Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category
It feels like forever ago that I found out that my proposal to present at AERA 2013 was accepted. The excitement had worn off by mid-winter. It rumbled back when I registered for the conference in March and began combing through the 2,400 sessions offered from 6,000 presenters. The theme for the conference this year was Education and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy, and Praxis. It’s now been just two days since the conference ended and I’m still running on the shot of oxygen the whole experience provided. I took the time to sit down and type up some of my notes to reflect on the many-layered voices that arose throughout the 4 full days I spent in over 15 sessions. I’ve utilized the poetic method, I Remember, made popular by the artist/poet Joe Brainard.
I REMEMBER AERA
I remember the excitement of finding out that my proposal, Art Unbound: A System’s Change Effort to Keep Art in the Conversation, was accepted.
I remember telling myself to write shorter titles.
I remember how proud their teacher Hodari B. Davis was and how it lit up his face.
I remember noting the names of some of the students. I want to be able to say that I saw them when they were young researchers.
I remember thinking YPAR is important because it reverts the gaze outward from the community and because it is the renewal we need.
I remember running to the Exhibition Hall first thing Saturday morning with my adrenaline pumping.
I remember spotting the Routledge booth and all those books and then finding Culturally Relevant Arts Education and thumbing to Chapter 6 to find my name.
I remember holding my breath, telling myself to remember this moment.
I remember passing Peter Mclaren in the hall and wanting to give him a fist bump when I realized he reminded me of a blonde Ozzy Osbourne.
I remember that panel celebrating the Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education and thinking, “Who can afford $600 for those 2600 pages,” and then making a note to ask the Mills College Library to order it.
I remember that moment when Curtis Acosta told us, commenting on what it’s like inside Tucson Unified after the ban on ethnic studies, “I’m in jail every day at school. I can’t touch my curriculum, a curriculum that works. I have been turned into an instrument of hate.”
I remember to note that Curtis Acosta’s statements are his alone and that he does not speak on behalf of Tucson Unified. His Superintendent asked him to make that very clear. He told us he was using personal time to be in San Francisco.
I remember that seeing Curtis again makes me want to show the film, Precious Knowledge, to every class I teach.
I remember Julio Cammarota asking us to challenge colorblind politics by using the more nuanced terms of “alienation and isolation” as a way of “lifting the veil of colonizing knowledges” through the “decolonial imaginary” (Emma Perez).
I remember that Pedagogies of Love session and Antwi Akom, quoting Van Jones, “What if we built a movement at the intersection of the social justice and the ecology movements, of entrepreneurship and activism? What if we didn’t just have hybrid cars — what if we had a hybrid movement.”
I remember “diff in diff” and Greg Tanaka’s warning of the coming economic collapse.
I remember writing down, RENEWAL NOW.
I remember Pedro Noguera. And who doesn’t.
I remember that I can’t remember it all.
I remember to keep commitment at the center of all pedagogy and to always look my students in the eyes when they ask, “How down are you for my liberation?”
When CUSP Director Ingrid Seyer-Ochi was on a HuffPost Live panel about teaching cursive, I was intrigued. I had no idea people felt so strongly about the subject. I followed my curiosity to the internet, in search of articles on the subject to post to our social media. There’s almost no end of thought here: People who believe we will lose our connection to history if we don’t teach cursive; people who believe that classroom time can be spent better than teaching an out-moded style of communication; people who wonder how a generation raised only on printing will sign their names; and so on.
I was not taught cursive. At the private school I attended, only children who were able to master a kind of joined-up printing were graduated to cursive; I was not one of them. (Even today, my S’s defy description.) But this wasn’t really a problem for me: Almost no one I knew then, or know now, uses it even though they were taught it. Instead, we all write in a combination of print and script, creating our own style. As one friend confessed, when she writes in cursive her handwriting looks like a third-grader’s.
I know of three people who write exclusively in cursive: My grandmother, my father, and one of my old employers. I can’t read most of what my father and my boss write, but that’s because neither one is particularly dexterous; they would probably be illegible in any script or print. I can read my grandmother’s fine cursive and most historical documents easily. Interestingly, my friends and the internet have taught me that these documents haven’t all been written in the same kind of cursive. There are different methods for script, and each has been popular at different times in history and in different parts of the world, in part because different kinds of writing implements were used.
