or underrepresented individuals. The audience member went on to state that he really wanted to learn about what he should be doing to keep his job. He asked what he should be doing in his present job. “ I want my job,” he lamented, in an almost sing-songy sort of voice. He laughed as if he had some great secret that he wanted to share with the rest of the peons. “He, he, he, I just want to get along…and plus, you cannot possibly be taken seriously or make it without some game playing.” In other words, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do in order to fit in.’ I took it to mean, ‘if you must publish in certain in places, then so be it. If you must write in a certain way, then so be it. Shut up until spoken to, otherwise your word is just mud.’ I play that day over and over again.

I had to ask myself, do I play games as a professor, and if I do, what do they look like? I have come to the conclusion, for now anyway, I guess in a sense some political maneuvering might be necessary—I think. However, I still refuse to endorse the boot licker, which he, the inquirer, clearly wanted me to support. So, following several months of mulling, I must conclude that playing the game, as he described, is still an indignant game. Now, instead I ask, why should I or anyone for that matter have to play games? Now, I am not saying that there are not certain things that you must do while a professor, but my contract, and interpretation of the promotion and tenure document, which I have now read several times, still does not list boot-licking as a criteria for personal and academic growth. I ask, ain’t I a professor? Ain’t we professors?

Now there are certain things that are expected of a faculty member in order to live in an academic space. However, I also know that one can live in an academic place and maintain one’s integrity. I would argue that the real question becomes somewhat close to the very question with regards to women that Sojourner Truth asked. I ponder, ain’t I a professor, and what does being a professor mean? In order to live in an academic place must your life be predicated by others who dictate exactly what you should be doing, writing, saying, thinking, publishing, teaching? I cannot help but refer to chapters one and four of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and think that this very notion sounds vaguely and grotesquely reminiscent of Freiere’s philosophies—a little Pedagogy of the Oppress’ish to me. However, many of us are inclined to follow those perceived rules of engagement. We make like Nike, and just do it. I would argue again that we do “it” because it is too risky to do otherwise. We all fear being pulled over for thinking, engaging and just plain old writing while black?

Think about requirements for tenure? Be prepared for folks to tell you exactly where you should write, submit to tier one journals only, and how you should write, use certain theoretical frames and write in a jargony fashion and you will be assured of tenure. I wake up some early mornings from the same frightmare that goes something like this: A full professor in sunglasses, driving a 1960’s model car with flashing red lights, pulls me over and says, “Keep your hands on the wheel and let me see your license to profess.” He hands me a citation. I am quickly reminded that I better keep to the rules of the academic police lest I getpulled over for writing while Black (WWB).

A student actually informed me that she was told to write stuffy in order to get published in certain journals and wanted me to help edit to make the piece stuffier. I cringed. I also said, no. I asked her what she meant by stuffy. You know, she replied, scholarly. I imagine that stuffiness to sound a little like Professor Henry Higgins forcing Eliza Doolittle to talk like civilized “folks” in the 1950’s scene from My Fair Lady. The result now, however, is even more comical and utterly ridiculous in many instances. Stuffiness might sound like, if you could imagine, a new-aged Cruella Deville, the dog napper from the Disney movie, a fiendish and “stuffy” accent coached by Professor Henry Higgens. Followed by of chorus, a long song and dance number to the tune of “The Rain in Spain” lies mainly in the plain, yadda, yadda, yadda……. I can’t help but ask, what is the purpose of higher education? I am under the assumption that at its crux is that of affecting change. However, some of our very students, the ones with whom we are to train, think that one purpose is to serve as a repository for garbally, gookish, gunky educational crud? I suddenly hear the annyoing voice of Steve Urkel, did we, faculty, do that? When in fact we know that the purpose of higher education, and education in general, is supposed to be much more. Admittedly, I, too, must be brought back to earth after seeing one’s name in lights (a hit on a CV). That is really not the goal. I often seek refuge in the writings of other scholars, those who assist me in the sanity and humanity of it all. One such scholar, Cornel West, writes:

“The academic system of rewards and status prestige and influence, put a premium on those few black scholars who imitate the dominant paradigm . And if one is fortunate enough to be a spook who sits by the door, eavesdrops on the conversation among the prominent and prestigious, and reproduces their jargon in relation to black subject matter, one’s academic career is set.”

