Educators, students and parents flocked to the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus to join in on the second Missing Voices: Equity in Education Summit on Feb. 6.
CAPTION: Two educators discuss their reflections from the day’s speakers in their dialogue groups.
Held at the University Center, over 300 participants listened, learned and interacted throughout a day that was packed with speakers, art, dance and conversation. Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings — the Kellner Family Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — kicked things off with an engaging keynote address.
Ladson-Billings, who is known for her innovative work in the field of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, framed her conversation on the educational debt that is directly connected to history, economics and social politics. She went on to detail how to connect with students in spaces where they already excel, like hip-hop music and technology. Hip-hop, she noted, is a form of resistance in artistic expression that dates back decades.
Certain current-generation hip-hop artists, Ladson-Billings explained, are using technology to maximize their message of social justice — and young people are responding in numbers. She used the example of Jasiri X, a lyricist whose politically conscious music videos (most notably his piece on the Arab Spring, which Ladson-Billings showed to the audience) circulated social media like wildfire, sparking inspiration in youth worldwide.
This example highlighted the collective power of hip hop and technology while addressing how hip hop can be used as a tool for critical thinking and creative resistance.
“For them, email is an old technology. Teachers, write that down,” Ladson-Billings said during her address. “If you send them an email and they don’t respond, it’s because they don’t read their email. They believe that it is important to stay connected, thus their phones are always at hand. I’m amazed at these schools and classrooms that prohibit cell phones. I’ll tell you right now, they’re not cell phones — they’re computers! That thing you’ve got in your pocket, the old-school flip phone with the factory ring? That’s a cell phone.”
The crowd laughed. But, jokes aside, Ladson-Billings was serious about the changing landscape of education in the digital age.
“When we take (the smart phones) away, they feel disconnected,” she said. “That’s important to them. They also have very different perceptions of copyright, intellectual property and plagiarism. It doesn’t mean they should be allowed to plagiarise, it means we need to explain carefully what it means.”
Intertwined in her talk were telling statistics and the repeated message that the stakes were high for a generation of students trying to learn in a rapidly changing environment.
“They will have 14 jobs before they’re 38 years old,” Ladson-Billings said of today’s youth. “And most of the jobs that they’re going to have are not yet created. Schools are ill-equipped to prepare students for jobs they can not yet envision.”
While Ladson-Billings spoke on education equity to the audience, artist Melodee Strong painted a vibrant, colorful mural next to the stage that showed a bridging of the gap between “old school” learning (chalkboards, projectors, paper textbooks) and the “new school” (laptops, tablets, social media). After the keynote, dance educator Ms. Kenna Cottman helped the crowd stretch out and prepare to open up through a brain-based movement activity. Master Storyteller Nothando Zulu told a colorful tale before the lunch break that was a blend of humor and insight about justice for our youth.
After lunch, attendees turned from listeners to speakers. Groups were split up and constructive dialogue on racial equity in education took place.
“We need to encourage ourselves more in the classroom,” one student said to her group. “As people of color, we tend to grab at each other and hate on each other a lot. We all need to be strong people, because we are. We need to take that and do our best instead of taking each other down.”
Paul Richardson, a literary specialist from Saint Paul Public Schools, found value in the discussions that took place between a large spread of ages, ethnic groups and other demographics.
“I think the most important thing that I took away from today was sitting down with other educators from other districts, along with actual students and parents and being able to converse and discuss and try to synthesize why we have these un-represented populations? How can we make sure that our students of color are getting equitable access and support that is fair and equal?”
One sentiment seemed to echo across all adult participants: the New Century students at this summit were powerful and engaged. And for some educators, students’ voices aren’t heard loudly enough.
“The students that I met were just extremely thoughtful,” Richardson added. “The ideas that they brought to the table were very authentic and critical. It was a good healthy perspective for all of us to gain.”