My mother doesn’t know cursive either. She was taught a very legible and efficient print style at her private school in the 1940s. I asked my mother and some of her classmates if not knowing cursive has hindered them in any way. They were all fairly bored. My mother confessed that she studied cursive on her own, but only so that she could sign her name. Another woman observed that other progressive schools at that time did not teach cursive. A third woman, peppier than the rest, described the absence of cursive instruction at the school as “infantilizing and classist.”
That response made me think. We probably aren’t just talking about cursive when we talk about cursive, but about questions of class, equality, and access. That’s nothing new; many issues of curriculum and instruction include those questions. But currently, not knowing cursive marks me and a few others as the product of private schools where teaching it was optional. It may soon be that cursive will become the domain of those same schools, as they find a way to teach it when public schools are no longer mandated to do so.
In the fall of 2012, a group of students in the MBA/MA in Educational Leadership Program (a joint program of the School of Education and the Lokey Graduate School of Business) came together and realized an opportunity for an ongoing space to discuss the intersection of the worlds of business and education. Thus the Huddle was born, providing joint degree students with resources and opportunities to learn and participate in this emerging field.
The Huddle met and formed three Tiger Teams to take on the specific tasks necessary to expand the scope of the Huddle. The Career Tiger Team presented a mind map of the education industry, highlighting the vastness of the industry while recognizing the sectors in which the joint students were interested in working. The Huddle Tiger Team invited in a professor from the Graduate School of Business and a professor from the School of Education to debate the topic of opportunity costs in education. They also heard from Professor Tom Li, who shared his experience of sitting on a school board to which he brought his knowledge as a CPA in order to address school- related issues. Students’ opinions and thoughts regarding the both the Huddle and the MBA/MA joint program are also welcomed and valued.
The Huddle has recently added the Business and Education Action Team (BEAT). BEAT will be an outward facing component of the Huddle, with students volunteering with schools and educational organizations, and providing business consulting and supplemental workshops to students.
The Huddle is a great resource for the MBA/MA joint students at Mills. It offers a motivating site for students to synthesize their classroom learning with real life situations. The group also allows students to explore career paths which align with the joint degree.
For me, the Huddle is a meeting place for my peers and me to reflect and examine the new connections being forged within the areas of education and business, as well as the challenges that may arise from that relationship. To be a part of something that is creating a significant impact is empowering, and it is amazing to be able to bring that to Mills. I hope that we can carry this conversation into action, especially through BEAT. I look forward to the continuing progress and ripples of success we will make, not only at Mills, but also within the Oakland community.
In The Principalship, Thomas Sergovanni defines culture as the beliefs and values that underlie and direct the actions of faculty. Ideas such as “all children can learn” and “the whole child should be educated” fall into this category of thought. The importance of cultivating a healthy school culture cannot be understated in school leadership. The ability to effect positive change in the program, operations, and political dimensions of school structures rests on having a strong, coherent culture that supports faculty in modeling the foundational values, and holds them accountable when they move away from those. This is why I identified improving the culture of the elementary division at The Berkeley School, where I am Associate Head of School and Elementary Division Head, as one of my foci for the current school year, and made it the topic of my project for my NAIS Fellowship for Aspiring Heads of School.
Because school culture rests on abstract ideas such as beliefs and values, changing it requires surfacing those values in ways that can then be directly applied to the curriculum, traditions, and other facets of school life. While I would have loved to set aside time for faculty to discuss their core values and beliefs about education in the abstract, to do so would take their most precious resource – time – without providing a pragmatic connection to their work, and my experience is that teachers prefer their time be spent talking about substantive matters, rather than process-related ones. My approach, therefore, has been to identify ways in which the values and beliefs in our culture can be named within the context of specific program-related work.
One way in which I have worked to shift school culture is through a year-long examination of our curriculum. One strand of this has been to begin a curriculum mapping process that gives teachers time to plan, reflect, and revise their own curriculum, as well as significant opportunities to work with faculty at other grade levels to understand the knowledge, skills and understandings that are being taught to students throughout the school. Another strand has been working closely with our Curriculum Coordinator to implement a design thinking process for examining our balanced literacy program. This initiative has involved defining the components of the program, training faculty on implementing a consistent word study program across the grades (since one was missing), providing regular opportunities to implement the Looking At Student Work Together protocol developed by David Allan and Tina Blythe at Harvard’s Project Zero Institute, and more.