It is clear from West’s writings as well, that assimilationist intellectualism and garbally, gookish gunk are not the intention of living an academic life. Much like W.E.B. Dubois advances with the idea of the talented tenth and the double conscious, he presents educators with the very real concept of living an authentic intellectual life. We, academicians, have just seemed to get it all confused. We get authentic scholarship and intellectualism sort of confused with reproducing the status quo, intellectual work which typically does not push the envelope and only scratches the surface of bigger social problems. Some how, the notion of living with a double-conscious and the talented tenth have become associated with Black bourgeois’ preoccupation with mainstream run of the mill, academic, good old folks network affirmation. This affirmation makes us too hungry for status to be angry (Cornell West) or to be cognizant that we have not only sold out to black heritage, but just sold to getting ours—whatever the ours maybe—White male affirmation so it seems. This affirmation clouds our thinking, and ability to live an authentic academic life.

W.E.B. Dubois’ philosophy of the talented tenth spoke to notions of exceptional people who would help to uplift Black America. He talked about folks like Ben Banneker, Phyllis Wheatley, and Sojourner Truth; men and women who strove to uplift their people. Somewhere along the line, however, many of us misinterpreted Dubois intention. A man who spent his last few years out of the public eye and in exile for his strong views, he was not talking about assimilating one tenth of the population of Black folks so that they could drive a Black man’s wish (BMW), wear tweed jackets, and walk the “forever fall campus” (a term by Diana Natalicio, president of University of Texas El Paso). His intentions were well spelled out, keeping strong ties to Black culture, performing service to Black communities, and working to uplift Black folks. In the talented tenth, he described living an authentic life as an American—yet remaining authentically Black and American in a racist world, and how those two things play out or if they can play out.

I still ask myself, can there be a happy marriage between the two—in the academy. I think so. But how does this happy marriage play out in the academy? How does one remain authentic, writing and professing while black? Can you live in certain spaces comfortably and remain authentic?

Yes, and I would argue that it begins the minute that future academicians set foot on the door step of the ivory tower–during the interview. I tell folks that you better know what you are saying yes to, before you sign on the dotted line. Because once you have made your promise to do and be a certain type of person, then that is who folks expect to see in the office come Monday morning. You cannot be Angela Davis in the morning and fill-in-the-blank, right-winged, identity-confused Black scholar in the evening. You have to know which face you are going to wash every morning, and living a double, assimilationist life might become a little confusing. Besides, once you have gone pseudo-Black, it’s hard to go back. But, my dear audience member would more than likely ask me, how many folks do you know who have been successful at not playing the game? I can name a few—a lot.

There are many scholars in the field who remain authentic, and have enjoyed fruitful careers. Think about the folks with whom you know and respect in the field. Think about what they write about, and ask what got them there. What got them through? What are they doing? Who respects their scholarship? Who respects them? There are a host of usual suspects who write from a critical framework, an Afrocentric framework who have been able to live an authentic academic life. Although I am quick to name full professors and associate professors, those who we consider to be pretty well-protected; there are others. There are junior professors whom we respect for “getting there” as their authentic selves, for daring to take a stance, to ruffle some feathers. There has been an influx of newly minted assistant professors, who at the time of writing of this article, convened several edgy presentations, and who dare to introduce Critical Race Theory to conference audiences, and traditional publishing houses, and to those who may never have the opportunity to indulge in such experiences (or who have ignored the writings and thus the experience). There has been a critical appearance of junior professors to the academy, who are speaking up about how they should write, to what audience, unique theoretical frames, teaching styles, content and authenticity and where they live academically. This is the talented tenth to which DuBois spoke. The talented tenth, who at times appears to be the talented 99% (actually I think everyone is talented—not all authentic though), is beginning to walk through the doors of the ivory tower, letting everyone know not only where they will publish, and to whom, but how they will teach and what. And , most importantly, how and where they will live in this academic space and the importance of an intellectual life and authenticity.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the school of education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

