A portrait of an exemplary African American male teacher

Raising the critical consciousness of African American students in Baldwin Hills: A portrait of an exemplary African American male teacher

Lynn, Marvin

This collaborative, participatory study examines the pedagogical practices and beliefs of an African American teacher at a private middle school located in an affluent African American community. The study’s focus is twofold: (a) to explicate the principles guiding this teacher’s efforts to enhance his African American students’ moral, intellectual, and spiritual development; and (b) to discuss the ways in which his emancipatory pedagogies provide a fertile learning ground for those students. The authors maintain that this case study typifies what happens when a school’s mission is positively aligned with its teachers’ beliefs and practices. The innovative school setting is described, and a literature review focusing on the beliefs and practices of exemplary, culturally relevant African American teachers contextualizes the study.

Much of the existing research literature on the education of African American students has sounded the alarm about the failure of public schools throughout the land, and especially those located in urban areas, to effectively educate Black pupils (Shujaa, 1994; Woodson, 1933/1993; Wright, 1984). A variety of schooling options have been explored and debated in an effort to meet the needs of the ever-growing population of school-age African American children. These options include state-run schools (Anderson, 1988; Butchart, 1976), desegregated schools (Wells & Crain, 1997), Black independent schools (Lee, 1992), and White independent schools (Borland, 1996).

A critical issue that has emerged from this debate is the important role that African American educators play in the academic achievement of Black youth. Foster (1991,1993, 1994, 1995) argues that African American educators, because they typically are able to express cultural solidarity and communicate with African American students in styles that are familiar, are better equipped to recognize the historical, political, and economic realities that shape the educational opportunities and resources available to Black students. She further contends that quality Black teachers exhibit a strong sense of commitment to Black youth that is fueled by a keen understanding of the context in which these students are being educated. This results in a sense of urgency that compels these educators to view education as a tool for transforming not only the minds but also the lives of their African American students.

The present article describes an exploratory investigation of the beliefs and practices of one African American teacher who exemplifies such a commitment. This study was drawn from a larger, ongoing ethnographic study of African American teachers in the greater Los Angeles, California, metropolitan area. Utilizing qualitative research methodology, primarily classroom observations and interviews, the smaller study examined data collected over a nine-month period in 1998 and 1999 at the La Cienaga campus of the New Roads School, located in Los Angeles’s predominantly Black Baldwin Hills neighborhood. In response to recent literature from the field of critical race theory in education that highlights the significance and benefits of participatory research methodologies for investigations of populations of color (Matsuda, 1987; Matsuda, Lawrence, Delgado, & Crenshaw, 1993; Parker, 1998; Pizarro, 1998; Stanfield & Dennis, 1993), this study was designed as a collaborative effort between a researcher and two practitioners. It also draws upon the tradition of storytelling within critical race theory, as described by Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, and Thomas (1995), Delgado (1995), and Matsuda et al. (1993), as a means of illuminating the ways in which the stories of people of color enter into a dialogical relationship with extant sociological and legal analyses of racial inequality. As Matsuda maintains, stories that are told from this perspective incorporate more fully the voices of those about whom the story is being told. Moreover, such research is culturally sensitive because it involves the subject as researcher and the researcher as subject. Thus, the lines of demarcation between researcher and subject are blurred because the researcher is an insider inquiring about issues germane to his or her own life (Foster, 1996). From this vantage point, one can begin to think about the ways in which the narratives of exemplary African American teachers can be utilized to better explain the lived realities of African American students.

To situate this study within the larger discourse of research on practices that promote the learning and development of African American children, we begin this article with a brief review of the literature on the beliefs and practices of African American teachers. This review does not attempt to essentialize all African American teachers’ identities by arguing that they all share the same, monolithic set of beliefs, characteristics, and practices. Rather, it seeks to illuminate studies that have filled a void in the literature by addressing the work of Black educators who have significantly empowered, or who have the potential to significantly empower, students of African descent. The literature covered in this review offers insightful commentary on the nature of schooling in the United States and articulates a vision of how schools can do a better job of supporting and nurturing African American children. It is important to note, however, that very few studies have explored how African American men who teach in emancipatory ways view their teaching.

