Tag Archives: Emery Petchauer

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.

 

 

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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.

 

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.

The Hip-Hop Archive and its Tensions

 By Emery Petchauer

 

 

petchauerLast month the Hip-Hop Archive at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute co-hosted Hiphop Worldwide: More Than a Nation. This three-day conference focused on both the ongoing local expressions of hip-hop and their expansions into Cuba, Morocco, Japan, Tanzania, and other countries around the world. The gathering featured documentaries, lectures, and demonstrations from independent filmmakers, academicians and journalists, as well as pioneers and current creators of hip-hop. This conference coincides with one of the central purposes of the Archive: to curate different manifestations of hip-hop including recordings, videos, films, interviews, and more.

An important subtext of a conference such as this is the tension that exists when an organic culture such as hip-hop is institutionalized into academe through such an event, courses, and research. At present time when over 100 universities have courses that address hip-hop from various disciplinary approaches, these tensions are at an all-time high. Posted below is an interview with Rennie Harris that was conduced by Professor Dawn-Elissa Fischer during the conference. Harris, who is a pioneer in the areas of hip-hop theater and dance from Philadelphia, articulates some of these tensions. These tensions generate from a number of questions: Who has rights and credentials to each hip-hop content in higher education? What can be done to preserve the histories of hip-hop as a primarily Black expression when the histories of other arts like jazz and rock-and-roll have been revised (i.e., whitewashed) due in part to their institutionalization? How can the gaps between community and university engagement via hip-hop be decreased?

These are important questions for scholars to consider as hip-hop becomes more a part of higher education through research, centers and new courses.

 

 

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.

 

History in Their Own Words

On account of jury duty all last week, I was not able to be on campus at Lincoln the day after the election. I was looking forward to hearing about my students’ experiences of standing in line for hours upon hours, finally voting for the first time, celebrating wildly by climbing all over the Frederick Douglass statue on campus, and being part of this historic election. When I finally returned to campus, I asked my students to put history in their own words and recount what they were feeling and thinking that day so I could share them in this space. Their narratives speak of joy, empowerment, fear, and hope for change:

 

The Atlantic bottom trembled with my ancestors chains when change came to America. I think Martin Luther King Jr. shed a tear with Jesse Jackson. Dorothy Dandridge sang with Billie Holiday “Freedom is coming tomorrow,” and Louis played his horn. I cried and celebrated. We made the change, and my grandmother’s life ran through me. November 4, 2008 was a proud moment for some, and others looked at it like a tragedy, but the majority of people wanted something different in the United States. This proud moment was not only an accomplishment for African-Americans, it was a slap in the face to white domination. I am proud to say that the White House was made multicultural on so many levels, and I will never forget the day when I looked at someone that resembled me in the white house. –Amelia Sherwood

 

Before the announcement was made that Obama won the presidential election, a wave of emotion was causing me to think and reflect on how long I was waiting in line to vote. The six hour wait and the harsh cold circled my mind like a slow carnival ride. I could not stop asking myself the question, “did my vote really count?” I glanced at my phone and started to watch television to see which candidate was leading. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath; just as I opened my eyes a huge roar emerged from outside. I swiftly turned to the television and noticed Barack Obama won. At that moment my heart began to beat faster and my body felt weak. The feeling of empowerment, self-worth, and confidence built within me to the point it released a single teardrop. The teardrop was bigger than Obama himself. It was about to change. –Carlton Wilhoit

 

When I found out that “my president is black,” I became overwhelmed with joy, but at the same time a little scared. There had been a lot of threats that I’ve heard about towards Barack Obama and I was also scared for his family. Even to this day, people are still racist and prejudiced and are very disappointed about the election. I was happy as well when I heard the news because I am an African American/Antiguan and I know my ancestors struggle and how hard they worked for “us” to be able to vote and now that we can, we have a black president! I wish they were here to witness this because it shows that “we” can do ANYTHING!! Some people stood in line for hours at a time; that showed how much the election meant to them. It’s time for a change, and I hope Obama is the one to make it happen. –Sade Dorsett

 

When I watched the election, it felt bigger than any other championship sport event I’ve ever watched. The excitement and hope I felt was amazing when watching this presidential race. At the time, I couldn’t even fathom the thought of a black president in the oval office. It just seemed unreal for a moment, then bang!!! Around 11:00PM, it was announced that president Barack Obama is the new president of the United States of America. I immediately flashed to all the problems blacks had making it in this world and how we finally have a man of color in the oval office. As a black man in America, I felt a sense of pride and spirit uplifting when we made history that amazing day. –Julian Rogers Lindsay

The NCLBification of Higher Education

By Emery Petchauer

One of the most significant yet subtle ways that the No Child Left Behind Act has affected higher education is by shaping the requirements for students intending to become teachers. In this way, although NCLB is a federal act directed at K-12 education, its effects have traveled up the educational ladder into higher education.

Here is how it works:

In order for teacher education programs to be accredited by states or bodies such as National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, programs must graduate Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT), which is a central aspect of NCLB. Generally, being highly qualified means completing an accredited teacher education program and passing certification tests (e.g. Praxis I, Praxis II in most states) — all in the discipline one plans to teach. While these are not new ideas, what is new is requiring students to pass the first part of a certification exam (again, often Praxis I) before allowing them to declare education as a major or take upper division classes. Making students pass the first part of a certification exam helps ensure that graduates will be highly qualified; it is a gatekeeper that disallows students from matriculating through their programs and getting to senior year with little chance of graduating as highly qualified. To state this process more simply, in many states such as Pennsylvania, students must now test into teacher education programs.

These policies and implications do not have significant effects on large universities with significant numbers of students planning to become teachers. In fact, it is likely that the policies go undetected by most faculty members. Students who cannot pass the tests for a variety of reasons (e.g., deficient high school educations, have not mastered dominant culture standardized testing norms) often change majors or transfer to institutions that can offer them more support to pass exams. At many large institutions, enough students are able to pass the exams on their own, so programs maintain a critical mass of students graduating as HQT to support their accreditation.

However, the policies and implications have significant effects on smaller institutions, particularly those that serve students who have been underserved by their secondary schools and have been on the lower end of the high school achievement (or opportunity) gap. In essence, these students have a short amount of time (about three semesters) to develop the dominant culture norms and skills of standardized tests and fill any gaps in reading, writing or math so that they can pass the entrance exam, declare their majors and take upper level classes. As one can imagine, this situation can create incredible amounts of stress for students, which further inhibits optimum performance.

Overall, this system — or what I call the NLCBification of higher education — creates more barriers for working class and ethnic minority students to enter the teaching profession.

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.