Mentoring is Absolutely Essential for the Future of the Professoriate

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman-current-sittingYesterday as I was chatting on Facebook (yes, I do that) with a faculty member at a different institution than my own.  He’s brand new on the tenure-track at a research university.  In addition, he is African American at a traditionally White institution and as such, most likely has to contend with additional pressures.  I don’t know this man well, but had been introduced to him by a mutual friend.  As we were chatting, he expressed concern over balancing teaching and research.  I immediately switched into mentoring mode, offering advice on which journals to approach, how to limit the time spent on prepping classes, and how to carve out writing time during the academic year.  His response:  “You don’t even know me very well.  Why are you being so generous with your time?”

My immediate response was “Because someone mentored me; in fact several people mentored me.” One of these individuals was Asa Hilliard.  Asa was a larger than life figure, but never too large to spend time with young people.  I remember when I was a new, nervous faculty member with a small child in a strange city, Asa welcomed me to the department and welcomed my family.  He embraced me as a scholar and person.  This amazing intellectual would get down on the floor at eye level with my daughter and make her giggle — such humanity and care in someone who could have chosen to just go about his work or worse yet, bask in his ego.  Instead, Asa mentored and gave the best advice: stay out of office politics, rise above petty academic jealousy, and swallow your pride when necessary.  These are lessons that I think about daily and that I pass on to my own students and mentees.

All too often, once we reach a comfortable level of success in the academy, we forget about those who are coming after us into the profession.  I have been told countless stories by Ph.D. students about how they approached a faculty member and were rebuffed.  I have been told the same stories by young faculty members who approached those senior scholars they admire.  I know that people are busy, but there is always enough time to answer a quick question, to lend an ear, and to provide mentoring to future faculty members.  What is most disturbing to me about the rebuffs I mentioned is that quite often the person telling me about them is a student or faculty member of color.

My first book was a biography of Charles Spurgeon Johnson, sociologist, the architect of the Harlem Renaissance, and president of Fisk University.  While researching and writing the book, I became intensely familiar with Johnson’s approach to mentoring scholars and leaders.  Under his leadership, Fisk University became an incubator for talent, especially future faculty members. In fact, his students told me that he gave them “all the tools they needed to take on the world.”  This phrase stuck with me and I have striven to emulate Johnson’s approach.

I believe wholeheartedly that in order to have a productive, caring, empathetic, student-oriented future professoriate, we as current faculty members must invest the time in mentoring young scholars.  Of course, there are many ways to do this.  One can co-author publications, co-present at conferences, explain the book writing and grant proposal processes, share ways of simplifying class preparation, etc.  One of the ways that I take care for young scholars is by meeting with them for coffee or lunch at national conferences — providing a low stress way for them to ask for advice.  I never turn someone down who asked to meet with me (unless I run out of time!).  Why? Because I was rebuffed as a young scholar and I remember how it felt.  I was told by a senior scholar as I asked for a copy of one of her conference papers,  “I don’t have time for you.”  It stung!

I urge all scholars to think twice before ignoring a request from a young person.  In order to make sure that the academy is a healthy work environment for research and teaching, we need to provide the proper guidance and nurturing to future academics.