The study next focuses on the site of the teaching activity explored in the study: the New Roads School, specifically its La Cienaga campus. The New Roads School, too, can be described as emancipatory in the sense that it is an institution that seeks to raise the moral, political, and social consciousness of its students. Therefore, this case study typifies what happens when a school’s mission coheres and is positively aligned with its teachers’ beliefs and practices. Last, the classroom practices of Kamal Hassan, lead teacher at New Roads-La Cienaga, are highlighted: (a) to explicate the principles that guide one African American male teacher’s efforts to enhance the moral, intellectual, and spiritual development of the African American students with whom he works, and (b) to discuss the ways in which this teacher’s emancipatory pedagogies provide a fertile learning ground for those students.


Ladson-Billings (1994) maintains that exemplary African American educators believe in the capacity of all African American youth, regardless of class or gender distinctions, to learn and successfully navigate the terrain of White society. In discussing why some African American students fail in school, she also notes that these teachers typically do not fall back on commonly held beliefs and notions about the barriers to these students’ success, nor do they define success in traditional ways. Instead, they view a student as successful if he or she is simultaneously able to achieve academically and maintain strong connections to his or her community and the people in it. According to Henry (1992, 1998), exemplary African American teachers also frown upon genetic, cultural, or economic deprivation theories, opting to hold themselves, other teachers, and the schools responsible for the intellectual development of each and every Black child. Foster (199 adds that such teachers encourage all of their students to aspire toward excellence.

A number of researchers have suggested that African American teachers exemplify progressive notions with regard to the nature of learning. Ladson-Billings (1994), for one, asserts that Black teachers are culturally relevant teachers because their teaching supports certain beliefs, among them: (a) that learning is a socially mediated process, (b) that knowledge is a social construction that should be viewed critically and shared by all, (c) that teaching is an art that should not be regarded simply as a set of technical skills, and (d) that teachers should develop relationships with students that extend beyond the classroom. Other research on teachers of African descent illustrates the degree to which these teachers express reluctance about adopting a single, monolithic approach to teaching-either progressive or traditional-and resists the characterization of African American teachers as regressive in their teaching methodologies (Delpit, 1993; Foster, 1991; Henry, 1992, 1998; Perry & Delpit, 1998). Moreover, this research is not reticent about Black teachers’ reluctance to enact what are deemed more progressive teaching strategies when traditional approaches appear to be more successful for African American children. Delpit (1993), for example, eloquently articulates this point in her discussion of African American teachers’ broad support of traditional approaches to reading instruction for the majority of African American learners.

Not only does the literature focus on African American teachers’ beliefs about learning and teaching, it also explicates their beliefs about social, political, and cultural issues as they pertain to education generally, schools in particular, and the wider social context. For instance, Henry’s (1998) work describes the beliefs of a group of Afro-Caribbean teachers as rooted in African American feminist and womanist principles such as those iterated by Alice Walker (1983). She maintains that the teachers who were the focus of her study held that the purpose of their teaching was “to dismantle hierarchies of power and oppression around the dimensions of socioeconomic background, language, ethnicity, race, and gender” (p. 4). Henry (1992) also contends that African womanist pedagogues act as “othermothers” for their Black students, while consistently providing them with positive reinforcement, promoting collective responsibility and sharing, and encouraging their academic, intellectual, and cultural development (p. 400).

In that same vein, Ladson-Billings argues that African American women teachers’ emancipatory practice is based on what critical theorist Patricia Hill Collins (1991) calls an “Afrocentric feminist epistemology” (p. 201), which stems from three factors: (a) African American women’s experiences with oppression, (b) their dialogical engagement with each other concerning the nature of African American people’s domination, and (c) a sense of caring that leads to a commitment and a collective struggle to overcome oppression. The works of Lynn (1999), Foster (1993), and King (1991) support this thesis. Lynn, for example, argues that progressive African American male and female teachers believe that because racism, sexism, and elitism are endemic to American society, they must teach a liberatory pedagogy that focuses on the development among Black students of an African cultural identity and an awareness of social inequality. Of course, individual teachers’ beliefs about society and the nature of schooling have vast implications for the ways in which they develop and practice these liberatory pedagogies.

