What ‘white folks who teach in the hood’ get wrong about education

Columbia University associate professor Dr. Chris Emdin says the “white hero” narrative is setting up both teachers and students for failure. Photo courtesy of Diedre Reznik.

Columbia University associate professor Dr. Chris Emdin says the “white hero” narrative is setting up both teachers and students for failure. Photo courtesy of Diedre Reznik.

PBS News Hour, March 28, 2016 || By Kenya Downs

“There’s a teacher right now in urban America who’s going to teach for exactly two years and he’s going to leave believing that these young people can’t be saved,” says Dr. Chris Emdin, associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “So he’s going to find another career as a lawyer, get a job in the Department of Education or start a charter school network, all based on a notion about these urban youth that is flawed. And we’re going to end up in the same cycle of dysfunction that we have right now. Something’s got to give.”

Emdin, who is also the university’s associate director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education, has had enough of what he calls a pervasive narrative in urban education: a savior complex that gives mostly white teachers in minority and urban communities a false sense of saving kids.

 

“The narrative itself, it exotic-izes youth and positions them as automatically broken,” he says. “It falsely positions the teacher, oftentimes a white teacher, as hero.”

He criticizes the “white hero teacher” concept as an archaic approach that sets up teachers to fail and further marginalizes poor and minority children in urban centers. In “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … and the Rest of Y’all Too,” his new book released this month, Emdin draws parallels between current urban educational models and Native American schools of the past that measured success by how well students adapted to forced assimilation. Instead, he calls for a new approach to urban education that trains teachers to value the unique realities of minority children, incorporating their culture into classroom instruction. I talked with him about the book and why he says the stakes are too high to continue with the status quo. 

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