“Foundations of Urban Education Through an Indigenous Lens”: Community and university solidarity in practice
Illinois State University’s Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline’s (CTEP) professional development series for preservice teachers is planned and developed by a collective of community scholars. This unique model, which centers diverse epistemologies, has become a critical component to the mission of developing “effective educators for urban schools and communities.” The collective planning initiative was seeded by Valentina Gamboa-Turner, CTEP program coordinator who is a woman of color, an educator, a community organizer and a mother of Chicago Public Schools students. It draws from academic research, community and cultural practices, and is grounded in urban social justice movements.
In our work to exemplify community solidarity, our collective of community scholars developed a workshop around Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … and the Rest of Y’all Too. The book is assigned to Illinois State preservice teachers entering their student teaching program in Chicago Public Schools to prompt a community discussion, and to provide new educators with a framework and strategies of authentic and culturally responsive engagement in urban classrooms. In this process, community liaisons led in framing, contextualizing, and facilitating dialogue about how the central points of the text emerge in our respective Chicago communities.
Community liaisons’ work engages all education stakeholders: school administrators, teachers, counselors, parents, community educators, social service professionals, and students within the neighborhoods they serve. These ongoing conversations and perpetual collaborations provide community liaisons with a deep and comprehensive understanding of their educational landscapes. By incorporating their myriad of experiences and neighborhood-specific lens, the community partners are able to activate educational engagement that supports the cultivation of social justice and community-centered teachers. Our Illinois State student teachers are immersed in a model that incorporates, in its theory and practice, student-centered and culturally relevant pedagogies.
In his book, Emdin defines urban youth of color as “neo-indigenous”, paralleling the oppression and displacement they face to that of indigenous communities. Upon initial reading and discussion, Emdin’s definition of neo-indigenous seemed to encompass the realities of the disenfranchisement experienced by many youth within our partner communities. Acknowledging that Chicago is and has always been a native landscape, our Albany Park community partner, Brienne Ahearn of North River Commission, reached out to the American Indian Center to consult native community scholars on their understanding and interpretation of “neo-indigenous.” Through a dialogical process with Native American education scholar Fawn Pochel, the collective transformed the professional development seminar focused on Emdin’s book to not only include, but center Native/First Nations perspective in education. Wentitled the seminar “Foundations of Urban Education Through an Indigenous Lens.”
By bringing a First Nations’ education and community woman scholar into the planning, we learned of her experiences regarding conversations of race and identity (within Chicago) primarily focused on three core demographics: black, white, and Latinx, othering outlying populations and reinforcing dominant and subordinate power structures. While Emdin’s intent is not to trivialize the experiences, and lived histories of indigenous peoples, the defining of urban students as “neo- indigenous” inadvertently reinforces the resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabitation of indigenous lands such as Chicago.
“By referring to urban students as ‘neo-indigenous’ we amplify the ongoing erasure of indigenous peoples in urban areas,” said Pochel. “Moreover, we continue to distance urban areas as indigenous landscapes.” Within the collective process we simultaneously problematized Emdin’s definition of “neo-indigenous” while emphasizing his culturally relevant strategies for classroom engagement.
Within this praxis with community scholars, our collective engages in leveraging social and cultural capital and values various epistemologies to further our solidarity work between universities, schools, and communities.