It’s a sin to waste Black talent and Black brains
An estimated 38 thousand Black educators and administrators in public schools were fired in the South after the Brown v Board of Education decision in 1954. This episode highlights the rich past of Black education through the research of professor Michele Foster, best known for interviewing Black teachers who taught in the ‘50s. Michele is in conversation with one of her former PhD students, Tryphenia Peele Eady.
- Michele Foster, Black Teachers on Teaching
- Michele Foster, “Why Seek The Living Among the Dead?” African American Pedagogical Excellence: Exemplar Practice for Teacher Education
- David S. Cecelski, Along Freedom Road
- Sonya Ramsey, Reading, Writing, and Segregation: A Century of Black Women Teachers in Nashville
- Vanessa Siddle Walker, Their Highest Potential, An African American School Community in The Segregated South
- Vanesaa Siddle Walker, The Lost Education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the Hidden Heroes Who Fought for Justice in Schools
- Vanessa Siddel Walker, Hello Professor: A Black Principal and Professional Leadership in the Segregated South
- Gloria Ladson Billings, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Asking a Different Question
- Video of Ruby Foresyth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SSpNj7LdZU&t=174s
This podcast is brought to you with the generous support from The Walton Family Foundation.
Aimée Eubanks Davis is the host. This series is produced by Priscilla Alabi and Kristen Lepore. Priscilla Alabi is the producer. Kristen Lepore is the supervising producer. Story editing is by Jackie Danziger. Story consulting by Sonya Ramsey. Sound design and mixing by Andrea Kristinsdóttir. Music by Hansdale Hsu. Additional music by Andrea Kristinsdóttir. Additional engineering from Ivan Kuraev. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittles Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Special Thanks to Liz Thompson, Meredith Moore, Acasia Wilson Feinberg and Maya Thompson.
Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. To learn more about the 1954 Project and its mission to fund black leaders in education, visit www.1954project.org
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Aimée Eubanks Davis, Michele Foster, Tryphenia Peele-Eady
Aimée Eubanks Davis 00:26
Those are the sounds of news programs from the 1950s when the United States had made a promise to black students, that we would have equal access to education. But what happened afterwards, what stories that we lose in the fight to integrate our public schools I’m Aimée Eubanks Davis. And this is AFTER 1954. I want to tell you a story about my education as a Black student. I grew up on the south side of the city of Chicago. Were an elementary school, my three siblings and I got a strong education. We lived in all Black neighborhoods, and we were taught by many Black teachers. But our parents knew that if we stayed in Chicago public schools, our high school prospects would diminish. And they could not afford private schools, for kids, private school, too damn expensive. So they moved us to a suburb, they thought this would give us a better chance at a high-quality education for free. Like they just thought we’re moving to a suburb, it’s going to be great. They’re strong schools. What my parents didn’t know is that simply because we’re Black, we were going to be placed in remedial classes, no matter how academically talented we were. Like we scored high actually on the entrance exams, it didn’t matter. Just because we were black and coming out of Chicago public schools. My mom and some other Black parents decided to sue for the racial tracking of Black kids, and they won.
Aimée Eubanks Davis
When I reflect on this time, I realized, there was no one in that building who believed in Black students from the inner city that we had anything to offer academically. We didn’t have any Black teachers. The experience was a nightmare. But it also inspired my own career. Years later, I became a sixth-grade teacher in New Orleans. And now I run a nonprofit that supports college students to graduate with strong jobs. Given my family’s experience, 30 years after Brown, it seems we broke this promise we made to Black students, that they would have equal access to educational opportunities, and black students to this day are still being left behind. And that in part is because there are not enough Black teachers. And this is the part of the story we rarely talked about. Before Brown versus Board of Education becoming a teacher was a pathway towards greater economic mobility for black people. Nearly half of Black college graduates living in the South listed teaching as their occupation. With these jobs came status and pride. Honestly, they broke us into the middle class economically. But while teaching provide a career opportunities for Blacks, the reality of the Jim Crow South was still prevalent. So when toxic integration began, black teachers had their concerns, not only for their jobs, but also for the well-being of their students who would now be in classrooms, where there’d be no Black teachers. And unfortunately, their concerns became a reality. 38,000 Black teachers were fired throughout integration. This means the number of Black educators in our public schools dramatically decreased during this time. And that number has never gone back up.
Michele Foster 04:01
The idea of Black teachers having been good or offering something to students is recent. That wasn’t something people talked about in the 50s.
