requires a serious
with autobiography …
else they teach,
THE STORY OF MY QUESTION
As the Chicago wind cradles my yellow kite, the peppered scent of jollof rice and grilled chicken tickle my nose with delight. It is 1995 and time for the annual Nigerian picnic that my family customarily attends. My siblings disperse, but I find myself still clinging with one hand to my father and with the other to my kite. His friends laugh and as they exchange words of wisdom about Islam and Nigerian culture, my father pulls me aside and lovingly whispers that I am his beautiful piece of glass. I wish he were still alive so I could ask him to clarify. Although my father often related proverbs that I never quite understood, his enigmatic style always drew me closer to him. The messages my father left with me continue to resonate as I explore the connection between culture, education and social development.
My high school history classes -- International Baccalaureate (I.B.) -- did not resonate with my home experience or cultural identity. At times, I felt like an outsider because of the lack of knowledge my peers in the program displayed concerning my beliefs, background or line of thinking. The two year International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program was the most challenging curriculum my high school offered. It focused on European and Russian History. My friends who were “weaker” students took world history.
The curriculum, seemed to reveal a lack of diversity and cultural relevance for students. If Dewey (1916) popular notion of experiential education is applied to each individual student, curriculum must expose students to multiple perspectives and the classroom must be a space for these perspectives or lenses to be further explored. Perhaps, the higher level courses and honors curriculum were not designed for the non-European population in the first place? I did not enjoy history until college when I was exposed to more diverse narratives. In high school, the lack of cultural relevance made me feel isolated, insecure and frankly irrelevant. Education that promotes a specific culture, perspective or way of thinking creates what Thiong’o (1986) calls “metaphysical empires”. It seems certain that students in schools are given implicit and explicit messages that white men and European history are superior to all others who are considered on the periphery. (Apple, 2001). This phenomenon is called a colonial education. I was learning what was important, what I needed to succeed-- and my culture, history and perspective were not included in that trajectory. Like glass, I had to reflect what I was learning, however, I could not find an aspect of my identity in the material I was reflecting. I felt isolated without being able to make my own connections and form a healthy understanding. I think it also made my classmates feel like my people’s history-- and consequently my life-- was less relevant. European locations were specified by city, but my classmates and even teachers referred to Africa as a country.
The role of school is to encourage and facilitate critical consciousness. Critical thinking promotes citizenship and progresses society. If our curriculum and notions of knowledge prioritize white values, so will our society and policy. We need to teach our students to critically engage in a manner that promotes inclusion and social justice, freedom for all.
My educational experiences have given rise to my educational philosophy and interest in critical pedagogy. When designing curriculum and a classroom environment, I strive to keep in mind that I co-create with my students. I reflect on the support I wish I had to prepare for the social, emotional and academic challenges I faced while growing up. I reflect on the allies, the reminders that we all possess beauty, and the positive reassurances that every soul needs. I reckon the reminders that rarely came. I think about how I felt in 6th grade on September 12, 2001 when one of my closest friends said, “it was the Muslims.” I think about her ignorance and how her education contributed to that ignorance. I think about the shame and frustration that I felt. I think about my students: The normalization of dead black bodies on their screens. The sexualization of young girls. The villainization of the Islamic tradition. The dehumanization of black and brown folk. The decrowning of their histories and narratives. The consumerist, individualist and, consequently, fragile ideals that crowd such young hearts and minds.
I think. I reflect. I explore. I want to learn more. I cherish the opportunity to work with youth directly and promote healthy mental, social and emotional development. I strive to always remember that being an educator means that I am a student first. I strive to provide my students with multicultural competence, critical consciousness and literacy, relevant curriculum, support and enthusiasm, and a sense of belonging. I’m interested in how I can help my students develop critical literacy.
I am currently teaching history at a boarding school in New England. My experiences inside and outside of the classroom inform my practice and educational ideology. As Don Hamachek (1999) suggests, “Teachers teach not only a curriculum of study, they also become part of it. The subject matter they teach is mixed with the content of their personalities” (p. 208). William Ayers (2001) similarly states, “greatness in teaching … requires a serious encounter with autobiography … because teachers, whatever else they teach, teach themselves” (p. 122). Geneva Gay argues that curriculum needs to be culturally responsive if students from diverse backgrounds (including whites) are expected to excel.
As a teacher, I want to provide space for my students to engage in critical dialogue while exploring their interests. An international and multiple perspective curriculum is a necessity for students and the community at large. We need to teach humanity of all colors and religions. With informed and empathetic citizens, comes a more informed and empathetic democracy filled with individuals who can question and analyze events around them. A culturally competent and empathetic citizenry will recognize and demonstrate for example, that black lives matter.
The tenth grade world history class is the first history course in the social sciences curriculum and therefore serves as a foundational course for the school curriculum. As bright as my kids are, many of them have not been exposed to diverse narratives in history and therefore curriculum. They’ve experienced a colonial education. For example, while my students studied World War II, they were unaware of the various African civilians who were forced to fight for their colonial rulers. My students’ notions of great ancient civilizations are limited to Greece and Rome, they also think that Ancient Egyptians and Jesus were white. Many of my students have had a eurocentric social studies curriculum and because it was done so well, they are unaware of their limited exposure to history or the many narratives that follow history. Peggy McIntosh (1988) writes about her journey recognizing her privilege as a white woman and the eurocentric education that was normalized. She writes that she was conditioned to remain oblivious to these advantages. She describes the ease at which white students and males uncritically accept narratives. Reading her story informed me that my attempt would be challenging for some students. I was, and continue to be, prepared and determined to expand my horizons and that of my students.
This site comprises of my journey in trying to develop critical literacy in a world history classroom.
I hope you enjoy the original photography!