What They Don’t Know: From the Old School to Our Schools

Hello Erebody, (yeah I meant ‘erebody’) allow me to reintroduce our summer guest blogger Khalya Hopkins. She graced us with her brilliance last month as she discussed Kendrick’s instant classic DAMN. And she is back all summer to keep our hearts and minds honest. Let me, let her, introduce herself.

Where do I begin? I’m a mother, an educator, a writer, an avid reader, a forever learner and a proud black woman. I have Southern and Caribbean roots but I was born and raised in the Bronx (BX Stand up!). I’ve been an educator ever since I joined the work force right out of college and I plan to be remembered as such. During the day, I work for the NYC Department of Education where I support Manhattan high schools in the area of Special Education. I am also an Adjunct Lecturer at Hunter College where I teach a graduate level Intro to Special Education course.

My philosophy is that all educators should provide the same quality of instruction that they would want for their own children. It is of the utmost importance and urgency that students feel that they are part of a learning community that validates, respects and invites their knowledge, culture and ideas. I hope, that in my role, I can help push our teachers and students from that educational ideal to a reality.

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After listening to the new A Tribe Called Quest album, We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, I went back and listened for a second time and one song that struck me was the track, “Melatonin”. Q-Tip opens with the following chorus:

 

I said I rarely dream in color, but (they don’t know)download-3.jpg
And every brother ain’t a brother, but (they don’t know)
Pop melatonin like they Swedish Fish (they don’t know)
To give her everything’s my dying wish (they don’t know)
Role play, she plays the mannequin (they don’t know)
Raising my hand, teacher says “Not again” (they don’t know)
The sun is up, but I feel down again (they don’t know)
On just one hand, I can count all my friends (they don’t know)

I envisioned an adolescent Q-Tip sitting in a classroom reciting these rhymes in his head and the ‘they’ he is addressing are his teachers. The specific line where he states, “Raising my hand, teacher says ‘not again’” is so familiar to so many students. Educators are shutting down any enthusiasm students, especially students of color, have for school and for learning. This sounds like an open letter to all of those teachers who really didn’t know his thoughts, his fears, his aspirations, his joys…HIM.

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These narratives are not uncommon and children are sitting in classrooms where their teachers don’t know, don’t care to know or don’t know how to find out about them. Many in the education world understand and agree that teachers need to have a deep knowledge of the communities that they are teaching in, not just the stats or the stories heard from outsiders, but from the students themselves. A worthwhile assignment for pre-service/current teachers would be to complete their own K-W-L charts. They need to acknowledge and share, “What they think they Know”, “What they want to Know” and at the end of the year, “What they Learned” about and from their students. This will immediately put the teacher into the role of a student and they can begin with a culturally responsive lens.

This song could be a great entry point into that discussion. What does it mean to “dream in color” for students of color? Why does he need melatonin? What is preventing him from sleeping? Who is the woman he wants to give everything to? What did she do for him that made him feel that level of gratitude? Why does he feel depressed even when he believes he should be happy? Why doesn’t he have many friends? Why have his teachers discouraged and rejected his participation in his own learning? And more importantly, why should educators care about all of this in the first place? Teachers need to admit that they don’t have all the answers and they need to ask questions or better yet, just LISTEN. This is not to demonize teachers because I know some amazing, culturally aware and responsive teachers who have inspired students to raise their hands by raising the bar. But there are many teachers who are so concerned about content that they failed to consider connection.

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As I replayed this song over and over, I imagined countless black and brown faces who are just “doing school” and not learning, wishing that they could tell their teachers all of the things that they need to know about them. I hope for those children, who are in our schools, that they have the ability to not only dream in color but to live in it.

 

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