Studies of African American teachers are inconsequential if they provide no evidence that what these teachers do in their classrooms makes a substantive difference in the lives of African American learners. Subsequently, such studies typically describe and analyze the elements of African American teachers’ emancipatory classroom practices that help them to empower Black students and propel them academically. One such study is King’s (1991) investigation of five African American teachers’ practices in a predominantly African American, low-income community. King iterates the extent to which these teachers help students become responsible for their own learning, stimulate the intellectual curiosity of their students, and encourage parents to challenge existing power relations between the school and the community. Similarly, Lee’s (1992) research on Afrocentric teachers details how these teachers utilize African-centered principles such as the ancient Egyptian principles of Maat (righteousness, truth, honest, propriety, harmony, order, and reciprocity) and the Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles of Kwanzaa (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith), to guide their practice. She further identifies ways in which Afrocentric pedagogy emphasizes the historical legacy of African Americans and their connection to Africa, and details the impact of that pedagogy on African American students.

Other studies emphasize the ways in which African American teachers incorporate and make use of the language of African American and West Indian students to construct relevant curriculum (Callender, 1997; Foster, 1994, 1995; Henry, 1992, 1998; LadsonBillings, 1994; Ladson-Billings & Henry, 1990; Perry & Delpit, 1998). Foster (1991) and Henry (1998), for example, discuss how African American teachers use Ebonics or Jamaican patois to communicate more effectively with their students. This and other research also provide rich analyses of the ways in which African American teachers utilize African indigenous language patterns such as call-and-response, voice inflection, signifying, rapping, proverbs, and repetition in their classrooms. They reveal how these culturally derived practices are representative of African American teachers’ commitment to ensure that their students both succeed academically and maintain sound, well-balanced cultural identities.


Origins and Orientation

New Roads School, an independent educational institution established by the New Visions Foundation in 1994, consists of three campuses: a middle school and a high school in Santa Monica, California; and a middle school located in the affluent, predominantly African American, South Los Angeles community of Baldwin Hills. The school was started by Paul Cummins, a social activist and longtime headmaster of the private, predominantly White, and progressive Cross Roads High School in Santa Monica. Cummins maintains that in establishing New Roads, he and his colleagues at the New Visions Foundation sought to change the face of private schooling by creating educational institutions that reflect the racial diversity of the Los Angeles area (personal communication, March 1999). Thus, a critical requirement was that each campus would enroll a minimum of 40% students of color. Moreover, the schools were to “promote personal, social, political, and moral understanding, and to instill in young people a respect for the humanity and ecology of the earth” (New Visions Foundation, 1996, unnumbered page). Subsequently, the main thrust of the foundation s and Cummins’s efforts was to create an environment where students could learn to coexist in a diverse school community and become social critics. As such, the faculty and directors of each of the campuses of the New Roads School are committed to:

encouraging teachers and families to participate in the construction of curriculum and other matters traditionally decided upon by the administration;

providing students with opportunities to nurture their artistic as well as their academic faculties;

utilizing the community as a resource from which to build curricula and create stronger bonds between community and school;

teaching students to respect and honor their unique cultures while recognizing the importance and value of cultural diversity; and

helping students become highly principled and compassionate human beings endowed with the critical thinking skills that will serve to foster positive social transformation.

Student Enrollment

The New Roads campuses currently boast combined enrollment rates of over 60% students of color. At each of the campuses in Santa Monica, African American students comprise about 20% of the student population, while Hispanic American and Asian American students comprise 25%, and White American students comprise 55% of the student body. Though both the Santa Monica campuses’ student populations are more than 50% White, the Baldwin Hills (La Cienaga) campus is quite different. The majority (80%) of its students are African American.