My second approach has been to increase the role of teacher leadership in defining specific aspects of our program. I formed small working groups to examine our shared traditions, such as holiday celebrations and our curriculum sharing events, and I pushed those small groups to be explicit about the values behind our work. For example, one such group at the beginning of the year met to rethink our assemblies, which were previously bi-monthly sing-alongs of old folk songs. By starting with sharing the reasons we value assemblies, we were able to then move on to identifying the goals we wished the assemblies to meet, and thus come up with a structure that could achieve them. When this group of teachers suggested a structure to the event that involved students sharing their learning, and the reporting out of the work of our newly-formed student council, the faculty as a whole was excited to take on the added burden of preparing their kids to present, precisely because their peers had taken the time to ground the approach in their values.
I have used one other strategy to increase the coherence of our division’s culture, and that is to attempt to become a better cheerleader and recognize what is going right in our classrooms. I have found several avenues for this, including offering a sincere and authentic appreciation to a different faculty or staff member each day for some aspect of their work; being sure to notice, comment on, and inquire about the new displays and documentation that appears on the walls of the classrooms each time I enter a room; and to publish an internal division newsletter in which I pick one thing from each class, and write about how I see it connecting to our mission, learning outcomes, or pedagogic approach.
Peter Drucker, an influential scholar of management theory and practice, once wrote that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Understanding the history of a school site, the personal narratives of the faculty and staff, and the context, constraints, and conditions that a school faces are essential in effecting culture change. It is time-consuming work, and one that I find presents me with new and exciting challenges every day. I share my approach in the hope that it provides others with a foil to consider their own critical work in this area, and I welcome anyone who would like to have a dialogue on this topic at to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disruptive Leaders and Game Changers: Notes from the Independent Sector 2012 Conference | Sarah Garmisa
In November, 2012 more than 100 of this country’s social-sector leaders under 40 gathered in San Francisco to discuss the practice of Disruptive Leadership. Jeffrey Lawrence of Cambridge Leadership Associates addressed the group at the Independent Sector’s NGen (next generation) annual conference for nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs, and agents of social change. As an MBA/MA in Educational Leadership student at the Lorry I Lokey Graduate School of Business and the School of Education at Mills College focusing on non-profit management and social change, I was thrilled to volunteer at the members-only conference, and be welcomed as an NGen participant. For the entire group, Disruptive Leadership was an apt topic. In line with the conference’s “Game Changers” theme, Lawrence’s presentation on Disruptive Leadership introduced a management theory favoring progress and social evolution over maintaining the status quo.
The title of Lawrence’s seminar was “Leading from Center”. In small groups, participants explored the myriad pressures, motivations, and expectations central to their own careers and personal missions. For many, the pressures and expectations were internal because of a common desire to achieve significant social impact. But Lawrence challenged the group to think about external forces, asking, “How do the relationships you develop at work propel your professional goals forward?” Speaking about the need to maintain strategic partnerships with colleagues, he proposed new ways for us to imagine ourselves as leaders of social change.
For trailblazers from the Millennial generation, finding a greater purpose is central to career decisions. Lawrence had us ask ourselves, “What do I need to do to be able to sleep well at night?” We took a few minutes to reflect on two things: first, our greatest joys and second, the world’s greatest needs. Our work, Lawrence said, should be at the intersection of those two things.
All organizational leaders balance expectations from multiple constituencies. To maintain authority as leaders, we must regularly meet those expectations. But change-agents, Lawrence posited, must also learn to disappoint expectations. “If you are only doing what is expected of you,” he cautioned, “then you are preventing things from moving forward.” Rather than leading from the top, disruptive leaders lead from the center of their organizations, managing themselves as much as their surrounding relationships. But “if you’re not getting any pushback,” Lawrence warned, “you’re not doing anything important.”
At the same time, disruptive leaders must find the right blend of purpose and meeting expectations. “Authority,” Lawrence warned, “is given, not taken.” Mission-driven leaders trying to make change from within an organization must learn when it’s necessary to step back to maintain authority, and when it’s possible to make progress by pushing unpopular ideas forward. “You must dance outside the scope of your authority,” he advised. If you want to be an agent of social change in the world, you have to be a disruptive leader.
