I’m quiet about my profession. Outside of this here blog. I rarely volunteer that I teach. Or that I’m a special education teacher. Or that I teach students in Brooklyn. Or that my students are all Black and Latino. Or that they’ve had a few academic failures in that pathway to my high school’s door. Or that they can be… rambunctious to the untrained eye.
That media, they sure is good at what they do! Every single time someone finds out I am a teacher, the first thing they comment on is my patience to work with those crazy kids, or the fact that they could never work with bad ass kids. Everytime. It always makes for an awkward introduction. I’m normally compelled to contextualize black-adolescent behavior in historical context for my new comrade real quick. It always seems to bring the other person to a hard stop when I completely reframe the conversation about how bountiful my students are in every which way and how I wish everyone could teach so they could enjoy the same feeling.
I mean, when I tell yall that there NOTHING better than teaching a classroom of my kids I mean it. They are such amazing vessels to be surrounded by. My kids burn off energy and brilliance like its been out of style since style was style. I love working with young wo/men that are developing into our nation’s newest and brightest minds. Everyday my mind is blown from their ability to spontaneously combust into catastrophic clashings sometimes of joy and other times out of terror. Everyday I learn something new from my kids. Each day I’m humbled with their knowledge and understanding of the world. Each day, their resilience reminds me of how easy I’ve had it in my life so far. Each day they push me to come with my A-game to even share the same space with them. Honestly, and I could drop the fuckin mic right here. These kids have me on my fucking A-game. Everything I wasn’t in track and field, I am for them. Nothing in my life has made me want to succeed as bad as these kids.
Everyday they suckle on every last piece of energy and knowledge that I have to bestow upon them. And each day I feel like I gotta reup and find some new shit to feed them. If I’m not nourished, in the traditions and the virtues and spectacle of my own being, then how can they be? They show me more respect than I feel like I’ve earned and deserve. Each day, they welcome me into their midst when they don’t know how raunchy and pathetic I may have been the night before. They accept me, and expect me! Even when I come home and struggle to accept and expect myself!
These kids fight-fight everyday against a society that has already fucked them so over-over-over that they great grandkids’ futures are probably already on some statisticians desktop being plotted and pointed for gross profit-propagandalization. And the real shame is n****s prolly great-great-great-great-quadruple-great grandkids have already literally been accounted for. We’re livin in a world where we’re all statistics. Period. And even still my hittas hustle for opportunity and perspective that the layman takes for granted. Everyday I see my kids cast out into the depths – hungry for knowledge and a success that even I struggle to envision and create for my damn self.
I know I can’t pay it justice. But… there’s absolutely nothing like walking into a room of people 9 years younger than me – and trying to give them every piece of me that I have so they can do great things in this fucked up world. These kids feed my soul. Oh my god. Its so insane. Knowing my seats are filled with stardust, blazing bright and high in the sky.
I don’t need no fucking book to say it. No fucking body to say what I know I can say.
I love teaching my little Black kids! And don’t nothin feed me more than being in a class with these Black kids! They the real ones with soul.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,–this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not African-ize America; for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face. (DuBois, 2003, p. 9)
P L U R A L I S M
Pluralism, as DuBois points out, consists of a bounty of dials that one must set out to align if they want to unlock their growth. The first level of pluralism is recognition: recognizing that multiple dimensions consistently interact within ourselves and the world in general. Recognition is important because without it people are not able to go on to the second level of engagement. Once we understand that all entities in this world consist of multiple layers, a reflective person works to establish stasis amongst these levels in an effort to learn and project the most perfect unification of self. The people who are the most successful at this must be honest in the review of themselves and said entity they are analyzing. They must understand what inherent biases, strengths, weaknesses, and learning opportunities are embedded in each dimension of these entities, in comparison to themselves, to see where balance should be pushed.
The most dominant sides of our identity quite naturally get the bulk of our attention. Therefore, explicit and vigilant practice and exercises are needed to facilitate the process in which internal saturation of all layers happens regularly. Individuals that are comfortable living and engaging in a pluralistic world often seek out additional stimuli and points of view to help them broaden their own internal compass that guides their daily interactions.
In this way, I believe that pluralism is essentially tied to empathy, as in it comes from a place where you see the experiences and thoughts of others as valuable cultural commentaries that can contribute to your own sense of self. The frame of correlation, rather than differences, helps us act from a place of integrity and inclusion. All of which help build the people we interact with and ourselves as more conscious contributors to society.
