Thursday, February 28, 2013


...its bigger than...[ethnography forum reflections]

Over the weekend of February 21st-24th, I prepped for and enjoyed the 34th Annual Ethnography Forum as well as Sunday’s inaugural Screening Scholarship Media Festival extension. It was an awesome experience that left me with many insights and perspectives to begin to unpack. My experience within the Ethnography Forum was enhanced by the time I spent as a volunteer liaison for the Saturday plenary speaker, Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz of Teachers College.

Dr. Sealey-Ruiz’s presentation focused on disrupting partial representations of students in your class through clips from the Beyond The Bricks project where Black male students came together to create a documentary. She challenged educators to ask themselves: Are you seeing or are you noticing? In her metaphor, noticing indicated full attention and an inquiry approach. We were asked to complete a Venn Diagram that asked us to describe in one circle “How People See You” and in the other circle “What You Want People to Notice.” It made it more evident that while seeing and noticing are synonyms, they differ greatly in meaning. For my activity, I was partnered with an Ed.D candidate within RWL. We spoke about our identities and how that translated with our self-identified roles as advocates for social transformation. She offered that people see her as a White female, though she was hesitant to be noticed as a White female because of the traditional notions that follow the White female teacher in education. She noted that through her work, she strives to transcend that association. For myself, I offered that people see me as a Black male, and that I would like to be noticed as a Black male because the dominant narratives of Black males in the United States often excludes or exceptionalizes people like myself. A very interesting mix yet we shared one thing in common: we wanted to be noticed for our work first. Our work supersedes our personal identity and we both felt cautious about whether that would be recognized.

As I began to meditate on what it meant to put the work first, I thought about how that would influence my role as a teacher. I have always operated from the standpoint of asking students not to follow me, but to follow the ideas. It is perfectly fine to not to agree with me. I have often found myself more interested with such “skeptical” students. Especially in terms of the mainstream media’s representation of the Black community, I believe there has been a privilege of cultural, political, and economic critique taken up by preliminary Black leaders that I seek to dismantle. I understand this phenomenon to assume a narrative that concludes that many of the youth (and undereducated) in the Black community have to earn the right to have their concerns be taken seriously. In terms of national press, how diverse is the pool of Black people that contribute to critical national conversations on equity and social justice? This trickles down into our communities. Whereby many often have powerful and passionate critiques of individual and institutional discriminatory practices, there still lies the notion that these perspectives must be funneled through so-called leaders to speak truth to power. How can I convince the young people that I work with that their voice is just as valuable as Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Frederick Douglass? Not in the future, but right now?

I have found that the best practice is to disrupt the “banking” education model that Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed talks about so brilliantly. It’s not about what I think. It’s what you think. I love the moment when a young person looks at me sideways because they cannot perceive what side of a debate I am on. I push them to find their own stance backed up by personal values. Through this practice, I hope to instill within them the confidence, competence, and passion to become active spokespersons within their community in favor of equity, democracy, and justice.

I still have questions about this approach. Am I doing youth a disservice by not transmitting to them some of the wisdom that I have gained over the years? Do I think less of them to believe that if I give them my opinion, they will take it at face value? By engaging with the youth, am I evading my own inevitable personal bias and positionality? I want to be present one-to-one in the lives of youth while proclaiming that this work of teaching and learning is much bigger than you and I.

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