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

 

The Case Against Cultural Standardization in Tenure Decisions

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerThere has been a cacophony of voices calling for the elimination of tenure in higher education. Many of those voices are ultra conservative ideologues who are using the tenure debate to excoriate what they see as a liberal-leaning academy. There is a more vexing question that is conveniently absent from the tenure reform debate. That question is the role that race plays in the decision of tenure committees in denying tenure to Black scholars. I am not suggesting that all decisions to deny tenure to Blacks is racist. I am suggesting that the committees making the decision to deny, the departments that support the decisions, the deans, provosts and presidents who uphold denial must ask themselves whether they have homogenized the tenure process, already structured around amorphous standards of scholarship and service, such that it is more likely than not that Black scholars and our scholarship will forever be relegated to the intellectual margins.

My concern is that those denying tenure are more concerned about whether their decisions are legally defensible than whether the decisions are just. That is, how many of the people who make the decisions to deny, acknowledge and act upon the structural and racial biases built into the promotion and tenure systems of most universities? Some would argue that there is no need to do so as the issue of denial is about quality and not about race. But, if this is the case are these committees suggesting that Blacks on tenure track were hired as quality scholars and then after years of teaching, researching and providing service magically become mediocre? Perhaps if they were being honest, they would say that in far too many cases, faculties hire Blacks on tenure track because of pressures — real or perceived — stemming from the underrepresentation of Blacks on the faculties of predominantly White universities, including some of the most liberal ones. In some cases, so-called diversity programs, which grant additional funding to departments to hire (not promote) more Blacks, result in an erosion of the faculty sourcing strategy therefore resulting in denial of tenure and thus termination. Do universities that employ this parochial and patronizing approach to diversifying faculties really believe that this is just? To be sure, the deliberately vague terms of “scholarship” and “quality” affects Whites who are denied tenure as well, it simply affects Blacks differently and worse.

The nature of teaching and learning in colleges and universities continues to change as the student body, and indeed the society, becomes more multicultural and multiracial. The promotion and tenure process at most colleges and universities is a bastion of pettiness, cultural antagonism and ethnocentric backslapping. The ideology and the discourse of tenure approval must become one that praises public intellectuals in all media (including new media), not one that promotes cultural disrespect for the scholarship of Black scholars thus justifying and rewarding the continuation of a community of scholars so stepped in intellectual snobbery and caste warfare that even the mention of new media and scholarship invites public disdain and mocking. To be sure the denial of tenure to any faculty member is as much a failure of the faculty as it is of the individual faculty member. But it is the faculty member denied tenure that must exit the university unceremoniously, while the members of the search committee who selected them selects another group of new faculty often with the same results. Search committees must take a more active and honest role in hiring faculty members who will ultimately succeed, not fail. This requires that the people on these committees understand and can articulate what scholarship is in a way that is specific, measurable, inclusive and achievable.

Black scholars also bear responsibility for our failure. Some of us see racism where there is none, and others fail to see it until we are denied tenure. Black scholars like all scholars have an obligation to provide quality scholarship. However, given that so much of Black America simply do not participate in the system of education, governance and the academy, we have to use public engagement scholarship to critically analyze and respond to the “Negro problem of 2009 and beyond.” This is not to suggest that all Black scholars become critical race theorists or produce Black scholarship. It is to suggest that whatever our discipline, we apply the framework of that discipline to the engagement of our communities — on campus and off. Further, those of us who accept the diversity scholarships to hire (but not promote) us must ask ourselves whether we are willing participants in our demise and thus intellectual sharecroppers.

Have we become so content with being window dressing in the halls of academe that we will never own our intellectual mindshare but simply rent it out to the academic overseers? Why do we continue to play the game when we know that the deck is stacked against us? Is it because we see no alternative? Why is it that some of us who are on tenure committees judge the scholarship of our Black colleagues in a much harsher light? Why is it that despite having tenure some of us on these committees refuse to challenge the decisions in the context of cultural standardization? It is doubtful that there is critical mass on tenure and promotion committees at colleges and universities who will adopt my thesis because the tenure process is mostly about cultural standardization, and that standardization does not benefit Black scholars. Mark Bauerlein has it correct when he writes, “The very system that academics invoke to fend off critics has become part of the problem. Ideological bias has seeped into the standards of professionalism. Peer review isn’t just the application of scholarly and scientific norms. It’s a system of incentives and rewards, and success depends entirely on what peers say about you. They examine your teaching and scholarship and deliver an inside opinion, and the process is easily corrupted.”