Aimée Eubanks Davis
That’s Michele Foster. She’s worked all over the country in different levels of education. Today, she’s a professor at the University of Louisville. And she knows about these educators who are fired during integration because she met with many of them. Her book, Black teachers on teaching is an exceptional look into the lives and knowledge of those who taught in the 1950s. Before and after desegregation. She captured their stories, so we couldn’t forget them. Here’s Michele.
Michele Foster 04:40
And I grew up thinking that Black people were pretty special. And I just did I thought, you know, so when I first started teaching the Boston Public Schools, and people talked about cultural deficit, or the kids didn’t have any language. I thought that people were insane. That had not been my experience. I was like, what are they talking about? And I knew that Black kids could do well in school with the right support, with the right education. My name is Michele Foster, and I’m a professor at the University of Louisville in the College of Education and Human Development. I describe myself as a Black American woman who grew up in New England. And while I’m a mother, I’m a granddaughter. I’m a great granddaughter. My great great grandfather was an enslaved man who ran away from Virginia to Massachusetts and built the house I grew up in and my grandmother was his first grandchild. So in 1954, I would have been seven years old, I was in the north, living in Massachusetts, with my grandparents and my mother, the biggest thing I remember was hearing about Thurgood Marshall. And how this Black lawyer had won the case, he was a hero in my family, because he had fought so many civil rights cases.
Michele Foster 06:19
I was at home hearing my grandfather talk about what a great decision it was. And I knew that it was going to be better for black people. I’m sure they said better for negros at that time. And my grandfather was particularly and grandmother were particularly excited, because it meant the dismantling. I think they thought of segregation. But I don’t think that it mattered, particularly to me because I was a Catholic school kid. Even though I lived in the north, I did not live in the south. I had cousins and relatives who lived in Georgia. And so there was this excitement. I’m not sure that I fully understood what it was, that was going to be a new day in the United States. My grandparents were probably the most influential people on me. My mother, of course, was influential. But my grandparents were it, you know, people said, oh, you didn’t have a father. I had a grandfather. He was fabulous. He was wonderful. He was funny. He had had an eighth-grade education. But he was self-taught. He read; he knew politics. He knew all about history. He was what you’d call today, a race man. He believed in the race and he taught. So, I came home from school one day and I said, you know, John Brown was a crazy man. My grandfather said no, John Brown was a hero, because he was willing to die for Black people. My grandmother also took a Raggedy Ann doll that had red hair, she took the red hair out, she replaced it with Black hair for yarn, and she painted that doll black. And she gave me that doll. So I had black dolls before they were black dolls. And they used to tell me, you’re the smartest little girl, I’d say people don’t like me say, well, then they don’t know what they’re missing. I know now that was all designed to fortify me to be able to be successful in a world that they thought was opening up. They thought that they were trying to get me ready.
Michele Foster 08:04
My grandfather always felt that if you depended on the schools to instill black excellence, after desegregation, it wasn’t going to happen. He would always say, why would white people teach Black kids to compete with their own kids, they’re not going to do it. There’s nothing in it for them. Right? So my grandfather, if he were alive today, he would be very concerned, because he felt like if you want your kids to know their history, you can’t depend on somebody else to teach it. You have to teach your kids what they need to know what you want them to know. And he used to walk around the house and say, It’s a sin to waste Black talent and Black brains. There are a couple of ways I would describe segregated Black schools in the south. We have to remember that they were different kinds of Black schools. They were some that were very rural and poor in impoverished Southern Communities. At the same time, there were schools of excellence, like Dunbar Central High School. There were many, many schools. And so I think the way they were culturally affirming is people forget that the teachers were left alone. To teachers often had children sing, Lift Every Voice and Sing as the Negro national anthem. They would teach about Black heroes. One of the heroes they taught most about was George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune. So I think that they were ways in which teachers had a curriculum that they would implement in these schools that was far away from the oversight of the people that ran the schools. Let’s put it that way.