Based on the above ideas, one might ask, “How does a disruptive leader make change from the middle?” According to the laws of physics, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Many make the mistake of reaching out to their opposition first, but a better plan is forge coalitions. Pass your idea through a supportive “warm gate,” as he calls it, to drum up applause from champions of your idea. This provides momentum, and when leaders have that momentum, it’s a game changer. Opposition forces with less conviction often melt away.
Lawrence outlined six key relationships that disruptive leaders must foster:
1) Identify your partners. Know the difference between a partner and an ally. A partner will risk something for you or your idea, while an ally will only provide support without taking any personal risk.
2) Understand your opposition. Those are the people who have the most to lose if you succeed.
3) Know yourself. This critical self-awareness will be the number one cause of either your success or your failure.
4) Channel the “troublemakers”. They are the voices of leadership from below. Find a way to direct their voice so the organization does not expel them.
5) Expect casualties. You cannot make significant change without the inevitable casualties. Think of them as learning experiences.
6) Study your authorities. They have a lot to offer. Learn to develop authority for yourself by partnering with someone who already has it.
Perhaps most importantly, disruptive leaders in business, non-profit, or government positions must always be curious observers of themselves and others. If there is a change we want to see in the world, we must remain inquisitive. Directly after Jeffrey Lawrence’s seminar, at the Independent Sector Conference keynote address, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom was on the same page. He declared, “If you don’t like the answer, ask a better question.”
My mind was alight with inspiration and excitement both days I attended the conference. This seminar—as well as other sessions and conversations with attendees—mirrored topics we are currently studying in classes at Mills. Other major themes included the role of data in assessing social impact, alternative funding sources for the social sector, non-profit/for-profit partnerships, and the power of social media. Even days later I am filled to the brim with insights, questions and curiosity about these subjects. It was incredibly inspiring to engage with so many successful change-agents nationwide, from every sector with a social purpose. By provoking questions of myself, and prompting me to ask questions of others, this conference was a game changer for me. It opened my eyes to new ways of achieving impact, and I’ve subsequently gotten more specific about my own mission and goals for achieving impact in my career.
For students at the Lorry I Lokey Graduate School of Business, which is uniquely dedicated to sustainability and socially responsible leadership, this practice of inquiry is essential to our educational mission. As Mills MBA/MA candidates we are learning to become disruptive leaders by promoting change and empowering ourselves to be socially responsible leaders in the for-profit, non-profit, education, and public sectors. Though I am still in my first semester as a Mills graduate student, I hope to be a student always: asking better questions and looking for the best game-changing answers.
“Beyond Inspiring” was the title of the 30th Anniversary Conference for the Committee of 200 hosted at the Four Seasons Resort in Chicago, where over 300 of the most powerful women in business from around the world gathered to spend time with old friends, learn, motivate, celebrate and honor their successes. As a C200 Scholar, I was fortunate to have the honor of attending this event. Since the event I have been pondering the name of the conference, Beyond Inspiring. I have been asking myself, what does it mean to go beyond inspiration and move to action?
I began using the term “micro Inspirations” just before the C200 conference. I define it as the little micro moments that we have in life that motivate and inspire us. In my life they take many forms ranging from a good feeling walking down the street on a nice day, to failing on a difficult assignment. The compilations of these little moments combined with my larger moments of inspiration, are what inspire me to move to the next moment, look beyond the next opportunity, and go after my dreams. But to go beyond these inspirations is to move them to action and take a step further into making dreams and ideas a reality, something I have been working on since returning from Chicago.
The event was glamorous, flawless and moved smoothly. Being in the room with over 300 women who have climbed the ranks to land in some of the most powerful positions in business was both humbling, intimidating and motivating all at the same time. At one point in the conference there was a celebration of the C200 founders, most of whom are in their 70’s and 80’s, and many of whom were the “firsts” in their industry and in the world. It was marvelous to watch these women walk on stage surrounded by their friends and receive recognition for being the founders of C200 and for their accomplishments in their careers. I realized as I watched them on stage and listen to them talk about their accomplishments that they were the trail blazers for me and my female peers. These are the women who built my future, and through their hard work, they, along with thousands of others, put in the work that changed the expectations and norms for women in business. These changes are what have supported me in reaching success in my own career. As I sat and reflected on this, I realized I am one of these women to the young girls of our future, and whatever I do with my path now, will influence the generations of women who follow. This was an empowering thought a thought that pushed me beyond inspiration.