The La Cienaga Middle School Campus

Disinclined to consider public schools and lacking many quality educational choices in their own neighborhoods, middle- and upper-class African American families in communities such as Baldwin Hills frequently opt to send their children to private schools in wealthy White communities. The New Roads-La Cienaga middle school campus presents these families with a viable local educational alternative. One of the school’s major strengths is that it seeks to capitalize on the wealth of resources and talent that currently exist within the community in which it is embedded. Members of the Baldwin Hills community are routinely employed as teachers for its classes in media and the arts. Moreover, the school provides its students and teachers with resources similar to those available at White independent schools and, because it seeks to develop the whole child and imbue its students with cultural pride, political consciousness, and social responsibility, New Roads-La Cienaga provides an enriching academic environment for African American youth. As a result, the students who attend this middle school are advantaged, but not just economically. With its small class sizes, personalized instruction, rigorous academics, and commitment to fostering social change, the La Cienaga campus offers youth from Baldwin Hills the setting and support they need to be academically successful and socially conscious.

The New Roads-La Cienaga campus has been fully operational since1997. It offers a curriculum that ranges from advanced mathematics and humanities to percussive music and visual arts. With its five classrooms and small class sizes-the average size is 12, and no class is larger than 15 students-the campus also offers a close-knit, intimate setting for intensive teacher-student interaction. At the time of this study, four full-time teachers, two African American males and two Hispanic Americans one male and one female), comprised the faculty. The director of the campus is an African American woman, an avowedly Afrocentric educator, who has been teaching in the South Los Angeles community for more than 20 years.

Though the La Cienaga middle school’s mission is consistent with that of other New Roads campuses, it is unique in a number of ways. The level of autonomy afforded to the teachers and director of the La Cienaga campus is one exemplary feature. It is also an important marker of the middle school’s success. Though New Roads School is typically classified as a White Independent school, the La Cienaga campus is clearly run by African Americans. More importantly, these educators are allowed the freedom to structure the curriculum in ways that are most suitable for them as a community of educators and learners. What makes the school even more significant for the African American families whose children attend New Roads is not the children’s better-than-average test scores,’ but the commitment of the faculty and administration to building a family-like atmosphere. The New Roads middle school in Baldwin Hills takes seriously the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child,” and, for this reason, it presents a vital resource for the surrounding community.

Though the teachers and administrators at the La Cienaga and other New Roads campuses have high standards for student achievement, they are equally interested in nurturing within their students a sense of cultural awareness, political consciousness, and social responsibility. Teachers are expected to have both a strong social and cultural consciousness that supports the causes of oppressed peoples and a commitment to political activism at the local and/or international level. This expectation creates an environment in which teachers of color who practice emancipatory pedagogies can thrive and provide a fertile learning environment for students. One such teacher is New Roads-La Cienaga’s lead teacher, Kamal Hassan.


Creating Portraits

Portraiture as a qualitative research method provides researchers with a rich, powerful way of presenting case studies (Lightfoot, 1983; Lightfoot & Hoffman-Davis,1997). This approach is less concerned with presenting technical, generalizable, or replicable descriptions of the case than it is with capturing and accurately portraying the phenomena under investigation in all its complexity. According to Lightfoot and Hoffman-Davis, portraiture “seek[s] to capture the insider’s view of what is important” (p. 14), and “is shaped by empirical and aesthetic dimensions, whose descriptions are often penetrating and personal” (p. 369). Portraiture further encourages researchers to listen intently to subjects’ narratives as they are being shaped and constructed. It also provides subjects with the opportunity to shape the manner in which their stories are being told. The end result is an artistic representation that grants research consumers the opportunity to take part in events or moments in which the subjects have chosen to allow themselves to be painted in the best light possible. In the case of the present study, the objective is to tell such a story about beliefs and practices of a liberatory educator. As discussed previously, this type of research can be greatly enhanced when researchers and subjects collaborate to shape the outcomes of research (or, in this case, publish an article on the subjects’ pedagogical practices and beliefs). As a result, we, the co-authors of this article, were forced to come to common understandings about the nature of life at New Roads and the uniqueness and importance of Kamal Hassan’s pedagogical practice.