Children were encouraged to be on the debate team to be in the chess club. And I think you have to remember that the children saw other Black children as leaders, they would be the President of Student Council, they would be the kings and queens of the high school. And one of the things that’s very clear, there’s a very interesting book written by David Chechelski. It’s called A long freedom’s road. It was about a school in North Carolina that was going to desegregate. And the people marched from a rural part of North Carolina, all the way into Raleigh. And he’s a historian he couldn’t quite understand why. And in the process of doing the interviews, he found that the parents of that school did not want the school to close, because they understood that that was a school that was affirming them, affirming their children’s identities, giving them opportunities for leadership. And I think that that’s one of the things that we don’t recognize about schools that were segregated, they had their own mascots, they had their own trophies, they had awards for winning various competitions. And in fact, when I was in North Carolina as a postdoc, one day, there was a call made to the school and they were telling people to rush over to the old segregated school, because they were going to bulldoze it. And that school had been empty. And they were going to bulldoze all of the memorabilia in the school.
And I think that’s part of the cultural relevance and legacy of the schools that really when you desegregate it was lost, because it typically the schools merge, and the Black kids left this school and went to the White school. And it was no attempt to share the mascots, you just gave up what you had, and you went to the White school. When the NAACP decided to launch the Brown case, there were teachers, especially in the American Teachers Association, these are the Black Teachers Association, who were concerned about Brown and they weren’t necessarily in favor of it. Now, remember, in order to go forward, and push for this case, you had to have everybody on board. And so many of the black teachers groups that were against it were a charge with you’re just afraid because you’re going to lose your job. And so it was seen as an individual concern, rather than a more kind of national community concern, that we had a shushed and told to just, you know, be quiet, because they couldn’t be more concerned about their jobs than children. So I probably became aware of this in the 80s, that Black teachers had lost their jobs. And they were many, many, many articles. If you go into the historical record, you can actually see cases of teachers that sued the school districts for losing their jobs. I found some examples of teachers who went to court to try and keep the jobs and so they were local examples of it. But it wasn’t until people start to see the pattern.
Before I wrote the book, Black teachers on teaching, I’m an academic, so I had to write lots of journal articles, because in the academy journal articles out, and then Don Davis, who now is a famous publisher, was a young, up and coming published at the new press, and she contacted me, I don’t know how to finish, she kind of said to me, you know, I know you’ve written all these articles, and would you write a book called Black teachers on teaching. So I decided that before, all the teachers that had lived through this were gone, I would start collecting the narratives, to talk about what he just said. And so I started looking for first person narratives. And what I realized is there were very few by Black teachers. I decided to track a teacher’s down by contacting community organizations, NAACP, Urban League, churches, because I knew that they often gave outstanding citizen awards, and I knew that often the teachers would be chosen and so I contacted them, to ask them to give me the names of teachers who were considered exemplary. Ruby Forsythe was an older teacher that I interviewed, and she had been teaching in a one room schoolhouse for more than 50 years. One of the things I learned from her was that you cannot teach African American children well, if you don’t have a good relationship with them, she would always say that she was like the children’s mother, she would say, I’m your mother at school. And when you go back home, you go to your other mother.
Michele Foster 14:33
So Miss Ruby, as they called her. She had taught many, many generations of children in this school, her husband had been a minister in the little church and she was a teacher. So she was teaching like the third generation she had taught their grandparents, but she was the one who only knew me by phone. I told her I was a Black woman coming to the interview, and she said, well stay at this place down there. And that morning, I got up and walked. And like I said, I thought I said how far she had, about a mile it was three. And when I got there, she was standing at the top of her driveway with her hand on her hips. And she had two or three people with her. And they laughed, and they said, oh, we didn’t think a city slicker like you would make it. I was someone they didn’t know. And so often I had to prove myself worthy of getting the interview. I had one teacher, I showed up at her school, and she called her husband and she said, oh, I’m being interviewed and the woman’s Black, so it’s gonna go a lot longer. She knew that it would probably be a longer interview, because she felt I would really want to hear what she had to say. So remember, I’m just a disembodied voice on the telephone for many of them. And so many of them, some of them didn’t know I was a Black woman, until I actually showed up. I think the most shocking thing was some of the treatment that the Black teachers had. The woman in Lyndale, Texas is a good example of how the extremes to which they didn’t want Black teachers to teach White kids. So I reached out to one of the teachers I had interviewed. Her name was Erma Jean Moss. So she and her cousin were the only two teachers in a school that was a K-eight school that gets keep their jobs and she said, the superintendent came in, he said, you know, you and your cousin are going to be lucky, because you’re going to get to keep your jobs, everybody else gonna be fired. This isn’t a little rural school district in Lyndale, Texas. So she and the cousin went to the new school, the White school, but for the first year, they didn’t teach any kids, they put them in a room, because they did not want them to teach White kids.
