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Columbia Professor: Poor, Black Kids Should be Treated Like Gang Members in Class

By Victor Trammell

A professor at Columbia University has a really unconventional idea about how to get black children from low-income families and neighborhoods interested in school.

Christopher Emdin (pictured) is a dedicated educator at Columbia’s Teachers College and he is also an accomplished author. His new book is titled “For White Folks Who Teach In the Hood…And the Rest Of Ya’ll Too.” He recently did an exclusive interview about his opinons on childhood education with the Huffington Post.

“Gangs give their members true responsibility,” Emdin said in is interview with Rebecca Klein of the Huffington Post. “I want that same type of energy in the classroom. I want kids to feel like they are responsible for each other’s learning, that they have their own special handshake. I want them to feel like they have their own special name. I want them to feel like the classroom wouldn’t run or operate without them,” he continued.

Emdin has years of experience teaching math and science to K-12 students in urban communities. His new book seeks to influence affluent white educators that teach at schools in poor areas in public school systems across the country.

His book introduces a teaching method he calls “reality pedagogy.” He writes the following passage in his book explaining this psychologial method:

“Reality pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning that has a primary goal of meeting each student on his or her own cultural and emotional turf.”

Here is an excerpt of Emdin’s interview he gave with Rebecca Klein of the Huffington Post:

Klein: Tell me a little bit about your personal background and what made you want to write this book.

Emdin: In high school, I became aware of the fact that my teachers in many ways were great people who didn’t understand me and my neighborhood. Then, I found myself back in the classroom after undergrad. The early ideas I had about why teachers were ineffective started to make sense.

Many of my teachers were ineffective because they didn’t know how to be effective. As I became a professor in education, a couple things became apparent. We think we’re doing revolutionary work when we say “be culturally relevant,” but none of these educators really understand how to do it. That was the case when I was in high school, it was the case when I was teaching, it’s the case now. The book is really a response to all that frustration.

The title is very unapologetic because I think the reality is that a majority of teachers that work in urban spaces are white and don’t come from those communities. A majority of them are really well-intentioned but have no idea how to do this work properly.

Klein: What were your teachers like when you were a kid?

Emdin: One of my favorite teachers ever, I still speak to her today. She was amazing because she understood me, and when she didn’t understand me, she made an effort to try and understand me. Unfortunately, I remember many other teachers who were not so amazing. They would take my sense of humor, or my expression of my cultural identity and perceive that as me not being interested in what was going on in school or being purposefully disruptive.

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