Black scholars and all scholars who are truly committed to justice need to insist that the rules for tenure and promotion resists cultural standardization, become specific, particular and transparent or that tenure be abolished in favor of a system that rewards quality, inclusive scholarship and service. Many institutions including so-called liberal institutions are simply not taking the opportunity to expand the definition of scholarship and quality in a way that is substantively equal. Making the case for tenure in 1940, the American Association of University Professors opined, “College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.” In 2009, the peer review system at so many of our educational institutions has become infected with rank censorship and a fiefdom controlled by ostensibly liberal “royalty” who use a warped allegiance to the ever-illusive quality as a proxy for race-based decisions.

The oppressed have become the oppressors.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and the author of the book, The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “post-racial” America.

Arne Duncan on Tour and the Next Generation of Educators

By Emery Petchauer

One important area of concern that received little attention during this year’s monumental presidential election was education. Other than a brief nod during one debate — during which both candidates represented cursory and almost identical positions — education and the looming future of the No Child Left Behind Act was indeed left behind.

Currently, understanding the future direction of public education in the United States revolves around President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The improvements that Duncan is planning stem from a proposed $140 billion stimulus (sound familiar?), a large portion of which is intended to help states maintain and create teaching jobs and other positions in schools. Duncan plans to venture out on a listening tour across the county to hear firsthand what people in local places and spaces think.

On this tour, I hope Duncan hears from current college students who are intending to major in education. If he does, he will get a glimpse of some major problems that must be addressed during his tenure. One of these is the incongruency among states’ certification requirements and tests. He will hear about states such New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia that either adhere to different passing scores on certification exams, often change their passing scores, or use different exams altogether.

Hopefully, Duncan will hear that confusion is the least important result of these policies. These incongruencies create more obstacles for talented, new teachers who desire to leave their certifying states and teach in high need, urban areas in neighboring states. Like all bad policies, these incongruencies ultimately harm groups who need help the most: children in high need urban and rural schools.

I also hope that Duncan will see that some states such as Pennsylvania are transitioning into bizarre certification models — based upon no clear research base — that will make it absolutely miserable for college students to major in education. For starters, such models mandate a cemented course sequence, leave no room for electives and attempt to dictate the qualifications for faculty employment in teacher education programs. Without question, such models will decrease the number of gifted college students applying to and completing the major.

Some might suggest that any pressure put on states from the federal department of education is both undesirable and unconstitutional. My response would be that in the last 50 years, the federal government has increasingly stepped in and steered states straight when they have been off course.

Look no further than Supreme Court cases that not only declared racial segregation illegal but later outlined other measures for desegregation and related penalties. Today, strong-arm federal influence is happening on the daily through the No Child Left Behind Act. All of this means that Arne Duncan should and will have a say in teacher education at the state level, and I hope he hears from students in those programs as he makes decisions that will shape the next generation of educators.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

The myth of a “post-racial” America: a global perspective

metzler

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

The conversations about race and its significance in America are ongoing. The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States has intensified the conversation. Some claim that his election is proof that race no longer matters (although a majority of whites voted for McCain), others claim that his election is proof that we are living in a “post-racial” America (although there has been an increase in reported hate crimes since his election), while others claim that his election without more is not enough to end America’s complex and destructive relationship with race. To be sure, race is a social construction. In the American context, race has been used as a tool by slave masters to justify the enslavement of blacks by suggesting that we are other than human and thus deserve to be enslaved. In other words, while all humans are created equal, we were not human and thus not equal. Race was also used by the Courts of the United States to continue enslavement of blacks when the courts ruled, for example, that we had no rights that the white man was bound to respect. In modern day America, race is used as a tool by many individuals and institutions to relegate blacks and other recognizable minorities to the fringes of society. Modern day tools include racial profiling by law enforcement, prosecutors removing potential jurors from serving on juries because of race, and CNN and D.L. Hughley colluding to produce a television show rife with racist subtext.  Thus, I am of the opinion that Obama’s election in and of itself does not signal either the end of racism or the ushering in of a “post-racial” America.

