One teacher’s approach to getting students from underserved communities intrigued with learning may be shocking.
But Christopher Emdin is spearheading the notion of modeling classrooms after gangs to make students feel a sense inclusion and responsibility.
“I want them to feel like the classroom wouldn’t run or operate without them,” he explained.
The Columbia University Teachers College professor said gangs give their members true responsibility, make them feel like they’re part of a family that will protect them, and provide them with a sense of “cosmopolitanism,” making them feel they’re valued citizens of a larger community.
“I want that same type of energy in the classroom,” he said. “I want kids to feel like they are responsible for each other’s learning, that they have their own special handshake. I want them to feel like they have their own special name.”
Emdin spent years teaching K-12 science and math to underprivileged children and breaks down his techniques in his new book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…And the Rest of Y’all Too, which targets educators who don’t come from the same communities as their students and who have a hard time grasping the kids’ reality outside the classroom.
Gangs protect their block, the sacred part of their ‘hood that’s all their own, and Emdin explained how that same idea, which he calls “reality pedagogy,” can work in schools.
“[It’s] an approach to teaching and learning that has a primary goal of meeting each student on his or her own cultural and emotional turf,” he wrote.
Instead of expecting students to cater to dominant white culture, Emdin wrote his method takes the students’ culture into account.
“There must be a concerted effort to improve the teaching of white teachers who are already teaching in these schools, as well as those who aspire to teach there,” wrote Emdin, who promotes things like using hip hop battles for science education.
His techniques are intended to educate the teachers already in place about taking special care to respect the students’ specific life circumstances and celebrate their culture.
It’s more about adapting a style of teaching that speaks to the children rather than pushing to recruit more teachers of color.
“We think we’re doing revolutionary work when we say ‘be culturally relevant,’ but none of these educators really understand how to do it,” he said. “That was the case when I was in high school, it was the case when I was teaching, it’s the case now. The book is really a response to all that frustration.”
Emdin added, “A majority of [the teachers] are really well-intentioned but have no idea how to do this work properly.”
(Photo: Beacon Press)
(Photo: Chris Emdin via Instagram)