So they sat in the room, but of course they got paid, right? She said they would play cards and whatever. And eventually they started teaching because the white teachers were upset because they were getting paid and not doing any work. So that was interesting. And she said it was because they had to have Black teachers. But the little small district didn’t want the Black teachers teaching the white kids, that shocked me, that’s a compliance, you got to have some Black teachers, but we don’t want to teach White kids. So I think I was shocked to the extent to which these black teachers who in the end were excellent teachers were not seen as being good enough to teach white kids. What people don’t understand about these schools is many of these schools, these Black schools, the teachers were better educated in the Black schools than the White schools. Because think about it, the Back teachers didn’t have a lot of options, so many of them had master’s degrees. Some of the schools were accredited with a White schools weren’t, the teachers had limited opportunity. So they became teachers with master’s degrees. So I think that we often when we talk about Brown, we overlook that part. Of course, we were trying to make the case that the schools were deprived, and often they were materially deprived, they didn’t have the teachers manual, they didn’t have the quality of books. But what they had were people who really cared about the kids. Now, some could say that the fact that you didn’t have a lot of material might have been better, because if you don’t have a lot of textbooks, then you can create real lessons that draw on the kids backgrounds, right. And so the material deprivation, it was bad. But I think that was countered by the way in which people cared about the kids, and they have their families and their communities. Approximately 38,000 Black teachers lost their jobs following the ruling in 1954. It makes me feel sad, because one of the things you need to understand about the teachers is the teachers didn’t exist in a vacuum. The teachers existed because there were networks surrounding them. They had the American Teachers Association, which would have been like the NEA for Black teachers.
Michele Foster 18:58
So they would have conferences, they would talk about what are the best strategies for teaching Black kids, you had historically Black colleges who all had teacher ed programs, they would be interacting with them. So there was a network of institutions that surrounded these teachers. They often went north to teachers college or to Indiana University to get master’s degrees. What you see today is those structures don’t exist anymore. I always, I say, here’s a thought experiment. Suppose when the schools desegregated, instead of firing all the black teachers and not notify them all, they had said, okay, we’re going to place a black teacher with a white teacher in the classroom. And then the, the white teachers could have learned some of the ways in which the black teachers actually interacted with kids, but we didn’t do that. So I think there would have been a lot to learn from these black teachers, but that opportunity is lost. So black teachers on teaching is often used in graduate schools, because it’s one of the few books that really gets at what the Black teachers had to say about their own practice. And so I get lots of calls, even to this day and email. I’m a Black teacher and I read your book and so on. And I’d like to talk to you about that. So one of the most exciting things about the book is how it’s served as a kind of a guide for young Black teachers who are becoming teachers in the 90s and the 2000s. And also for scholars who are interested who themselves are Black teachers, and now we’re in graduate school. So that’s, I think the thing that is most excite me about the work and part of the legacy I feel like I contributed to.
Aimée Eubanks Davis 20:48
We’re back with the one and only Michele foster whose groundbreaking work in the 1980s captured the practices and the wisdom of Black teachers. Michelle has worked all over the country in various levels of education herself, in Boston Public Schools and as a faculty member at several universities. In the late 80s. She met a young undergrad at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her name is Tryphenia Peele-Eady. Their relationship has evolved over the decades beyond that of mentor and mentee. And so we brought them together to discuss where we are now in education and to reflect on their careers as Black women in academia. The truth is still seven decades after Brown in 2018, Black professors made up less than 2% of full-time employees at colleges and universities across the country. Michelle and Tryphenia have been two of those 2%. Here they are in conversation talking about that, and more. We connected them via video from opposite ends of the country.
Where are you Michele? I want to see ya.
Michele Foster 22:00
I can’t see anybody. Where are you? Where are you? Where am I looking to see you? Because I was worried that you didn’t want to be seen. So that’s why I said no camera, but.
I’m with Michele. She knows me well. I’m okay with that.
I know her well. We’ve known each other since when, like 1989? We’re getting older by the day.
Speak for ourselves, shall not discuss, we shall not discuss time. My name is Tryphenia Peele-Eady, I identify as a Black woman. And personally I am an associate professor in language and literacy in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of New Mexico. I am a sister, I am a daughter, my mother recently passed. And yeah, I think that about covers it. And a wife, give a shout out to my husband, I’m a wife.
