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Am I my brother’s teacher?

29 Apr

That’s the title of a fascinating new article from researcher Dr. Shaun Harper.

Dr. Shaun Harper headshot

Dr. Shaun Harper

The focus: How young, successful black students mentor each other in the often-unwelcoming environment of predominantly white colleges.

Harper is well-positioned to study the issue: He heads the Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

From his article’s abstract:

Introduced in this article is the term “peer pedagogies,” which are methods students of color use to teach each other about the racial realities of predominantly white colleges and universities, as well as how to respond most effectively to racism, stereotypes, and racial microaggressions they are likely to encounter in classrooms and elsewhere on campus.

The article synthesizes an extensive body of research that focuses almost exclusively on racial problems Black students face at predominantly white institutions (PWIs), and provides insights into how they manage to productively navigate racist college and university environments.

As Harper notes: Hardly anything has been published about the latter. While there is an avalanche of material about deficits and difficulties faced by black students, there is far less on their assets and successful strategies for navigating those difficulties.

Harper’s research is particularly germane in Philadelphia, a city in which barely half of African-American students graduate from high school in four years.

I took particular note of Harper’s concept of “Onlyness,” in which a black student is the only representative of his or her race in a class or other setting.  This is not an uncommon experience for many students of color at predominantly white institutions; for example, at Penn just 7% of undergraduates (and 2.8% of faculty) are African-American.

Harper emphasizes that successful students nurture each other through formal and informal advising, often focused on how to handle being the “only.”

As I read, I kept thinking of young people (and parents) with whom I wanted to share Harper’s research. As this WHYY/NewsWorks.org article on “Men’s Day” at Germantown High School makes clear, there is a deep hunger for practical examples and models of achievement.

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What on earth is “folk arts and social change”?

17 Apr

PFP home pageThat’s what I first asked when I ran across the Philadelphia Folklore Project. A tiny organization tucked into a space off of Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia, PFP has been ticking away for a quarter-century now. I wouldn’t presume to try to summarize their accomplishments, so I’ll just say:

Our city is lucky to have an organization that recognizes and celebrates art that doesn’t necessarily look or sound like what you’d find in a fancy museum. Among many other reasons: Because it frees young people from the trap of thinking that there’s only one way to make art.

So come on out this Friday night and celebrate African dance and drumming traditions with PFP. Event details below.

HONORING ANCESTORS OF RHYTHM, MOVEMENT AND PLACE
Exhibition Opening Party
April 19, 2013, 6-8 p.m.

This exhibit honors people, places and social and political movements important in the establishment of African dance and drumming traditions among African Americans in Philadelphia.

It shares decades of people’s stories, images and memorabilia of teaching, learning, performing and community-building. Curated in partnership the Community Education Center and Philadelphia-based African dancers and drummers

Celebrate the opening of this new exhibition. All welcome. Free.

RSVP: 215.726.1106 or pfp@folkloreproject.org

Philadelphia Folklore Project
735 S. 50th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19143

 

What do parents want?

15 Apr

Daycare photo #1

Seeing this sign in North Philadelphia reminded me that poor parents want the same thing as richer parents: To know that their children are safe while they are away from them.

After all, isn’t this web cam more or less the same thing as a nanny cam? The difference in this case is that the employees know that the parents may be watching.

Daycare photo #2Of course, monitoring is a fairly crude way to try to ensure high-quality care (and potentially prone to backfiring). The more sophisticated ways tend to require investments of time, money, professional development, and so on.

Which brings me to an interesting development on the horizon. The World Class Greater Philadelphia initiative recently announced a major new effort in Philadelphia to develop an assessment of kindergarten readiness. The effort is funded via a $200,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to the United Way.

From the announcement (emphasis is mine):

[H]igh-quality preschool education is the exception, not the rule, in Greater Philadelphia. In a region with 250,000 children under five, only 11 percent of registered childcare providers earned a Keystone STARS 3 or 4 rating [in Pennsylvania’s voluntary child-care rating system], generally considered to be the standard of “high quality.”

[…] Getting standardized kindergarten readiness assessments in place could have a particularly strong impact in the low-income communities where quality preschool education is needed most, empowering parents to “vote with their feet” and demand high-quality early learning options.

My bias is that poor families don’t really need help demanding high-quality early learning options. They already want them. Rather, they may need help discerning which of the options open to them is the best.*

But that’s a quibble. All in all, I was glad to hear about the RWJ grant and hope that the project comes to fruition as anticipated.

*Of course, it would also be nice if the childcare subsidies that poor families are eligible for were better tied to quality of care. But that’s a topic for another post.