Recently, I traveled to Chicago with approximately 25 pre-service teachers and two colleagues, who teach in the area of social foundations of education. The pre-service teachers on the trip signed up and volunteered to participate on the trip for additional in-class credit. The pre-service teachers represented a diverse field of interests, including biology, bilingual education, music education, library science, English, agriculture, geography, special education and elementary education.
Amongst the group of soon-to-be educators, there were males and females, with ages ranging from 21-40+, and the group was comprised of majority white students and students from suburban communities. A few students students identified as bi-racial, Latino/a, and Asian. A few of the students were reared in rural communities.
In charge of organizing and chaperoning the group of pre-service teachers were two African American faculty members and a white female faculty member. All three of the faculty participated in the program as a part of a larger program supported grant. Even though the 3 day (pedagogically speaking, this is too short) urban immersion trip took place in a majority lower-income/working class, high density, African American community on the southside of Chicago, none of the college participants identified as Black or an “urban” resident.
Oddly enough, I was the only one in the group who actually was born, reared, worshiped, and schooled in Chicago. I was born in Cook county, reared in Englewood, attended Head Start and K-4th in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Even after migrating to a south suburb, my entire family and cultural identity remained in the heart of Chicago’s parks, museums, libraries, transit system (the CTA and “El”), cultural centers, and homes, due to the fact that my grandparents, godparent, aunts, uncles, and cousins were/are in the city. In fact, my parents attended and are active alumni of two of the CPS high schools where our pre-service teachers observed, during the trip. And, I was less than a mile from where I was raised and attended school.
Due to patterns of white flight and (re)gentrification of the city of Chicago, most collar suburbs of Chicago are majority Black and majority poor and working class communities; therefore, most of us reared in the “inner-city” of Chicago and later re-located to collar suburbs, experienced the same cultural richness and destitution in the suburbs similar to that experienced in the (neighbor)hoods of Chi-town. Side note: Does Riverdale even count anymore as a suburb?
Anyhow, needless to say, taking those from outside of the city into the city always brought mixed emotions for me, personally and professionally. How will these so-called “white” “privileged” pre-service teachers perceive the homes, streets, businesses, and black and brown bodies on the south side of Chicago? Will the pre-service teachers have a level of intellectual and cultural sophistication to appreciate both the resilience and adversity that most city students and families experience? And, will I be able to drop my guards and not be defensive about what is spoken or not spoken about what the pre-service teachers observe on the CTA, the “El,” in schools, and on the streets?
In this digital context, I don’t have the time or material space to address the reflection questions posed. I put them out in the digital sphere to be shared and pondered publicly. I want readers to think of the possibilities and consequences of teaching out of context (i.e. a lecture hall).
A few things that I will say is:
- Many of the pre-service teachers were open-minded about what they saw and heard, while others were in a state of fear, shame, remorse, and contemplation. I am more concerned about those who displayed a sense of repulsion toward/against/for anything that was perceived to be “urban,” poor, Black and Brown.
- Many students on the “urban” excursion acknowledged the adversity many lower-income and working class youth and families encountered, but lacked the cultural and intellectual insight to acknowledge the resilience and resiliency fostering qualities of city residents.
- As for me, I was absolutely guarded. It was difficult to hear my native home, cultural mileu of familiarity and comfort, mother’s tongue, and people bastardized, castrated, and debased by those who one day might teach our nation’s young people.
Pedagogically, I used every moment as a teaching moment to explain processes of gentrification, government financed suburbanization, racial profiling, government loans to Arab and Korean businesses in poor neighborhoods; corporate flight and waste, machine politics, redlining, racial and class-based segregation, the history of white terror on black communities, legalized loan sharks (e.g. check cashing places) and the presence of police and military tactics in majority Black and Latino/a schools. Attention was also given to the history of resistance and activism in Black and Latino/a communities. Frankly speaking, I’m not confident that ANY professor, of ANY background, could have provided such an extensive and passionate political, economic, and social backdrop. I was exhausted at the end of the day.
In sum, the lesson of the day is that when teaching the next generation of teachers about teaching urban children and adolescents, significant attention must be given to teaching about the larger social and political contexts in which students are schooled.
Payne, C. (2008). So much reform, so little change. The Persistence of failure in urban schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.