Conversations about race are also taking place all across the world. Recently, I facilitated a discussion about race in France with members of the French media and academics in Paris. They reported that France is having discussions about diversity and race. Race is not discussed, as it is in America, because there is a general impression that to do so would focus on differences. That is, for the French, one should be French first. I challenged them, however, to think about the many black Africans and others who have immigrated to France, who speak the language and who to the casual observer, are French. However, who are followed around in the stores when shopping (as in America), who suffer discrimination when seeking employment (as in America) and are often on the fringes of the mainstream society (as in America). The conversation in France and in so much of Europe about race is very much like the conversation in America whether people wish to admit it or not. Like in America, it risks being denigrated into a politically correct discourse (as it has in America) thus relegating it into the proverbial intellectual dustbin.

We also had discussions about affirmative action. Some argued that affirmative action has outlived its usefulness in America and thus should be eliminated. One journalist asked about the efforts by Ward Connerly to eliminated affirmative action and its success in some states. Others discussed efforts in France in put affirmative action in place. These efforts are complicated by the fact that French law does not allow for and, in fact, prohibits the collection of racial data. Some argued then that the solution would be putting in place quotas that would reserve places for blacks and others in university, government etc.

I suggested that quotas simply do not address the issue. In fact, they become a ceiling rather than a floor. Moreover, they simply do not lead to the kind of change in a larger society that addresses racial policy and the eradication of racism at all societal levels. As to Connerly’s efforts, I explained his tactic to have the state initiatives passed by disguising them as “civil rights” efforts, as well as how he has enriched himself personally by working to undo affirmative action.

A “post-racial” America

Much of the conversation focused on whether the single act of electing President Obama thrust America from a “racial America” to a “post-racial” America. This is a conversation that is occurring both inside and outside of America. I explained at least three reasons why this is a problematic conclusion. First, the election of President Obama is a sea change event, just like the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. Board of Education. Brown also promised a “post-racial” America, and it did not deliver. This is because sea change events without attendant, sustained, substantive change end up being events, not durable change. Keep in mind that on the issue of race, we have had several sea change events, among them: the founding of the NAACP, the Civil Rights Movement, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 (Affirmative Action) and others. All of these sea change events have brought us closer to addressing race and racism; they have not eliminated the continuing significance of race in America and by extension, the rest of the world. Since so many policymakers and others viewed these as events and did not take the opportunity to radically redesign the racial reality and lexicon, the promise remained unfulfilled.

 Second, the American media still shape public opinion about race. If this election proved anything, it proved that the vast majority of the American media (who, by the way, are still predominately white in a “post-racial” America) simply do not have the vocabulary or comfort to discuss or analyze race in any significant way. How could we be in a “post-racial” America when, throughout the campaign and since his election, the question of Obama’s race has not been discussed or analyzed but rather assigned a “post-racial” moniker? If the media were competent to analyze race, they would have been able to put Obama’s election in the racial context that it finds itself for better or worse. Rather, they have chosen to avoid the issue, discuss it marginally or simply resort to calling it a “post-racial” election. Most notable was the discussion of the so-called “Bradley effect” during the election. The vast majority of the media over simplified and over analyzed it, and when Obama won, simply said, ‘well its proof that racism is dead.’ Missing from the discourse are questions of what role, if any, race played in the election, how America would view a black first lady, whether and how the conversation of race will change in the media, the complexion of the American punditry and gaggling class that is the American media.  For an example of the overly simplistic “post-racial” approach, see “He’s not Black” by Marie Arana in The Washington Post.