By integrity I mean whatever wholeness I am able to find within that nexus as its vectors form and re-form the pattern of my life. Integrity requires that I discern what is integral to my selfhood, what fits and what does not-and that I choose life-giving ways of relating to the forces that converge within me: Do I welcome them or fear them, embrace them or reject them, move with them or against them? By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am. (Palmer, 1998, p. 3)
Accepting pluralism as an important and viable concept/task in your life shows that you value integrity, and work to actualize it in your selfhood. What I love about pluralism, as Palmer points out, is that it stems from the acknowledgement of difference. This acknowledgement can come from identifying incongruous internal and external aspects of our own identity. These variables can be scary, intimidating, seem beneath us, or better than us; the manifestations are unlimited. It is this revelation that allows pluralism to develop our psyches into states of depth.
Education, as a function of the state, has historically been anti-pluralistic. In the infancy of modern American public education, school theorists battled with how to socialize immigrant families, while still teaching to what the ideals of an American life would be in the future. As a result, this called for the unilateral prioritization of American values and communication strategies. Many European immigrants, dreaming of the successful images advertised overseas, entered this country and gladly assimilated into the culture. Resultantly, and phenomenologically, the immigrants received access into dominant society, thusly acknowledging the validity and necessity of their values and personhood. Furthermore, they were given access to help facilitate the very processes that determine educational and cultural acceptability for others to come in the future (now the present). What’s interesting is that we battle essentially the same policy issues today in NYC and across the country. However, the immigrants of today face far more difficulties assimilating into a culture that much more easily can identify their otherness based on outside factors, such as hair texture, skin color, home language, income levels, etc…
As an educator, this process of self-reflection is infinitely important. Personally, I feel as though I seek to find answers in everything I encounter. Framed a different way though, I know that this can make me susceptible to thinking I will be able to find answers to my questions through my own impetus without seeking input from others more knowledgeable than myself. Thankfully, pluralism as a concept coaxes its employers into a constant state of critical thinking. I believe the true practice of pluralistic thinking must extend outside of the classroom to have the desired effect inside. It’s not a practice that can be easily turned on, and therefore, shouldn’t be viewed as something that can be turned off outside of our hours of professional duty. Pluralistic thinking requires us to authentically engage all learning opportunities, when and where they meet us, even at 3am on a restless evening. The true curator of the skill is able to take a bounty of experiences and turn them into something purposefully and immediately useful professionally, academically, and personally.
Pluralism, is therefore an internalized structure to establish and ingest sources of social and cultural strength. I view pluralism as a tool in which I overlap other’s schemas of knowledge over my own. This expands and multiplies my scope of connection to the world and its many different shades of people. Sometimes I feel as though the majority of educators emit low-frequency pluralism wavelengths, as though their antenna were calcified over. They diddley here, daddley there, yet never truly internalize the importance of stepping outside of themselves to expand their teaching scope. This important skill should be mandatory in order to show and teach our students how to be loved and accepting in the universe. To purposely not seek to learn your students is negligence incarnate:
“A heavy and cruel hand has been laid upon us. As a people, we feel ourselves to be not only deeply injured, but grossly misunderstood. Our white country-men do not know us. They are strangers to our character, ignorant of our capacity, oblivious to our history and progress, and are misinformed as to the principles and ideas that control and guide us, as a people. The great mass of American citizens estimates us as being a characterless and purposeless people; and hence we hold up our heads, if at all, against the withering influence of a nation’s scorn and contempt. Frederick Douglass, in a statement on behalf of delegates to the National Colored Convention held in Rochester, New York, in July 1853.” (Alexander, 2010, p. 140)
The Allegory of the Cave
As I become more enlightened about the way the world works, I find myself fighting constantly with how to internalize what I’m uncovering, and how to share this new information with my peers and loved ones. I recently found Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in which he describes how humanity basks and boasts in the ignorance of what they don’t know. When an individual is called to a higher plane of consciousness, they first struggle to understand it as reality, then work to a state of clarity that challenges, but eventually comes to coexist with their identity in some form. However, it is the duty of the enlightened individual to return to his peers to help them too become more knowledged. His peers, absent of the same stimuli will question, taunt, and even condemn their adventurous comrade. However, thus is the onus and opportunity of insight.
“It is the task of the enlightened not only to ascend to learning and to see the good, but to be willing to descend again to those prisoners and to share their troubles and their honors whether they are worth having or not. And this they must do even with the prospect of death. They shall give of their help to one another, wherever each class is able to help the community.” (DystopiaUK, 2014)
Watching this powerful parable made me think of three of my own short stories that help to explain how pluralistic thinking, or a lack thereof, truly does impact our world in ways we can’t imagine. The following three allegories have helped me contextualize why it is always necessary to root my own knowledge development as something that is ever-growing. These allegories serve to challenge us to go beyond the comfort in thinking we know enough about life as is, or that my status quo is good enough for another man.