The conference was full of motivational moments and lessons, but being around these women and thinking about the fact that even if I don’t reach their level, my personal success influences the future for coming generations of women was what motivated me to take action. In fact, I took action immediately and began to pitch my business idea in conversations with these women. The reaction was positive and the more positive responses I received the more I was pushed to action. I found myself listening to the speakers and jotting down business ideas in my notebook. There was something about being in this environment elevated my creativity out of me and my ideas started to become clearer.
I am home now and the action has continued. I am working on my business plan in a formal capacity, feeling the confidence necessary to move forward, and successfully managing my fear of failure. It can be intimidating to go after your dreams for fear of disappointment or failure, but unless you try you will never get there. This entire experience has taught me to keep my eyes open, listen to my intuition and take advantage of my situation. When life hands you an opportunity, or when you create one for yourself, stay focused and do what you can to grow and push forward. From micro inspirations to huge life changing moments, the lessons learned, the honor of being recognized as a scholar by the C200, and the opportunity to be part of this community, most certainly, was far beyond inspiring.
When I was a classroom teacher I had a poster in my room that said, “The highest fences we need to climb are those we’ve built within our minds.” I have always found this statement to be true for my students, and when I became the math coordinator for the Prison University Project I found that it was true for me as a teacher as well.
When it comes to learning math, many students enter the classroom with an internal narrative about who they are as students and what they are able to accomplish in a math class. We all know the power a good teacher can have on the success of a student. For adult learners, a good teacher can affect not only how well a student learns the material, but also how they see themselves as students. Working with incarcerated adults who are returning to the classroom I witness the change in their internal narrative. Many students have been away from school for many years or didn’t see themselves as “college material” when they were growing up. What makes my work so enjoyable is watching the transformation that takes place when adults are finally able to have the success in math that they didn’t have before.
The pre-college program at the Prison University Project works with students to build basic skills in English and Math and prepare them to enroll in college courses. But below the surface there are other changes happening as well. Students are learning study skills, critical thinking, and how to participate in class. And the dedication the students have towards their learning is exciting to watch. Having worked as a teacher in public schools, I witnessed students who took their education for granted. The students at PUP are in many ways the “dream” students for teachers because they are engaged, dedicated, and set high standards for themselves. I am continually impressed by how PUP students connect their education goals to their larger life goals and continue to persevere even when it’s difficult. Watching them overcome their past struggles in math inspired me to think about my own internal narrative.
Before working in a prison I imagined prisoners as one-dimensional, defined by their capacity to commit crime. However, the conversations I have with students, the issues that come up in classes, the skills that students struggle with, are the same as in my other teaching experiences. Very quickly after taking my job I realized I had my own narrative about prisoners to overcome. In this static environment they are taking advantage of the opportunity to change. Working with the Prison University Project is seeing teaching that changes lives in its purest sense.
The College Program at San Quentin State Prison is currently recruiting teachers to co-teach pre-college Math and English classes (Math 50 and English 99) this coming spring semester. Teachers with these classes typically work in teams, with each set of instructors covering one evening per week.
Math 50 has several sections that are held on some combination of Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings from 6-8:30pm. This course covers math from about first grade level (place value) to eighth grade level (pre-algebra) and is geared toward students needing review before moving on to a college algebra course.
All sections of English 99 meet on Sunday, Tuesday and/or Thursday evenings. This pre-college composition course prepares students to write college level essays.
The Prison University Project provides incarcerated men at San Quentin with higher education opportunities through our College Program in partnership with Patten University. Our teachers are volunteers from universities around the Bay Area including UC Berkeley, Stanford, and University of San Francisco. There is no minimum education requirement to be an instructor for the pre-college classes, but those with an education background or previous teaching experience are strongly encouraged to apply. We receive no state or federal funding, so major expenses like textbooks and supplies are funded entirely by donations.
If you are interested in working with the pre-college program, please contact Regina Guerra at email@example.com for more information.
