Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Education Perspectives of an Earth: My Teaching Philosophy (Part 1)

“More than 70 percent of the nation's Black and Latino students attend predominantly minority schools that suffer from poor funding."

It has been 50 years since the United States's Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown v. The Board of Education. Black and Latino students (Mexican mostly) were able to attend schools with white students. However, this call for change does not seem to reflect the current populations of schools. Today segregation still exists, as access to knowledge relates to economic status. An overwhelming majority of original students (Black and Latino) attend schools where they are the majority. Their schools are characterized as rundown, having over-crowded classrooms with teachers that do not understand the students' background and where a need for updated textbooks and technology is needed. These schools tend to be located in inner-cities as well as poor working-class regions of the rural South and the Southwest. Black and Latino students' district schools are very different from that of schools were the majority of students are white. More funding is provided to these institutions and there are characterized as boarding schools, private schools, or public schools located in upper-middle class suburbs. Only those original students who come from affluent economic backgrounds can afford to integrate themselves into schools that are predominantly white. These then become the token original students in those educational spaces.

The existing economic disparities between white and Black/Latino students result in varying educational experiences. It is estimated that the average Black and Latino 17 year-old student reads at the level of a white 13 year-old. This is a reflection of how the educational structure has not changed since Brown v. Board of Education. Policy makers continue to legislate in favor of maintaining an unequal national school system. In several states, federal court decisions helped to create a cultural divide within the schools. One example was in 1991when Oklahoma City’s district court judge ruled that local school districts, which had been ordered to desegregate the schools, would continue to be segregated if needed. An argument widely used by government officials and those in power.

Growing up in Washington Heights, NYC, the first largest concentration of Dominicans outside the island, I was educated within New York City's school District Six. These and other local districts within the city hold overwhelming amounts of original (Black and Latino) students. I personally attended a school where there was only one white (Irish) student. For most of the time in school, until about high school, I played school because most teachers just expected the students to do textbook work. The day consisted of silently reading from our textbooks and filling multiple choice sheets. We sat in rows and looked up at the board. We mostly had substitute teachers because our teachers were frequently absent. Not only were there problems with the institution itself, but it was very problematic for many of us because we had our own issues to deal with at home and society at large.

High School provided a different experience because it was not modeled after the traditional inner-city high schools. It was a new type of institution, one of the coalitions of essential schools; whose philosophy was constructed by white liberalists who sought to "improve" education through open classroom-based learning. These new teachers sought a freer learning environment where transferring of skills were not the focus, but rather through student-interest based learning. This method allowed students to explore their interests, learn through them by writing papers, engaging into discussion, and applying hands-on experiences to their learning. We worked on portfolios and projects that interested us, took internships, and didn't take exams. Teachers felt that the classroom environment also needed to change. Students in these new schools sat in circles instead of rows and communicated with teachers on first name basis. The aim was forming an academic environment that would be able to address students’ social aspects.

Although these new educational alternatives were partly successful, they faced many challenges. The few original teachers and professors in the field of education, such as Lisa Delpit and Sonia Sanchez argued that original students were not receiving the proper transferring of skills needed to succeed in the outside world. How could a kid be able to write a paper if they did not know the structure of a sentence? How would students truly benefit from an education that did not reflect the structure of the society? These and other questions were addressed that did not support the new movement of schools. In her book, Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit describes that many of the original educators which favored traditional methods of teaching, argued that original kids had understanding (described as fluency), but the lacked skills (wisdom) that would allow them to properly present their ideas. It made sense that Liberal educators would support the open-classroom teaching methodology. Their kids had already learned the skills necessary for communication as they are reared in Standard English. Essentially, the arguments were based on an educational rat race with whites for success of original students in the current exploitative society. Deep research, however, will show how the focus on allowing kids to develop their understanding as opposed to the means of how to communicate them is an original idea. The Egyptians of the early dynasties took centuries to build their architectural structures. They focused on the understanding gained, rather than on the final product.

Aside from these valuable discussions amongst the traditional/original educators with white/liberal educators, these new schools did face many problems. The majority of the teachers remained white (in thinking and in skin), while many of us continued to drop out, and only a few were making it as tokens to higher education institutions. These new experimental schools (whether independent, public, small, non-exam taken), such as the Big Picture Schools and the Coalition of Essential Schools were not as successful at fully addressing kids' social problems. Few teachers were able to relate and truly make a difference in the lives in the kids (i.e. make them see what education is truly about, teach them about what manhood really is, etc). Due to these experiences I have been able to develop my own teaching philosophy. It is not based on any specific teaching pedagogy or curriculum, because I don't seek to build on white man's ideas of education. I don't intend to teach to reach some sort of educational equality for original students to that of white kids. To do this would be to continue to mental oppression that original people suffer today. However, I do seek to build and implement new ideas outside of the existing educational structure that is a based on a lifestyle of truth of the original man and woman.

Izayaa Allat

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