Christopher Emdin, Educator & Thought Leader, Suggests Teachers Use Gang-Mentality Approach

Dr. Christopher Emdin
Dr. Christopher Emdin

*Christopher Emdin, a Black educator turned author, has written an unapologetic new book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…And the Rest of Y’all, Too (Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education).” The book is intended as a step-by-step guide on how to teach Black children who live in or come from at-risk neighborhoods, and even suggests these children, our children, should be taught using more of a gang-related strategy.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Emdin describes some of the reasons for his aproach. “Gangs give their members true responsibility. They make their members feel like they’re part of a family — a unit that will protect them. They give members a sense of ‘cosmopolitanism,’ or make them feel they’re valued citizens of a larger community,” says the Columbia University Teacher’s College professor.  

In the interview, Emdin, who is also the creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement credits one of his teachers (and only one!) while growing up, as someone who truly understood him and when she didn’t, she still made the attempt.

With regard to teaching using a gang-relation method, Emdin, a tenured K-12 science and math teacher who works in underprivileged areas, elaborates on the feelings of unity and “I got your back-support” established in gangs. 

“I want that same type of energy in the classroom. I want kids to feel like they are responsible for each other’s learning, that they have their own special handshake. I want them to feel like they have their own special name. I want them to feel like the classroom wouldn’t run or operate without them.”

I especially like the last one.

Below you can read an excerpt from the interview with the author.


Tell me a little bit about your personal background and what made you want to write this book.

In high school, I became aware of the fact that my teachers in many ways were great people who didn’t understand me and my neighborhood. Then, I found myself back in the classroom after undergrad. The early ideas I had about why teachers were ineffective started to make sense. Many of my teachers were ineffective because they didn’t know how to be effective. As I became a professor in education, a couple things became apparent. We think we’re doing revolutionary work when we say “be culturally relevant,” but none of these educators really understand how to do it. That was the case when I was in high school, it was the case when I was teaching, it’s the case now. The book is really a response to all that frustration.

The title is very unapologetic because I think the reality is that a majority of teachers that work in urban spaces are white and don’t come from those communities. A majority of them are really well-intentioned but have no idea how to do this work properly.

In your book, you describe your students as “neoindigenous.” You write: “Like the indigenous, the neoindigenous are a group that will not fade into oblivion despite attempts to rename or relocate them. The term neoindigenous carries the rich histories of indigenous groups, acknowledges powerful connections among populations that have dealt with being silenced, and signals the need to examine the ways that institutions replicate colonial processes.” Tell me more about this concept. 

When we talk about race, class, ethnicity, diversity, what populations have been underserved by the school system, we oftentimes go immediately to urban education and youth of color. But this is not the first time this has happened. We can look historically at the experiences of indigenous populations in the United States and understand that those populations were in many ways oppressed by schooling that was supposed to be a path toward emancipation. These two distinct groups who are years apart and have different types of experiences culturally, have the same types of challenge with traditional institutions of education.

With models like the Carlisle school where indigenous populations were forced to extract their culture from their learning experiences, we find the same thing in urban education today. 

Read the entire Huffington Post interview here.

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