As a white, middle class, single mother, there was never a time during my son’s childhood when I worried that his behavior would result in incarceration. While building a life for us did not come easily, the burden borne by the mothers of African American, Latino, Native American and South East Asian youth in the school to prison pipeline overshadows any challenges I faced raising my son. From a young age Lucas had access to multiple forms of capital: cultural, aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, and navigational. This web of capital and privilege made it possible for him to bypass the trauma and barriers placed upon young boys and men of color that have become an almost seamless path to incarceration. How our schools became the conduit for this pipeline demonstrates multiple levels of social and economic failure.
In my role as a writing instructor from 2008-2011 at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California, introduced me to the lives of young and old men as they spread their rage, frustration and indignation across pages. There were also times that the most tender words imaginable and loving ideas possible flooded those pages as well. In 2011, I taught violent male offenders in weekly life writing and reading class at the Alameda County Juvenile Hall. Earlier in my career as public school teacher I had been prepared as a Reading Recovery teacher which profoundly shaped my understanding of how reading and writing growth occur. My former experience informed how I assessed my student’s needs while working to keep the curriculum responsive to their needs and relevant to their interests. Currently, I am teaching a life writing class at Ralph Bunch Alternative Academy, part of the Oakland Unified School District. That class is comprised of students who have been expelled or failed out of comprehensive high schools in the district.
Through my varied experiences teaching in correctional and alternative settings, I have found much of the writing produced to be evocative and transformational. The efforts of my students to restory their lives drew my attention to the need to create a new narrative around prisons and the pipeline to prison in our society and the need to work to create social justice instead of imprisonment.
Many public schools have become pathways to incarceration rather than opportunities to educate and empower. The economic reality of the school to prison pipeline has extraordinary implications for school leaders, as it affects everything from what we teach to how we build community in our classrooms. We need to alter how we deal with conflicts within and among students, how we build coalitions and what demands and values we identify as central to fight for social justice. The school to prison pipeline undermines the possibility for our country to truly become great because of the way we treat a certain demographic in our human capital.
The way school leaders and teachers respond to the behaviors children bring to school is one way the pipeline is fed. It is important to recognize the role that harsh discipline policies play is sustaining disparities in incarceration. California leads the way in suspensions and expulsions from public schools. In 2009-2010, California school districts expelled roughly 21,000 students and handed out more than 75,000 suspensions. In a recent study from the Council of State Governments, California’s annual suspension rate exceeds the national average.
Zero-tolerance policies are another way the pipeline is perpetuated. Such policies impose severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances. Even the American Bar Association has condemned zero-tolerance policies as inherently unjust. There is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer or in any way improve student behavior. On the contrary, research suggests that the overuse of suspensions and expulsions may actually increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct.
Decker Walker and Jonas Soltis, esteemed scholars in the area of curriculum studies, note, “Even one mismatch or denial of opportunity for a person to grow in one direction rather than another would be a moral transgression against an individual that might change a whole life.” Advocating for and implementing practices that guard against such moral transgressions is imperative to ending the school to prison pipeline. Empowering learners to take responsibility for their learning while scaffolding positive social interaction in a democratic learning environment should be the sort of schooling experience every school age child in America can access.
During the course of the year, my English and World History class explores some heavy subjects— the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking, the rise of dictators like Stalin, the apathetic reactions of various countries to our climate change problem. I am conscious of focusing on how we can learn from history in order to make the future better. As we go through the Holocaust unit, we explore indifference and how inaction can be more deadly than we think, even today.
Most of my students have not heard of the Holocaust, so one of my central goals is simply to make sure each student has a firm grasp on this important part of our history. But I also want them to interact with this history in a way that humanizes people rather than desensitizes the atrocities. So, I want students to know that 6 million Jews were killed. But then we read Elie Wiesel’s Night in order to learn about the actual people who were affected. I asked Dora Sorell to be a guest lecturer as part of that same idea. When the students see her, a holocaust survivor, mother, doctor, and author, they listen to her story, ask her questions, hug her, and realize what she survived and how resilient she is. The students get to be truly empathetic, rather than voyeurs of a gruesome and horrific tragedy.
My students have seen horrific things too—all before the age of 15—and many of them look to Wiesel and Sorell as role models, people who made something truly amazing out of their lives despite all the obstacles and trauma. I also want my students to start thinking as historians—to collect evidence, be critical of what they read and form their own opinions. As we study, they realize how many alternate stories there are about Hitler, and how “doing history” is putting these pieces together to make sense of it. History is an active, malleable, subjective process. It is full of life and stories and connection to today, not some dull, unconnected lesson in a textbook.
