The following blog was written by an attendee of the ItAG, Shayla Amenra. Shayla is currently a masters student in curriculum development at Arcadia University, and small business owner at HAPPIMADE. Previously, she taught elementary and high school, and ran a mentoring program at Drexel. You can find this and more on her blog.
The African-American History Collaborative ItAG meets every other Thursday from 5-7pm at Central High School. For more and to join the conversation, check #AFAMtalk or email Yaasiyn Muhammad or Ismael Jiminez.
For the last couple of months I have found myself becoming more pessimistic regarding the state of our nation, african-americans, and education. As a masters student I am constantly ingratiated in the woes and perils facing the educational system; particularly urban schools. I also spend time discussing strategies on what we as educators can do in our little corners of the world to make it right. However, no matter how enthusiastic the conversation I am often left feeling discouraged and pessimistic. Needless to say I needed to find somewhere to ‘vent’ my aggravation after I read the numbers of blacks in prison and continual police shootings. Not to mention the constant attack I see happening on Philadelphia schools, its’ students and teachers.
A few nights ago I attended the African-American Curriculum ITAG group meeting. If you are unfamiliar with ITAG/TAG Philly you can check out their site here. This group is taking a serious look at the African-American History course with the goal of making it more accessible, providing certain standards of study, and empowering for students. Once complete, the group would like to submit their final curricula to the school district for approval to implemented city-wide.
This ITAG meeting was just that place for me to be. It was attended by mostly teachers, but there were others in attendance who are in the education world as well. A few of the educators in attendance teach the African-American Studies course. One of these teachers mentioned that 65%(I think I might be low on this number) of Philadelphia teachers are white, and it’s student population is majority black. Given the numbers, a majority of the teachers of the African-American Studies course will be white. What are the implications? What will the experience be for black students receiving this information from White teachers? Will students of color feel safe exploring the historical context of racism and their relationship to Mayor Kenny’s continuation of ‘Stop and Frisk’ with white teachers? What about white students, how can they explore issues around whiteness and privilege, while understanding connections between this history, neighborhood empowerment and themselves? How would the white teacher talk about the brutal history of this country with their black students while acknowledging their role, passive or otherwise, in this system?What happens when they are called ‘cracker’ by a black student? Is it a teachable moment, or another disciplinary action? Can they move through history to current events helping to motivate action from these same students?
What about the power dynamics? During our discussions a black male teacher shared his story of being told his white students feel threatened by him. This teacher explained that he was doing the same things he had been doing with his black students, but for some reason with his white students he was threatening. Is it possible for this class to address these issues? If so, how, and can they be addressed the same if the teacher was white? In this case how can the teacher ‘teach’ when he first has to address the idea of him being the boogyman. How does a black educator effectively teach this course without being labeled a trouble maker, extreme, or inciting their students to hate all whites? How do they encourage unity and collective activism if they worry about job safety?
Even with a B.A. in African/African-American Studies I am constantly reminded that there is always more for me to learn. I am excited to be a part of this group. The idea of being able to use my field of study to work towards effective change in education helps my pessimism. It helps as I continue to read about neoliberal policies, watch videos of schools being taken over, and how wonderful(not) TFA has been for African-American teachers. What this group proposes to do follows the districts idea to, “create a culture that not only reinforces a desire to learn, achieve and grow, but reaffirms their existence in the world.”