Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

"Why Seek the Living among the Dead?" African American Pedagogical Excellence: Exemplar Practice for Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

"Why Seek the Living among the Dead?" African American Pedagogical Excellence: Exemplar Practice for Teacher Education

Article excerpt

African Americans persistently have challenged racist regimes through culturally specific ways of thinking, acting, and teaching. During the 19th and 20th centuries, African Americans transformed teaching and teacher education with a culturally situated educational practice. This practice was a distinctive counter-narrative to the dominant American educational discourse that emphasized African American intellectual ability and the pursuit of education as one means toward the aims of personal, communal, and group liberation.

This ideological tenet translated into pedagogical principles and approaches which shaped the interpersonal, instructional, and institutional landscape of African American education, and supported educational attainment and success for several generations of Black schoolchildren attending segregated African American institutions (Foster, 1997; Perry, 2003; Walker, 2000). African American approaches served to improve the condition of African Americans demoralized under the apartheid of Jim Crow and African American educators enact these approaches today.

Indeed, "gap closers" (Hilliard, 2003)--African American teachers who draw on African American principles and approaches for teaching--are among the most rapidly shrinking demographic of classroom teachers. Although documented as powerful, transformative, and valued, their pedagogy and form of teaching remain undertheorized in educational research, policy, and practice. As a result, African American pedagogical theory and praxis have been under-investigated as one possible corrective to abiding dilemmas in U.S. educational practice and the field of teacher education. Problems of practice abound. They include underwhelming school achievement and school-related outcomes for students from historically marginalized communities, particularly Native students, African Americans, and Latino/as. Problems also include a teacher education profession that is rightfully under intense pressure to demonstrate its effectiveness in preparing a corps of teachers who routinely and expertly maximize student achievement and sustain learning. We are searching for solutions. Advancing this conversation may require searching in previously overlooked spaces (Gordon, 1985). Our purpose in this article--rather than to focus on the demographic divide in public education, or discuss disparate achievement--is to reorient the discourse toward African American approaches to teaching, learning, and being that we term African American pedagogical excellence (AAPE).

We believe that AAPE is a plausible foundation from which to re-conceptualize pedagogies for social justice. In fact, it is this African American tradition which has inspired many contemporary movements and activist thought. AAPE reinserts the mechanisms that African American administrators, teachers, and communities use to institutionalize educational excellence. As we demonstrate in this article, were teacher education to reclaim these traditions and incorporate them into teacher preparation programs, along with a robust research agenda, the field could gain one more strategy to prepare teachers thereby tackling several intractable and intertwined educational issues, specifically, the declining numbers of African American teachers, teaching for social justice, and student achievement.

In the next section, we provide a deeper exploration of the principle, practices, and approaches comprised in AAPE. In short, we discuss ideological components of AAPE and practical enactments. In the second section, we present a historical overview of African American educational practice. Our purpose in this section is to connect the framework of AAPE to its contextual and regional environments(s). Here we contend that AAPE developed out of a particular cultural orientation, within the context of specific oppressions, and to certain ends related to social justice and that the inclusion of this history and context is crucial to maintaining its practice and extending its possibilities in contemporary conversations of education, school reform, and teacher education. …

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