I see Tryphenia as that intellectual child, who I poured as much as I could, that I had into her development to becoming an academic. So she is my dearest and most accomplished person who I worked with as a mentor who is now a professor herself.
First, I’m just so incredibly humbled by Michele’s characterization and would likewise describe Michele as my intellectual mother. Because the relationship absolutely has been, I think one of parenting, one of mentoring, one of schooling, one of keeping it way real, and a grooming and kind of development that goes beyond what we anticipate for a graduate school education.
Michele Foster 24:21
Tryphenia was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and she was a work study student. And I was a postdoctoral fellow there for two years. And she worked for a woman who was like an administrative assistant for one of the departments. And when I first met her Tryphenia, she would be in her little desk at the corner doing the woman who was her supervisors work so that might be doing checking citations for one of the professor’s papers. And I can remember she seemed very shy and maybe even afraid of me. I’m kind of a boisterous individual and when I’m in a room everybody knows I […]. It’s my entertainment background. But the woman just was an African American woman who was not an academic, but she was like a mentor to all these young Black undergraduates. And she said, you need to get to know this woman, she was talking about me, because one day she’s gonna be successful. And you need to get to know her. And so that was the introduction, I had a formal or an informal introduction to Tryphenia. And I said to her when I got to know her, would you like to get a PhD? And she said, yes. And I said, well, I’m getting established. But when I get established one day, I’m going to call for you to come and study with me. That’s what I told her.
Yes, I remember that first meeting. And I was just in awe, I’m just doing what I’m told. Because, in my mind, that’s how I’m going to succeed, right? I’m going to develop as a professional, I had my own sense of professionalism, and what it meant to be in the office working in the office with all of these impressionable people, they were all professors, mostly White, several men. So what felt like a world that was distant to me, the only Black people were in support roles, right? And so there were very few black people who were in administrative roles or roles of authority. And then here comes Michelle, who is just this powerhouse, and has her PhD who looks like me. And who carries herself in a way that is very familiar and […], where it was like, this person could be my family, this person could be my mother, right? Who holds a PhD. And so yeah, that’s how that meeting was. But I remember just being in awe. And so yeah, in shy all of these things, and not wanting to mess up or not wanting to disappoint. And just trying to do my little old job as a work study student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Aimée Eubanks Davis 27:17
Tryphenia and Michele’s paths would cross again, five years later, when Michelle landed a job at Claremont Graduate School in California. She called Tryphenia to join her as a graduate student. Eventually, Tiffany would get her master’s and her Ph. D. They’re studying with Michele. Here’s how it went down.
So in 1994, I called her because I wanted her to study with me, like I had promised she could. I had never met Tryphenia’s mom, but she knew about me. And so she encouraged Tiffany to come and study with me. I think our mother told me you better get in the car and drive out there to California. And she actually got in the car and drove on route 40, I’m sure from North Carolina to LA.
Tryphenia Peele-Eady 28:00
And that that’s what I did. I everything went to Goodwill, packed up my apartment, cleared out everything and headed to California to pursue graduate school. One way that Michele has kept it real with me, and in my intellectual upbringing, has been to sit down at her kitchen table. A lot of my learning happened at her kitchen table. It happened in spaces that we would not consider traditional learning spaces. And that’s what I mean by the kitchen table. I spent a lot of time at her home. Michele is a great cook, and her favorite thing as I recall, it could have been an indirect message to me, I don’t know Michele, you have to tell me, but it was always salad. She was always making salads and reminded me to eat my greens to stay healthy and nourish because I spent a lot of time at fast food as a lot of students do. Just being a part of her everyday life. And at the same time discussing research approaches, discussing data, discussing feelings around these processes and these experiences that I was having that were new to me but not new to her. One thing my mother used to say, as a child to me and as an adolescent in particular, was I’ve been down the road you’re trying to cover. I never really understood what that was, as an adolescent. It was more like oh, okay, here we go. But I think that’s exactly what was operating in my relationship with Michelle at that kitchen table, around salads around her cat, her spouse, her family, her garden, I saw everything and loved everything and was a part of everything, because she embraced me that way and brought me into her life, all the while teaching me in ways that didn’t necessarily look like teaching but absolutely, it was that because she’s been down the road, I was trying to cover. My dissertation explore the language socialization of African-American youth in a Black Missionary Baptist Church in Northern California. A moment that stands out in my mind is when I finally finished that dissertation, she says, so what do you think? And I was like, well, what do you mean what do I think I want to know what you think I’m waiting for your signatures. Where is this thing going, I’ll be finished. And she said, well, what do you think about your work? And I said, Well, I like it. I think it’s good. And here’s why. And I began to tell her why, I began to talk about what I thought were shortcomings of the work, what I thought were important points of the work. And she said, great, now you’re done. The fact that you’re able to do that. Now you’re done. And all the while. So this long trek, all the while rested with my ability to come to see that in myself. And I’ll never forget that moment, because it was almost it was powerful, it was meaningful. It was also anticlimactic. I think we were eating more of her salad. And she said, what do you think? Okay, great. All right. Well, let’s set up the defense and let’s get going. I’m thinking that’s it; you were waiting for me to say it’s okay. You know?
