Capstone: Enquiry

Capstone: E  N  Q  U  I  R  Y 

I shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for my feelings or my thoughts… So I wont – The following is a synthesis of where I currently stand in regards to enquiry – henceforth known as inquiry. My understanding, again, has developed far beyond the scope of just the LIU teacher training program. This is actually a compliment to how much I’ve received in the short 2.5 years here through LIU and the NYC Teaching Fellows program. It is through this deep appreciation that I position the following comments as expressive, and not offensive to whomever may receive these words.

When I first started writing this piece, I welled up in angst. I’m extremely sensitive to the mood(s) people project into our combined space. Hence, with the end of this program nearing, my peers haven’t held back in their desire to be done with all graduation requirements. More than ever they’ve showed their disappointment in having to partake in a low-cost masters degree program that was requiring consistently rigorous work from them. I can’t say that I’m super excited to be tied to my computer everyday either, but it wasn’t until I felt the deluge of their cries that I, too, just felt like being over it. However, each time I think about inquiry, I can’t help but compare myself to my peers in evaluating my performance throughout this program. I’ve worked through the entirety of my years here to draw parallels between the student-to-teacher relationships and dynamics I experience in my 9 – 12 setting, and the very same thing that I imagine plays out between the LIU-Brooklyn staff and myself and peers here as graduate students. Even down to the day I saw the new LIU fellows come in and I had a slight feeling of upperclassmanship when I got a quick “Who the hell are these kids walking around my halls!?” thought bubble next to my head.

Normally, I’m not the type to draw comparisons between myself and others. Growing up, jealousy and envy were words we weren’t allowed to say in the SkoolHaze household. And thankfully so, because those concepts and that language has remained foreign to me. I’ve made it far in life trying to push myself based on my own aspirations. This has been increasingly difficult as it has called for the continued need to find mentor-like prototypes to help me craft my own goals and successes. However, if I were an LIU employee reading this very project, the inquiry question I would love to answer right now would be – what has the final positioning [of students] and the end products of this educational program shown me about this cohort of teachers, and my effectiveness in teaching and preparing them to “close the achievement gap?”

Inquiry:

Inquiry, to me, is the process of trying to understand something. It’s an active process. I don’t have any scholarly research to back this up, or any children to say I’ve learned from first hand. However, I would say toddlers/babies are in a constant state of inquiry. They’re constantly on the look out to find and play with something – play with for the sake of learning. Conversely, as adults/caretakers, we are consistently in a state of vigilance and surveillance – blocking what we deem as unsafe or hurtful experiences for ourself and others. I imagine babies are fearless in their desire to discover new ground. As adults, we often lose that drive to find what hasn’t been found before. This makes me wonder – What may I be preventing my students from experimenting with in my classrooms? How can I stay vigilant as I become more of an expert, to create space for exploration that I may view as unimportant? How can LIU as a teacher education program continue to incorporate new stimuli to enculture its students with? How can it be a self-sustained repository of innovative theory and practice development?

Observation as Inquiry:

As I mentioned in my Introduction to the Knowledge Claim, I’ve always been the type of person that tried to observe situations for what they were. What’s been helpful about being an observant person is that once you get a handle on what is taking place it’s fairly easy – if being honest – to see what is not taking place. Herein lies the power of inquisition. What is not happening in this situation? What can be introduced to shake things up? I’ve found that many times a slight reorganization/reprioritization can align situations to a more developmental/progressive state.

This need to question drives me as a professional and an adult as I carve my way through this world. To what end, I don’t know, but I find that by inquiring into the fabric of all situations I’m generally happy with the result. It’s nourishing to see myself think problems through as wholly as possible. I’m constantly stuck in this model of needing to find the answers to more questions as a means to employ this information into my professional and personal practice.

“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself… To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and to try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.” (Baldwin, p. 47)

Inquiry as Lifestyle:

Inquiry for me is a lifestyle, one that I was endowed with as a young Black boy growing up in this United States of America. Thusly, it leads me to my frustration with my peers and my academic leaders at LIU. My peers don’t see the need to question themselves, their motives, the world around them, and how they can be true allies and supporters of a “more perfect global union.” To many of them, this is a paycheck; a teacher training program fit to prepare them to teach our Black and Brown citizens the status quo. One that clearly isn’t working at its current state. [Think – Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell. We even live in a world where the Black President of the United States isn’t safe, and this man is considered the leader of the free world.] I wouldn’t be realistic if I placed blame on them for experiencing this program as it was destined to be experienced by its creators and their institutional and bureaucratic leadership. My frustration with my peers stems directly from their comfortable, privileged seats, which have virtually remained unaffected throughout this process. Thanks in large part to the handlers of the LIU program. As a Black, I literally feel as though I have to question and reflect on every single move I ever make, in public, in my home, in my dreams, in my conversations, period. The result of me not questioning will undoubtedly leave me in a position of comfort or more realistically statistical failure and death.