The push of competition
Imagine for a second that you are running a race against four other people. You represent all of the people of privilege in this race. At some point you take the lead and have held that lead for many centuries. Someone who is new to running may think this is the best position to hold, the front. And those that support you hoot and holler each time you complete another lap in front of your peers. You have internalized the applause so long from your supporters that you begin to assume that your place in the lead is the best position and the only position to be in. Experienced runners though, know that this is the most precarious position to hold, as you have no one else to help you gauge your own pace nor the energy expending. Nor can you truly gauge where you are in relation to your competition. Relying on yourself for so long, you become exhausted and careless with your form. You sloppily continue around the track working ever-harder to hold your lead, recklessly blocking those who work to pass you, even though they would help push the pack to an even greater pace.
While others behind you can easily see your waning form and strength, you assess yourself solely as the leader, and are unable to realize how this artificial pace causes more chaos than good for all stakeholders in the race. In life, many people assume we’re running a sprint against each other. This may have been true millennia ago. The reality is we’re running a marathon, and need to rely on the talents of everyone involved to run the best race possible.
The power of the uninformed/unbothered decision maker
Now, imagine for a second that you are a female. You have your own value and idea system as a fully capable and willing adult should. Suddenly, you are abducted by a nearby tribe of barbaric men. After being transported to their home territory, you find out that they not only disrespected your right to choose where you live, you no longer have any legal protections under their law. You are forced to live a life according to patriarchal rule and views, which differed dramatically from those you had shaped and developed to enhance your own vision of life as a woman. Without your input/guidance, the system run by those barbaric men would probably have no contextual lens to make progressive and supportive systems to protect your well being as the sole woman. Using that same lens, how do you respond when I tell you that as an Afrikan American adult male, it was devastatingly painful to have participated in a teacher training program that left abundant opportunities to incorporate perspective from overtly Afrikan, Chicano, and Disabled communities. Luckily, we live in a world where both contexts exist, and we see clearly how that is shaping out for women. We look in disdain as our male leaders continuously make ill-informed decisions about matters that only affect them during the workweek, but devastate and uproot the stability and comfort of our female counterparts lives’ in entirety. Most people understand the recent abortion legislation deemed acceptable by all male Supreme Court Justices as being asininely detached from what any woman would ever consider a responsible use of judicial power. How, then, could you, as a pluralistic person come to understand our continued oversight in regards to the education and support of our students and their teachers from Afrikan, Chicano, and Disabled diaspora?
I remember being given privilege for being born male in my own household at an early age. Having a sister that is approximately three years older than I, there were constantly things I was allowed to do/experience that she herself was not. Many times my own mother would chalk the difference up to me being a boy and not having to consider the same security concerns in mind when thinking about me as opposed to my sister. Part of the reason I enjoy teaching in my classrooms is because, as a male, I also never fear for my safety. I use my gender, physical presence, spatial movement a lot in my practice – and specifically because I am male. There are many times I’ve had to posture to prevent an outbreak in my classroom by physically making myself bigger or smaller depending on what the situation calls for. I also invoke my vocal register, normally by lowering my tone and slowing my speech when absolutely needing focus and order. In these moments, I specifically think my students respond to my maleness more than anything else. I use my body language to show them that I’m the leader of the pack, and when they cross the line they must defer back peacefully into the troop. I also am quite comfortable walking home at 1am from long nights studying simply because as a male, I rarely ever feel unsafe out on the street.
As I age, I grow ever more comfortable in my gender-identity and the privilege and opportunities it has afforded me. Even through my own privilege, it has been only recently where I began to realize sexism and how I unknowingly perpetuate it by simply assuming as a biologically stronger male that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want to, because of the relative safety given due to my sex. As I’ve internalized this, I’ve also come to understand that some females don’t have the same luxuries I take for granted. Furthermore, to even assume they don’t perpetuate this very same oppressive mind state that labels them as something less than I.
