Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Education, Networks, and Racial Wisdom

“Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls.” W.E.B. DuBois

There’s always a lot of talk about black students continually falling on the wrong side of the achievement gap and their struggles succeeding in school in general. But we have less conversation and knowledge about the kind of conceptual work and strategizing being taken up by African American educational professionals and administrators.

Well, yesterday, I was invited to attend the monthly meeting of our area National School Leaders Network (NSLN). The larger mission of the organization is “to build a national network that nurtures, encourages, supports and sustains school leaders in their efforts to increase student achievement.” To fulfill this mission, they encourage local chapters.

Anthony Neal, the director of the SIUE/East St. Louis Charter School, facilitates the St. Louis network of NSLN, and he has actively cultivated contacts on both sides of the river. So, members of this network constitute a diverse group of educators from schools in southern Illinois and the St. Louis area. Participants in the network are principals, assistant principals, teachers, and specialized school officials at public and private schools all across the region.

The group is currently finishing Pedro Noguera’s The Trouble With Black Boys: And Other Reflections on Race, Equity, and the Future of Public Education, so the topic for the recent meeting focused primarily on young African American men from grade school through high school. (Actually, one of the members perceptively raised the point that a more concerted effort should be made to introduce black students to educational systems before grade school.)

All in the all, the meeting was a wide-ranging, thought-provoking conversation—filled with agreements and collegial disagreements—concerning the major challenges confronting educators and students and the steps that might be taken to ensure that larger numbers succeed.

Among other things, the group’s commitment to addressing racial inequity and justice in education is especially impressive. Members of the group are hardly in agreement on exactly how students are affected by issues relating to race, racism, and a range of social and cultural factors. And there’s no clear consensus on what should be done.

Yet, in the process of sharing multiple experiences from the front lines of different school systems and drawing on educational research, a distinct consciousness permeates the discussions. Those discussions are the result of and informed by what folks referred to back in the day as “racial wisdom.”

And that wisdom emerges from particular networks that those of us at SIUE, for instance, could really learn from. Developing our own collectives of educators equipped with an expanding racial wisdom like the St. Louis NSLN group would be quite beneficial…that is, if we’re really serious about educating all of our students here.

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