African-American men need to recognize how a little concern and attention paid to boys may make the difference between becoming a man or remaining a boy. America’s propaganda is quick to sell us on blaming the victim, and to determine the system exempt. We are quick to argue, “I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps.” America’s propaganda, and specifically capitalism, has developed a game where ten people play, but only one wins (the prize can only be big if there are fewer winners). If the nine players ever assessed their situations, and either did not participate or changed the rules, the game would end. A sophisticated marketing apparatus continued to provide the illusion that at some point you will [win]. Why would we allow ourselves to play a game that theoretically has more losers than winners? (Kunjufu, 1985, pp 28 – 29)

Dr. Kunjufu’s words speak to the reality of what it means to be a Black man walking this Earth. As I’ve grown, I specifically feel as though I’ve witnessed my peers be tugged away as we all tried to walk the same journey. I constantly feel as though I’m the last one standing from my immediate peers in what began as a gloriously bountiful race for personhood 28 years ago.

Questions for LIU:

Through consistently asking more developed questions – I’ve developed a deep understanding of my role as a classroom teacher, but also the systems that interact and affect my teaching inside and outside of the classroom. As a result, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the theory and pedagogical practices used to imbue my peers and me. One of the questions I’m asking myself in the moment is, why would my “urban” teacher education program allow my peers and I pass through – to completion – if we have not demonstrated dexterity as classroom leaders, specifically with regard to for Black and Brown students, and/or students with disabilities. My frustration stems from the realization, and unfortunate acceptance, of the fact that although I have sought to enlighten myself outside of the confines of this program, I would assert that my peers have not, and have skated through having done exponentially less reflection of themselves, and most importantly the broken systems that govern this country, specifically the academy which we have been encultured through LIU to perpetuate.

“In my particular view, my frustration comes from the reality that the school still does not address many of the lived problems that our students face. In casual conversation with other African-American male teachers, it’s a pretty ubiquitous sentiment that we’re here, we’re working hard, but at the end of the day, the life chances and the outcomes of our students aren’t where we’d like them to be and that’s in part because it’s bigger than a person. The system seemed ill-designed to seriously and immediately ameliorate what our students are experiencing and their future outcomes in terms of employment and education once they leave secondary school. The larger questions aren’t being addressed sufficiently and that leaves some frustration at the ground floor.” (Brooks, “How To Increase The Number Of Black Male Teachers In Boston Public Schools”, 2014)

I’m eternally grateful for the education I’ve obtained through LIU’s bidding. However, that education has caused me to cast a doubtful eye on the very institution that served to give me such powerful wings. The Malcolm X in me says, “Why aren’t more issues of race, culture, classism, lack of effort, effective teaching practices from Black and Brown scholars being purposefully and excessively used to help educate my peers and I? Using a theoretical lens, I understand most of my peers and educators are White. Therefore, culturally relevant resources for them would be something that mirrors a more mainstream, White-flavor. Could this be why students haven’t been challenged to look deeper than surface level and labels to identify how their specific practice can be revolutionary to the practice of education? Probably so. The public relations professional in me would spin my question to read, “How, specifically, are we going to address the issue that this LIU program [and truly teacher education programs in general] is under-utilizing educational research reflected from African, Latino and Disabled scholars?

Carter G. Woodson called for similar pedagogy almost seventy years ago. He extolled teachers in 1933 Mis-Education of the Negro to teach African –American students not only the language and cannon of the European “mainstream,” but to teach as well the life, history, language, philosophy, and literature of their own people. Only this kind of education , he argued, would prepare an educated class which would serve the needs of the African-American community. (Delpit, 2006, p. 162 – 163)

As the flood gates open, please keep in mind that these questions stem from a genuine desire to see my students, and people like them, aka people like me, prosper, and grow outside of the confines that have been unfortunately taught by the mainstream education scholars leading these efforts to date. Personally, what has helped me remain sane, and highly effective [<self evaluation] has been my independent desire to seek out resources from African-American scholars who could better speak to my own strengths and views inside the classroom. When meshed with the mainstream resources provided by the LIU program, I know that I’ve grown into a well rounded and highly capable educator. However, I’m increasingly distressed at the blatant disregard for people of color and their contribution(s) to society. Educators generally code this as culturally relevant education. However, few programs, including LIU, seem to truly saturate their theory, practice, and students with relevant and culturally diverse education theory. One could make a strong argument that the other sciences and practices suffer from the same staleness, and I would probably agree. To be more direct – it’s evident to me that teacher education programs are implicitly racist as they aim to teach equality, diversity, and justice, yet struggle themselves to incorporate it in their curriculum packages. The resulting omissions are glaringly clear examples to all students that respect for the rainbow variation of cultures and experiences is frivolous in comparison to the almighty mainstream (read: White) scholarly gospel. If I understand this as a new member of this industry, why then would my professors, administrators, deans, presidents of colleges, government, officials, and all others far more experienced and knowledgeable than I… allow this to continue to happen? How then, as an institution of academic quality and integrity, is LIU going to respond to this frightening evidence (Cohort 23’s Teaching Fellows) that they are playing their part, well, in producing lemmings programmed to push forward the continued obliteration of urban and engaging communities?