The most important breakthrough I’ve had in this realm has been my complicit comfort and absolute non-desire to give this inherent maleness up. I was born with this and didn’t choose or work to have this. In many ways I’m supremely oblivious to the privilege I receive from it on a daily basis. In this way I yield to racisms truest power. If, my White brothers and sisters experience any type of awakening as I’ve had in my own male privilege, I can understand their ambivalence in knowing which steps to take to eradicate something they themselves seem to have little to no control over. And, to be frank, something they wish not to lose on their own behalf. I, for one, would only be interested in walking this Earth as a female for a short time to see what I cannot see in my male-tinted glasses. The combined lack of knowledge and desire to eradicate my maleness, seems like the strongest parallel between what my White brothers and sisters may experience in this globally radicalized debacle.
Race plays a major role – indeed, a defining role – in the current system, but not because of what is commonly understood as old-fashioned, hostile bigotry. This system of control depends far more on racial indifference (defined as a lack of compassion and caring about race and racial groups) than racial hostility – a feature it actually shares with its predecessors. All racial caste systems, not just mass incarceration, have been supported by racial indifference. (Alexander, 2010, p. 203)
Understanding that gender dynamics play a large role in the world and in the classroom, I work endlessly to identify and squash language/slang that perpetuates the gender biases that my students are exposed to everyday. I work diligently to make space for my female students’ voices, ideas, and comfort in classrooms that stink of the explosive and spontaneous displays of masculine bravado of my young men. I work to create space for them to be themselves, but to also imbue within all members of my classrooms that females are to be respected. Disrespect has no space in my classrooms, nor in the world. I am a bit biased in my discipline in that I go harder on my young men when I feel they are perpetuating negative stereotypes against women and young ladies in my classrooms. I don’t think they yet understand, or have even heard of gender bias, but I hope that my consistent and strong response to what I deem as repressive gender theory soaks in deeply enough for them to internalize and gain from when they grow into productive citizens.
What is the responsibility of an institution charged with protecting and educating all of its citizens? I believe it is up to us as the institutional cells to seek out what the representatives of our target cultures have to say about themselves. We must do the work of incorporating culturally accountable research, narratives, and opinions into the lay of our curriculum, and the scope of our own thinking. And when we think we’ve done enough, go back to do even more.
The third problem I believe we must overcome is the narrow and essentially Eurocentric curriculum we provide for our teachers. At the university level, teachers are not being educated with the broad strokes necessary to prepare them properly for the twenty-first century. We who are concerned about teachers and teaching must insist that our teachers become knowledgeable of the liberal arts, but we must also work like the dickens to change liberal arts courses so that they do not continue to reflect only, as feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh says, “the public lives of white Western men.” These new courses must not only teach what white Westerners have to say about diverse cultures, they must also share what the writers and thinkers of diverse cultures have to say about themselves, their history, music, art, literature, politics, and so forth. (Delpit, 2006, p. 181)
There seems to be a small handful of my peers that are capable of bringing more from outside experiences to help frame their teacher training. I, for one, would be extremely interested to see what type of round table could be established to gather our ideas, hear our challenges, and see where growth can be had. This could be scholarly debate in its finest form. This Innovation Council of Educators (ICE) could consist of first-year, second-year, graduating-fellows, and students from the traditional education program. If I were a student with autism, from Chicago heritage, learning disabled, or an English language learner, I wonder what my assessment of this program would be. I also wonder what resources I would have begun to find on my own that would flesh out my own canon of theorized tools to use in my classroom. I look at the Teacher Resources Center on campus and see such a beautiful compilation of resources. However, LIU could work wonders here in expanding its own library of resources by adding first person accounts of theory, practice, and foundational skill development, etc… I believe this to be a very doable adventure into developing innovative responses to what has been systemic negligence in the urban education and disability fields.
One of my own hesitations to criticize is that I understand that the student population of most urban education programs is overwhelmingly White, therefore using culturally relevant texts for them constitutes a mostly white index of research and authors. However, using basic education theory, do we push student growth by continuously giving them stimuli they’re used to, or by pushing them to decipher sources they find difficult and foreign. I believe the program could use some concerted focus on scaffolding up as opposed to what it used with us. One place where that growth can be pushed is by using a more difficult set of texts. LIU can be a leader in this field if they were to massively expand the official texts used to push and challenge their students’ thoughts and foundations for their teaching practice.
I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. (X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1992)
In closing, we still must rely on ourselves first to do that work required to enlighten ourselves beyond the constraints of our own singular identities. Even with a simple homemade education, one could begin to dive into a world where their perspective alone didn’t frame the values of life. It is through these pluralistic contexts that we will begin to reach our fullest potential through humanity and it’s weaponized use of public education.
Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: New Press.
Delpit, L. D. (2006). Other people’s children: cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press :.
DuBois, W. E., & Griffin, F. J. (2003). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.