In creating this portrait and exploring Kamal Hassan’s beliefs about teaching and his particular practice of teaching, a variety of data collection strategies were employed. Data from classroom observations and single and group interviews as well as informal conversations were collected, systematically analyzed, and categorized. Field notes as well as transcriptions from interviews were grouped into categories of emancipatory theories and thematic structures. Content analyses were performed on data sources such as newspaper articles, statements pertaining to the school’s mission, and written material describing the school. Additionally, a semi-structured group interview with the New School’s founder (Paul Cummins), the head of the school (David Bryan), and the La Cienaga campus’s director (Charletta Johnson) was conducted to obtain specific information regarding the genesis of the school and the campus, their missions, curricula, and activities. Though the first author served as the primary collector of data, all three coauthors worked to analyze data to varying degrees. In this sense, the research process was a collaborative one.

Teaching in the Prophetic Tradition

Kamal Hassan, an African American man in his early forties at the time of this study, began teaching in 1980 at an independent Afrocentric school in the Los Angeles area. He subsequently taught in a number of the city’s public and private schools. When the La Cienaga campus was being developed, Hassan was the very first teacher to be recruited by director Charletta Johnson. Hassan had worked under Johnson’s direction as an assistant teacher early in his teaching career. She asked him to teach La Cienaga’s sixth- through eighth-grade humanities classes and serve as a mentor teacher to the school’s newer, less experienced teachers.

Having participated in California’s Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the New African People’s Organization, Hassan brought a wealth of experience as a community activist to the school and to his classroom. During interviews, he shared several intriguing stories about the obstacles he faced as an African American man attempting to teach students of color to be social critics, and expressed frustration when recalling the overly authoritarian administrators with whom he had clashed over teaching methods and subject matter. Some of these administrators, he recalled, were African Americans like himself, but all, regardless of race/ethnicity, seemed more concerned about using their power to dominate teachers and other staff members than about improving the education and life chances of children of color. His comments were emblematic of his nearly two decades of struggle to proffer emancipatory pedagogies within the context of middle-school classrooms in a variety of settings.

Kamal Hassan’s pedagogical orientation can best be described as “radical humanist” for its blending of Paulo Freire’s (1970, 1973) notions of critical consciousness and Cornel West’s (1988,1993) concept of African American prophetic practices. However, it is West’s framework that best describes and typifies Hassan’s teaching. Situating his discussion within a critique of neoliberalism, West (1993) argues that while racist structures and practices that create obstacles to African American social mobility contribute to a considerable degree of nihilism or hopelessness among African Americans, these impediments have also given rise to a unique form of resistance: the African American prophetic tradition. This tradition, West (1988) posits, theoretically contextualizes the work of African American and other Christian, feminist/womanist, and socialist leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to social justice through “protracted and principled struggles against forms of personal despair, intellectual dogmatism, socioeconomic dogmatism, and socioeconomic oppression” (p. 38). As McLaren and Dantley (1990) argue, this theoretical model also provides a grounding for the emancipatory praxis of African American teachers who resist cultural, political, and social domination by teaching their students to engage in certain forms of social criticism.

With its emphasis on deep-seated moralism, beneficent opportunism, and healthy pessimism, the prophetic tradition serves as a guiding framework for Hassan’s pedagogical strategies. Indeed, he frequently maintained during our interviews that teaching is a form of ministry and that the lines of demarcation between teaching and ministering are often blurred because teachers, he claimed, are charged to change lives and save souls. (When not teaching or volunteering his time to any number of activist organizations, Hassan serves as an assistant minister at a local church.) As he stated:

God calls me to challenge, to question, to struggle, to not be like anybody else, to be uncomfortable with things that other people are comfortable with and to be passionate about what I’m doing. That is what I try to pass on to my students: a passion for life. A passion for truth. A passion for honesty. A passion for freedom.