Third, we live in a race-conscious, not a race-blind society. That is, the issue is not whether race exists; it is whether it matters. Thus, we have to ask ourselves what difference race makes to all of us. To date, the vast majority of the burden of discussing race has fallen on the shoulders of blacks and other racial minorities. Whites like for us to tell them what our experience with race and racism has been and then try to convince us that they are not racists. Enough already! Whites need to discuss among themselves and when they are with us the continuing significance of race in a way that suspends judgment and encapsulates reality.

As we closed the conversation, I realized that Obama’s election represents both a continuation and departure on the question of race. We should use this sea change event to resolve the issue, not squander it as we have with some many others. 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and the author of the book The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “Post-racial” America.

 

 

 

Hawaii and American Colonial Amnesia

by J. Kehaulani Kauanui

How many college students are taught how the United States “acquired” Hawaii?  Which departments are charged with teaching the ABCs of US imperialism?  Now, perhaps more than ever, we need a concerted effort to bring more awareness to the plight of the Hawaiian people.  On October 1, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on Hawaiian land issues, which will go before the court in early 2009.  The Court granted the State of Hawaii’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, where the state of Hawaii has asked the Court to rule on  whether or not the state has the authority to sell, exchange, or transfer 1.2 million acres of land formerly held by the Hawaiian monarchy as Crown and Government Lands.  This land base constitutes 29 percent of the total land area of what is now known as the State of Hawaii and almost all the land claimed by the State as “public lands.”

These lands were claimed by the U.S. government when it unilaterally annexed the Hawaiian Islands through a Joint Resolution by the U.S. Congress in 1898, after they had been “ceded” by the Republic of Hawaii, which had established itself a year after the armed and unlawful overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch under Queen Liliuokalani in 1893.  These are the same lands mentioned in the 1993 Joint Resolution to Acknowledge the 100th Anniversary of the January 17, 1893 Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, where Congress acknowledged and apologized for the United States’ role.  Specifically, the apology affirmed, “the indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over their national lands to the United States, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum.”  The apology also called for a reconciliation process with the Hawaiian people.  Prior to the state government’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the State Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state should keep the land trust intact until Native Hawaiian claims to these lands are settled and prohibited the state from selling or otherwise disposing of the properties to private parties; and did so based on the 1993 Apology Resolution.  What looms in the background of all of this is the question of a political settlement with Native Hawaiians about the status of and title to these lands and the potential to restore Hawaiian nationhood. What kind of nation? An independent nation-state or a domestic dependent nation under U.S. federal policy?

Currently, there is a problematic legislative proposal before Congress that would reconstitute a Native Hawaiian governing entity under U.S. federal law known as the “Akaka bill,” named after U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI). The bill, officially named the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act is stalled in the Senate due to conservative opposition.  If passed, the U.S. government would then have its federally reorganized Native governing entity empowered by the U.S. government to negotiate a cash settlement in exchange for forfeiting land title.  The bill would limit the full sovereignty claim and set up a process to extinguish Hawaiians’ land title.  But the state of Hawaii wants to sell these lands for its own coffers. Hence, the state hopes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling would nullify the Apology, which the state contends is merely “symbolic” as a Joint Resolution.  However, the Hawaiian people have not forgotten that it was through a Joint Resolution that the U.S. annexed Hawaii in the first place; clearly there is a double-standard here—one that we need to educate our students about, especially as Hawaiian dissent calls for a process to restore Hawaii as an independent nation given our long memory of the international violation of the Hawaiian sovereignty.

 

Dr. J. Kehaulani Kauanui is an associate professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University, where she teaches courses on Native American sovereignty issues, U.S. colonialism in the Pacific Islands, and U.S. racial formations, and critical race methodologies. Her first book, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Indigeneity and Sovereignty, is forthcoming from Duke University Press in October 2008. She is also the host and producer of a weekly public affairs radio program, “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond,” at WESU, Middletown, Conn., which is syndicated through the Pacifica radio-network.