I think we all as parents of our biological children, our adopted children, intellectual children, hope that what we’re doing, as we’re doing, it will not only help and provide a vehicle and a way for people to be successful, but that they’ll come to see it in positive light, you know, sometimes the road to become an academic is not always smooth, your work is critiqued, you’re asked to do it over again. And sometimes there’s pushback. But I think in the end, we all hope that the students will benefit from what we’ve taught them, not only intellectually and academically, but for a Black woman, especially in the academy. There are so many, many obstacles that you face. And so I think that was important for me to help her understand that, no matter how good her work was that she would always be scrutinized. One of the things I would say to her is, it’s important that you know, when your work is good, even when people tell you, it’s bad. And it’s also important to know when your work is not good, it’s bad, when people tell you, it’s good, because there are reasons that they’re doing that. And so developing a sense of your own awareness of your work. I teach at the University of Louisville, and I have almost 7000 citations. And so I’m like the 56 most cited person at the University of Louisville on Google Scholar, but people still doubt my ability, they don’t think that I have what it takes. So I think that you’re always in a situation to always having to prove yourself, that you’re worthy that your work is good. I think that’s a continuing problem, you know, look at some of the discussion boards and see that that seems never to end for black women scholars.
Tryphenia Peele-Eady 33:17
And so these are the kinds of subtleties that are absolutely attached to racism, they are attached to sexism. And I think as Black women, in my experience, Black and female, are inextricably linked. So it’s hard to determine what’s at work if it’s sexism or racism, because in my experience, they go hand in hand. I’m the first Black person to receive tenure in the history of the College of Education and Human Sciences. I didn’t go to the University of New Mexico College of Education at the time now College of Education of Human Sciences with the intent of being Black history. And I will also add, that I remain the only Black faculty member on the tenure track. How do I feel about it? It’s not a celebratory thing. It’s one of determination. I feel like there’s a parting of the sea, so to speak of the Red Sea. There’s a paving of the way for others who might decide to come after me. Again, my story, while unique to me is not a unique one. That’s the story of most colleges across different universities.
Aimée Eubanks Davis
Where do we go from here? More about that, after this break. This spring mark 68 years since the historic Supreme Court decision to integrate public schools. And yet, there’s still an unbelievable amount of work to be done. In Black segregated schools, educators believed in their students, they did everything they could to help them succeed inside and outside of the classroom. But as the number of black educators has dwindled in our public schools, this idea that there’s an achievement gap in the black community has grown also, I’m here to tell you, it is not an achievement gap. It’s an opportunity gap. Here’s Michele foster again.