The moralism, opportunism, and pessimism of the African American prophetic tradition were manifested frequently in Hassan’s everyday teaching practices. For example, he often used examples from the diverse literature on moralism-more specifically, on the connection between social justice and human rights-to frame an ongoing class debate about oppression around the globe. Though the primary focus of this discussion was on African Americans, attention was frequently extended to other minority groups in the United States and abroad such as Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants. In one classroom session observed during the course of this study, Hassan guided his students in critiquing essays he had asked them to write about the “Africans in America” public television series. That dialogue led the students and their teacher to focus on the ways in which Africans were denied their human rights during and after slavery. In another session, Hassan engaged his students in a discussion of 1, Rigoberta Menchu (1984), an autobiographical account of an indigenous Guatemalan woman’s struggles against racial subordination, which they had been asked to read. Hassan asked the students to explore aspects of their lives that they felt they shared in common with Menchu-in other words, to draw parallels between the conditions of oppressed groups in other countries and African Americans. In another class period, his eighth-grade class watched videotaped footage of a mock debate on Proposition 187, the recently instituted California state law that denies “illegal” immigrants the right to utilize public resources such as schools and hospitals. The participants in the debate were Hassan’s former eighth-grade students from another school. Hassan asked his students to take note of the various issues being discussed and then present their opinions on those issues. He purposely steered the conversation toward considerations of how the human rights of Mexican immigrants had been diminished by the new law.2

Within Hassan’s pedagogy, West’s construct of opportunism takes on a different character. West uses the term “opportunism” to refer to the ways in which African American prophetic leaders historically have managed not only to illuminate the mistreatment and sufferings of African Americans but also to articulate how the alleviation of those conditions could actually benefit the larger society. In his classroom practice, Hassan was frequently observed doing the same. He often utilized student contributions to classroom discussions to build and strengthen his already well-prepared lessons. For example, in class discussions about race and racism, he repeatedly focused his students’ attention on the ways in which they internalized racist ideologies. In one class devoted to addressing the pervasiveness of color consciousness among people of African descent in the Diaspora, he opportunistically utilized student comments and responses to what amounted to brief sermonettes about this issue to frame the discussion and consequently shape the lesson. The following is excerpted from field notes taken during that session, which involved mostly sixth graders:

One student exclaims, “It’s not right to judge. . people by the color of their skin.” Kamal (Hassan] responds, “Here are all these people around Weusi [a student] who think dark skinned people are ugly.” Another student then asks, “Why would they think Black is ugly if they are Black?” The same student, as if this were an expectation, then answers his own question: “They’re obnoxious and racist.” A fourth student enters the conversation: “There’s a 50-to-75% chance that her mom was also Black.” Kamal then takes a golden opportunity to ask, “Why would her mom, who is Black, call her child [racist names]?” The first student responds, “The mother is ashamed of what people are saying about her child.” Kamal then writes the word, “Ashamed” on the board. Another student comments, “I have to object to that. I wouldn’t want to be made to feel bad by my own Mom. [She’s] the one that made her.” Kamal then asks, “Could the mother be telling about her opinion of her own self?” A student says, “She was saying it behind her back.” Kamal then asks them, “Can’t you tell when someone doesn’t think that you’re all that great? Let me go back to this issue of being ashamed.” Again, he takes the opportunity to discuss with his students a concept presented by another student. He also attempts to illustrate the degree to which notions of skin color are integrally tied to the development of children’s self-concept. (Kamal] presses this issue even further in subsequent sessions.

The goal of another class discussion was to get students to interrogate their own assumptions about what they consider beautiful. In that class, Hassan asked his eighthgrade students to create a list of the most beautiful African American women. Actress and former Miss America Vanessa Williams received the most votes. After engaging in discussion with the students regarding why they chose Williams as the top candidate, Hassan told his students:

Listen very closely to what I’m about to say. Most of the people you named are light-complexioned and have very long, straight hair. Very few dark-skinned women [were listed]. Most of [your choices] do not have big noses, and many of them have had surgery to make their noses thinner, . . . Most of us think that the lighter you are the better you are. “If you’re White, you’re all right. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re mellow, you’re yellow. If you’re Black, stay back.” . . . [W]e should not think that way.

In this poignant moment, Hassan sought to help his students explore their uncritical notions about race and skin color prejudice. To get them to think more deeply about their own racially constructed subconscious thoughts and behaviors, he utilized the students’ knowledge to build an argument about color consciousness among African Americans. For some of his students, this approach destabilized the impact of the psychologically debilitating myths about dark skin that persist in American popular culture. It also stimulated a greater self-acceptance and awareness among these youth about the real effects of racial and cultural subordination.