{{[“If we happen to be members of the same organization, and the illiterate man tries to embarrass you, do not become disgusted, but remember that he does it because he does not know better, and it is your duty to forbear and forgive because the ends that we serve are not of self, but for the higher development of the entire race.” (Garvey, 1967, p. 49)

As Elder Garvey points out in his speech Shall the Black Man be Exterminated, I’m frustrated with the current situations we find ourselves in as a practice. However, I love my brothers and sisters that I am on this journey with. Therefore, I find it partly my duty to help inform and problem solve to a better tomorrow, and that practice must always start by reaching for a better today.]}} Re-read!

If you’re following the root of this piece, you’ll know that it started with wondering if I could think and reflect on my teaching practice. Quite obviously yes, as will be demonstrated in my interpretation of each claim. More importantly, right now I’m focused with finding out how I can continue to invest myself in a system of state mandated education, when so many of my peers and leaders don’t care enough to authentically research and address any of the issues facing the marginalized communities they seek to teach. How do I move in a world that is set up for robotic compliance of all, and even less than for its colored people? Scholarly works I will quote speak most directly of White people and their explicit and figurative power over people of color. But, its actually quite deeper. The very same people in power at these institutions are moving through life robotically themselves, too ignorant or scared to provoke the exercises truly needed to move this world.

“To what extent do you find this true in your own writing, in terms of the self consciousness of being a Negro and a writer, the polarity if it exists.” Well, the first difficulty is really so simple that it’s usually overlooked. To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time. And in one’s work… and part of the rage is this, it isn’t what is just happening to you. It’s happening all around you, all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference. The indifference of most white people in this country and their ignorance. Since this is so, It’s a great temptation to simplify the issues under the allusion that if you simplify them enough people will recognize them. I think this allusion is very dangerous because its not the way things work…(Baldwin, 1961, [Radio broadcast])

As I can speak about inquiry forever, I will move forward. In closing, I think I’m leaving this domain as someone who questions abundantly. I love the push and the drive to continuously uncover more. My quest to inquire is bound to my drive to acquire more knowledge as well. It’s difficult when your quest to find out more is not pushed and supported by your peers or your program of study. To me its a sign of completion and transition. I’m enthralled by my growth and ability to seek out truth and change. Equally though, I’m disheartened by the realization that my peers, my program and most everyday citizens, are less so interested and aware of the power we hold as classroom/community leaders and historians.

To make a final comparison I draw on a textual source used in this final capstone course. In what began as a truly compelling text scraped to a halt as we’re introduce to the author’s strong language detailing the benign burden of double-consciousness:

“I realize that the idea of a teacher within strikes some academics as a romantic fantasy, but I cannot fathom why. If there is no such reality in our lives, centuries of Western discourse about the aims of education become so much lip-flapping. In classical understanding, education is the attempt to “lead out” from within the self a core of wisdom that has the power to resist falsehood and live in the light of truth, not by external norms but by reasoned and, reflective self- determination. The inward teacher is the living core of our lives that is addressed and evoked by any education worthy of the name. Perhaps the idea is unpopular because it compels us to look at two of the most difficult truths about teaching. The first is that what we teach will never “take” unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students’ lives, with our students’ inward teachers.” (Palmer, 1998, p. 16)

Parker Palmer, a seasoned White-male educator, challenges us to step outside of ourselves and search for the truth and for leadership out of whatever current state society has us locked within. I remember fondly in Inquiry I (TAL 830), the fierce push back many of my White peers gave when they learned they were being called to think about the act of teaching as they taught their students. To them, this was an impossible feat, to reflect – while in the act of doing something. [Neverminding that we accepted the responsibility to teach, train, grow, develop, and really accelerate these young Black/Brown bodies here.] I tried, half-heartedly, to explain to them that this phenomenon was not new to humanity. Famed American sociologist, and perhaps the most academically revered African-American in history, W.E.B. Dubois, introduced the world to his concept of double-consciousness long ago as a process of necessity for negro survival in this American land back in the early 1900’s. Surely, if marginalized communities must live daily, from inception, with the burden of “the veil”, we too their teachers, and as their entrusted instructors, could partake in a similar process to authenticate our own teaching, and to give us a more personal connection with the contextual frames that our students bring with them into our classrooms from the outside world. Needless to say, they weren’t impressed:

