CARD Conference Focuses on Educational Equality

NEWBURGH – There was no need for a microphone as Christopher Emdin, author of For All You White Folks Who Teach in the ‘Hood and the Rest of Y’all, Too, spoke passionately in front of more than 100 educators from Mount Saint Mary College, the Hudson Valley, and beyond.

“To really, truly bridge the cultural divide in education, every individual educator will have to focus on the needs of young students of color,” said Emdin. “You need to be courageous enough to take a stand.”

Emdin was the keynote speaker of “Bridging the Cultural Divide,” the eighth annual conference of the Mount’s Center for Adolescent Research and Development (CARD), on Tuesday, October 17. He is an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education and associate director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education.

A social critic and science advocate, Emdin’s commentary on issues of race, culture, inequality, and education have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.

“People live up to or down to their expectations of who they are,” he said. “Where [many minority students] are is a perception that they are inherently bad before they begin.”

According to Emdin, schools with bars on the windows, metal detectors in the entryway, and security guards at the entrances have a higher instance of violence among students.

“Kids walk in and say, ‘Oh, so you think I’m a thug? Ok, let me show you thug,” he said. “We construct the narrative based on our misperceptions of who they are, and then complain when they live up to our imagery of their savagery.”

Emdin says that one of the ways for educators to reach out to students from disadvantaged areas is through the adoption of new teaching methods, such as what he calls “Pentecostal pedagogy.” This simple technique draws from the call and response culture of many African American churches. Whereas a pastor might ask for the congregation to exclaim, “Amen!” as a method of keeping churchgoers engaged with a sermon, a teacher might say, “Are you with me?” every few moments during a lecture to get a “yes” response from students. Not only does this keep students paying attention, but it also turns them into active participants, Emdin notes.

Other CARD conference speakers included Tatyana Kleyn, founder and producer of Living Undocumented, City University of New York; Jane Gangi, associate education professor and creator of Nurturing Immigrant and Refugee Youth through Literature and Art, Mount Saint Mary College;  and David Mumper, resource specialist in Newcomer Programs, Southern Westchester BOCES.

“Bridging the Cultural Divide” was co-sponsored by CARD and Orange-Ulster BOCES.
CARD is co-directed by professors Frances Spielhagen, education, and Paul Schwartz, psychology. Spielhagen and Schwartz, both prolific writers, recently collaborated on the book Adolescence in the 21st Century: Constants and Challenges, based on past CARD conferences.