As sophomores, my students are already becoming cynical about this country and world and I have to fight against that because I think cynicism breeds apathy and indifference. As adults we often get cynical but being a teacher and encouraging young people to make a difference, I have to try hard not to be that way. I got a lot of positive feedback for the letter Elie Wiesel wrote to my students two years ago, and for organizing Dora Sorell to speak last year, but really all I did was try. There are millions of causes we can fight for today, but the important thing is that we choose to fight for something. I hope my students learn that.
When I enrolled in my first course at Mills College, I had no idea that it would be a course that explored the intersections of Hip Hop, higher education, and first generation college student narratives. Secretly, I was excited about the course because it had the words Hip Hop in the title, but I dare not tell my family and friends that it was my first doctoral course. Why? I had no idea how to articulate Hip Hop’s relevance in education, and I knew some people had skewed perceptions of Hip Hop as that rap music that only promotes violence, misogyny, and conspicuous consumption. For the uncritical consumer of popular culture, this is a logical conclusion. After all, these images are in regular rotation on the radio and in the videos, but my experiences at Mills College provided me with a more critical look at Hip Hop in its proper context.
Is Hip Hop rap music?
Hip Hop is more than rap music, and superficial sensationalism. Rap music is one element of Hip Hop, an artistic culture created by African American and Latino youth in the 1970s as a creative outlet to cope with oppressive socioeconomic conditions in the South Bronx of New York. Other elements of Hip Hop include graffiti art, break dancing, and deejaying (Chang, 2005). Later, Hip Hop evolved and became an essential part of American popular culture with a burgeoning international community in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, Central and South America.
Does rap promote violence and misogyny?
No. Large profit driven corporations such as Clear Channel, “MTV, Viacom, AOL, Time Warner, cocaine, and Hennessey” promote and distribute media that perpetuate these messages (Asante, 2008, p.102). Yes, some rappers have written and perform songs that perpetuate monolithic stereotypical images of African Americans even though they do not believe nor live them in real life. However, many rappers have written songs about love, education, family, resilience, and social justice. But those songs rarely get commercial airplay because of the perceived lack of profit potential, corporations desire to reinforce negative stereotypes, or the lack of danceable beats behind the lyrics of well-intentioned rap artists who some times occur as preachy and self-righteous.
Hip Hop Enrichment Opportunities at Mills
Mills College reintroduced me to Hip Hop in an academic setting. I had always been a fan of Hip Hop, but I wasn’t sure how to share my Hip Hop passion in the workplace or in higher education. Then I heard one of the guest speakers in my first Mills course refer to herself as a Hip Hop administrator. I was shocked. What she said resonated with profound authenticity. Her words described my work experience in so many ways: using Hip Hop sensibilities in educational leadership. Since that first class, I have attended two annual Hip Hop conferences, hired an instructor to teach English using Hip Hop pedagogy, and presented six workshops on using Hip Hop in the classroom. As a fan of Hip Hop, I was happy to know that this community was alive and thriving at Mills.
In addition to my Hip Hop immersion at Mills, I enhanced my intellectual and academic bandwidth by getting involved. I not only attended special events featuring contemporary scholars such as Jeff Duncan-Andrade and Gloria Ladson Billings, I also attended readings and performances by my peers, organized a dissertation writing group for doctoral students, and performed at the Mills East Bay Boogie Café, an end of the year showcase of music, dance, and spoken word performed by students from Mills and the Oakland community. Each of these events enriched my graduate experience and provided me with a strong sense of belonging.
The old biblical adage, “seek and ye shall find,” could not be truer at Mills. I was seeking an opportunity to develop my speaking, teaching and presentation skills, and during the first two years I was given multiple opportunities to do so. During the first year, I was invited to present a workshop on Hip Hop and Higher Education with one of my professors and two peers at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE). During my second year, I was invited to teach a course, sit on an administrative search committee, present on several student panels, and facilitate a Hip Hop pedagogy workshop at NCORE the following year. Each of these experiences affirmed my Hip Hop educational leadership and my pedagogical voice. But Mills provided the constructivist education that valued this voice.
Asante, M.K. Jr. (2008). It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post- Hip Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Chang, J. (2005). Can’t stop, won’t stop: a history of the hip-hop generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.