…the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,–a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (DuBois, 2003, p. 9)

Perhaps it’s only clear to me, but Dubois’ introduction of double-consciousness, is a direct ancestor to its modern offspring known as code-switching, personal/teacher inquiry, urban socialization, urban education, and various other layers that affect and teach to minority/[casteamerican] identity. Yet, my peers, and most troubling perhaps, my instructors, don’t know of his value to this craft. This is the most disrespectful piece of trying to authentically take part in a program claiming it is preparing me to teach students of color, and actually makes me want to evaluate what our teacher education programs portfolios of academic integrity and standards should look like… What compelling evidence would/could such an urban education program show… if it can’t even show respect for American scholars of yesteryear who simply don’t represent the White/Western/European iteration of education theory. If I had my way, I would take part in the accreditation boards that review and certify such institutions just so I can have my opinions be heard. But I know that’s not necessary. I, unlike most, attend a prestigious, reflective organization. One that I have faith in, as a teacher education program to hear the cries of my peers and my students and push to make the consistent, although drastic, changes necessary to make Elder Toni Morrison’s scowl go away once and for all.

The Negro author is no exception to the traditional rule. He writes, but the white man is supposed to know more about everything than the Negro. So who wants a book written by a Negro about one! As a rule, not even a Negro himself, for if he is really “educated,” he must show that he has the appreciation for the best in literature. The Negro author, then, can neither find a publisher nor a reader; and his story remains untold. (Woodson, 2012, pp. 81)

Remember Momma Morrison punching us in the face with her diatribe about racism? I can’t help but see the author, dangling her Pulitzer, Nobel, and Presidential Medal of Honor for all to see, holding her brazen truth onto the table, daring us to act as though we see otherwise. Here we are in 2014, still unapologetically raising a White man’s projections to guide a staggering number of White teachers how to teach children of color. Meanwhile, the more effective and powerful argument written over a century ago by the pre-eminent Black scholars of modern history, W.E.B. Dubois, goes unnoticed, unappreciated, and really more audaciously missed as a true and authentic “urban education” teaching opportunity. Yet here we stand, still having to answer inquiries as to why our citizens, students, and their semi-professional teachers alike don’t see the value in education.

Where do we go from here? How do we move forward?Why are a founding father’s scholarly tributes being overlooked, ignored, when they’re so clearly central to not only education, but to the proper and strong development of all individuals in this society? How and why have my instructors at LIU let this continued omission take place? As a Black, what am I to take from this animalistic show of disrespect for my culture? More importantly, what indirect lessons are my less conscious European brothers and sisters pulling away from displays such as this? Program leadership’s choice to enculture we students with the offensively simplistic and barbaric texts seems like malpractice that I dare not mimic in my own classroom, for my own even more impressionable high school youth. See – “Tal 854 Reading Response 1?” [<<not linked]

This pushes me to ask – Who then is serious with their claim to nurture us into capable and knowledgeable educators, moving swiftly to the front lines of the public school battle grounds?

Still… I stand impressed by where we have traveled as a peer group. We have moved far from where we began in 2013. But all of us on the leadership spectrum have light years to go if we are to really call ourselves a group of effective educators in these urban(warfare) classrooms.

How do we move forward to begin effecting a better today?

========

Sources: 

Baldwin, J., Hansberry, L., Hughes, L., Hentoff, N., Kazin, A., & Capouya, E. (1961, January 10). [Radio broadcast, Retrieved from http://www.digitalpodcast.com/items/868536]. New York:

Baldwin, J. (1961). Nobody knows my name: more notes of a native son. New York: Vintage Books.

Baldwin, J. (1963, December 21). A talk with teachers. Saturday Review

Kunjufu, J. (1985). Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys. Chicago: African American Images. (Original work published 1985)

Brooks, A., Chakrabarti, M., Bristol, T., & Frederick-Clarke, H. (2014, July 10). How To Increase The Number Of Black Male Teachers In Boston Public Schools. How To Increase The Number Of Black Male Teachers In Boston Public Schools Radio Boston RSS 20. Retrieved July 16, 2014, from http://radioboston.wbur.org/2014/07/10/black-male-teachers-in-boston

Delpit, L. D. (2006). Other people’s children: cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press :.

Garvey, M., & Garvey, A. J. (1967). Shall the Negro Be Exterminated?. Philosophy and opinions of Marcus Garvey or, Africa for the Africans (2d ed., ). London: F. Cass.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The Heart of a Teacher Identity and Integrity in Teaching. The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

DuBois, W. E., & Griffin, F. J. (2003). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.

Woodson, C. (2012). The Failure to Learn to Make a Living. The Mis-Education of the Negro (47-48, ). Buffalo: EWorld Inc.. (Original work published 1933)

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