Where do we go from here in Black education? Well, I think the biggest challenge, I think that we still have to overcome is this fundamental belief among educators often taught in schools of education about this idea that children from Black communities are a pathology of cultural deficits. That idea, which almost came to the forefront right after Brown plagues the academic community. And so much of what teachers encounter in the teacher preparation is the problems that Black children have, the limitations they have. And of course, that creates a context in which people don’t value the things they know, their brilliance, their abilities, and they see all these things, when they see children as characteristics to be wiped out, to be tamped down, to be eliminated. The enthusiasm, the excitement, many, many schools tamp that down in order to replace it with academic skills. So now we have desegregation. But how has it instantiated itself? In this case? The teachers Oh, why are the kids winning? The prizes are white. The President is what I mean. So everything is white now. And so kids now come to see they’re not as good because they’re not in the Advanced Placement class. They’re in the regular class, you know, now we’re together desegregated, but it still raises its head. I meet kids today, especially undergraduate state, they are hit by racism, but they don’t even know what’s hitting them. They don’t even know they’re like, bumping up in the dark and getting bruised, and they don’t know what it is, when I was a young person, you kind of knew what it was because it existed in the fact that we were not seen as equal. So your parents could point to that and say, you know, that’s why you’ve got to do X. I think today, the kids, the racism, and the White supremacy is like it’s hidden, it’s not as obvious to them, because think they can ride anyplace they want, they can go anyplace they want. So of course, they see that they must be equal. I mean, that this pandemic has created the possibilities of disrupting a system that isn’t working for lots of kids, whether it’s going to turn into something different and better, it’s hard to know. But you know, every crisis to me is an opportunity. And it could be that this could become something better if we can figure out what changes we can make. I’m a perennial optimist, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. That’s my motto. You can’t be a pessimist and teach every day, you’ve got to believe in the abilities of people, the abilities of people to change the ability of people to grow. And so I you know, I am not that pessimistic, I am still awful. I think the day I stopped becoming optimistic is the day it will be time for me to retire. If you asked 10 years ago, you know, they would call me on Black History Month, and they would talk about Black teachers and they’d one somebody would say, oh, is there any evidence or research had success having Black teachers matters? The answer would have been no, because there was no research. But now there is a ton of research that shows that it does matter to the success of students. We know from the research and this is quantitative research that you know, having if you’re a Black child, and you have a black teacher, you are less likely to be suspended, expelled, go to special ed, you’re more likely to be in gifted and talented, you’re more likely to graduate from high school. And so we have got to make it easier and be proactive to get more black teachers in the classroom. And then when they get there to support them, to you know, not turn them into disciplinary as we often do. I mean, there are all kinds of other problems about you know, who’s going to prepare these Black teachers, most of the people who do teach your education in you universities are White women faculty, there are very few black faculty that do teacher education. So part of the problem is, is that the students come and they have some sense of what might work, they may have some cultural sense. But then that’s not being nurtured and fostered in these environments.
Michele Foster 40:23
I’m a fairly open person, I’m me, I’m authentically me, I’ve never tried to be anything that I am who I am. And so that the joy, the craziness, it’s almost as if people think that if you become intellectual or intelligent, you lose your sense of yourself as a blood person. That’s not necessarily true. Now, admittedly, schools do everything they can to turn you into them. But I say if you can be who you are, you’ll be a better academic. And so I think that the joy I have the fact that I can hang, I’m interested in just regular black people things, right? Makes a big difference, because it’s a model for the fact that they can become this person, and they don’t have to give up who they are. You don’t have to act White, to be successful in school, you can act Black and be successful. And if you act Black, you can be maybe more successful because you’re not busy trying to be something. And that’s what I try and tell people you can be yourself, and you can be whatever you want to be. And in matter of fact, you will bring that creativity that verb that excitement. I mean, if there’s one thing I know about black folks, and this is true, across every place I go, there is a spirit. There’s an expressiveness that you see, everywhere you go, I see it when I go to West Africa, I see it when I’m in Belize. It’s the kind of joyfulness and the way we joke with each other and the way we express ourselves, and the way we roll our eyes and suck it, that is us. That’s who we are. And, you know, schools try to drum that out of you. But that should be something that we celebrate.
Aimée Eubanks Davis 42:04
When 1000s of Black teachers were fired during integration, it left a huge void in our public schools. We lost their leadership. That’s why it’s so important that we uplift black teachers in education today. Next week, stick with us for a college reunion. It will give you the warm and fuzzies. See you then.
AFTER 1954 is a production of Lemonada Media. This podcast is brought to you with generous support from the Walton Family Foundation. I’m your host Aimée Eubanks Davis. This episode was produced by Priscilla Ellaby And Kristen Lepore. Priscilla Alabi is our producer Kristen Lepore is our supervising producer. Story editing by Jackie Danziger story consulting by Sonya Ramsay sound design and mixing by Andrea Kristinsdóttir music by Hansdale Hsu. Additional music by Andrea Kristinsdóttir. Additional engineering from Ivan Kuraev. Our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Special thanks to Liz Thompson, Meredith Moore, Acasia Wilson Feinberg and Maya Thompson. help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at Lemonada media across all social platforms. To learn more about the 1954 project and its mission to fund black leaders in education visit 1954 project.org. You can also get more bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada premium. You can subscribe right now in the Apple podcast app by clicking on our podcast logo, and then the subscribe button. To find resources about the topics in this show. Go to the show notes on this episode. Thanks so much for listening.