Recently I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade. What’s his story? He is an Associate Professor of Raza Studies and Education Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies at SFSU. Dr. Duncan-Andrade is in frequent demand on the lecture circuit as he speaks bluntly, passionately and unconventionally about serving poor and working-class children. He also founded a school, K-8 Roses in Concrete Community School, located in Oakland, CA named after late rapper, Tupac Shakur. He sees his students as the flowers in Shakur's poem "A Rose That Grows in Concrete", students who live traumatic experiences every day in a hyperbolic "concrete", a stark environment devoid of nutrients, yet they grow into beautiful roses but oftentimes with damaged petals.
His message was multi-layered and rebellious at times. Some of it I heard before. For instance, he talked about how first and foremost, in order for students to self-actualize, their basic physical and emotional needs to be met, followed by love, encouragement and awareness of self-worth. I knew this already. But Dr. Duncan-Andrade also presented topics that were deeply provocative. For example, he talked about the idea that school shouldn't be about common core and test scores. He is convinced that we are missing the boat in how and what we are teaching our kids. He believes that textbook publishers are lying to our students, that our nation continues to cover up the genocides it has committed, and most of all, although he didn't say it outright, that the current state of education perpetuates "white privilege".
The synapses in my brain couldn't digest fast enough all of the data mixed in with the profanity that this renegade professor threw at us. It was a lot to process. The more I listened , the more I contemplated what it meant to educate, to connect with, to guide our kids to bettering themselves and their communities. Dr. Duncan-Andrade left us with a challenge to re-think what we're teaching and most of all inspire HOPE in our students as we do this hard work. The talk today was a timely ending to a week full of heavy discussion.
You see on that past Monday, I listened to our Superintendent, Dr. Janney, spell out targets for this year at our annual Management Academy. Key concepts that will live at our schools will be: quality instruction, equity, policy coherence, and a commitment to putting students first, basically the LCAP goals. Then on Wednesday and Thursday of that week, I was at Dr. Illingworth's two-day Assistant Principal Mentor training. Our group discussion about how we apply the coaching lens of equity to view situations had me questioning just how equipped (or ill-equipped) we are as educators in our “cultural competence” regarding the students we serve. How well do we know our students' stories? To what extent do we relate our curriculum to our students’ culture, traditions, practices and customs? How do we develop their understanding of self-worth? These discussions all made me journey back to my own experience as a student of color in this very same district. Throughout grades 7 - 12, I didn't see the story of my ancestors anywhere in books or lessons at the schools I attended and sadly, no one ever asked.
As I reflect on that week's events, I am thankful that the story of the students who look like me has appeared via the faces of the Filipino teachers, counselors, and administrators, through the Filipino language classes in our district and through the activities that are planned for the community by our group of dedicated SUHSD educators. (Shout out to Magkaisa and Karangalan committee members!) But we still have a ways to go. Still, I am grateful that we have a Superintendent who has the foresight to create a position in our district that will center on Equity, Culture, and Support Services. I am excited to see where Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joe Fulcher will bring us and look forward to witnessing the results of well-intentioned, well-planned actions. We are on the cusp of these important, critical conversations. I am starting this 16-17 school year with a renewed sense of HOPE and a commitment to acknowledge and integrate our students' stories. I HOPE it starts a movement.