Although Hassan indicated that his work as a teacher was gratifying in many ways, he also maintained that it contributed to his development of a sense of pedagogical and perhaps social pessimism. Within West’s framework, pessimism refers to the extent to which African Americans who fight against social injustice are acutely aware that their actions may have little impact on society because of the sheer strength of the hegemonic power structure. It also denotes a strong sense of righteous indignation and a quiet frustration about social inequalities. True to the African American prophetic tradition, Kamal Hassan was somewhat pessimistic about the possibilities for social transformation resulting from his teaching. Yet, like most revolutionary educators and thinkers, he transformed this pessimism into exemplary pedagogical practice. Like any teacher, he explained during an interview, he was sometimes concerned that his “message [wasn’t] getting through” to his students, given the power of the larger society to influence their thinking and behavior. He often wondered whether or not his lessons effected any changes in their thinking about issues of social inequality. However, it was this pessimism, he noted, that propelled him to return to the classroom day after day.


Ladson-Billings’s (1994) research on culturally relevant teaching has demonstrated that African American children do better academically when the curriculum to which they are exposed is culturally appropriate. Her work also highlights the positive correlation that has been found between racial identity development and school achievement and feelings and self-efficacy. The present study confirms these findings and further asserts that African American educators who seek to empower African American students have a belief system that supports their emancipatory pedagogy.

As a teacher, Kamal Hassan repeatedly contended throughout this collaborative research project, much of what he does in his New Roads-La Cienaga classrooms is an attempt to instill within his students “a passion for life, truth, and freedom.” Toward that end, he demonstrated that his teaching utilizes the New Roads curriculum as a vehicle for engendering within his students a sense of humanitarianism and a commitment to constructive change and growth. By his own account and that of others interviewed during the course of this study-students, parents, fellow teachers, and administratorshe has been successful in achieving this goal. With the support of the New Roads administration, his pedagogical practices have ensured that his students achieve academically, but they have focused equally on students’ moral development. As Hassan exclaimed,

If my students go on to become corporate executives who become disconnected from the community and are morally depraved, I will feel as though I have failed them as a teacher. I am not and cannot be merely concerned with academics! I have to be concerned with their growth as human beings!

As illustrated by the practices and beliefs of this one African American teacher, educators and schools must strive to create learning environments that nurture, affirm, and develop youth as human beings with the capacity to change the world. Certainly, all children deserve no less than this.

‘According to the director of the New Roads School, the mathematics and reading test scores of New Roads students on all its campuses are generally above average. However, given the newness of the La Cienaga campus, it is too early to determine if these results are attributable to the New Roads curriculum, the skills and dedication of the faculty, the smaller-than-average class sizes, and/or other factors. Many of the Baldwin Hills middle school’s eighth graders have won full scholarships to prestigious college preparatory schools in the area; all have successfully completed the requirements for advancement to high school. However, most have continued on to New Roads High School because of their positive middle school experiences at the La Cienaga campus.

Classroom observations were conducted in Hassan’s sixth- and eighth-grade classes several times during the nine-month period of the study. During these observations, it was noted that Hassan’s classroom was very small, perhaps only 15 by 20 feet. However, the room was brightly decorated, well organized, and visually appealing. Its walls were covered with posters depicting images of the characters from the recent film, Amistad, as well as posters of Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Audre Lorde. A black, red, and green flag symbolizing African American unity and solidarity hung proudly from the ceiling. Missing were the traditional student desks and chairs; instead, seven tables, each with two chairs, filled the room. This environment encouraged open dialogue and engagement with very difficult and often controversial issues.


Anderson, J. (1988). The education of Blacks in the south, 1860-1935. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Borland, J. H. (1996). Gifted education and the threat of irrelevance. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 19(2), 129-147.

Butchart, R. E. (1976). Educating for freedom: Northern Whites and the origins of Black education in the south,1862-1875. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, State University of New York, Binghamton. Callender, C. (1997). Education for empowerment: The practice and philosophies of Black teachers. Staffordshire, United Kingdom: Trentham Books.

Collins, P. H. (1991). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (Eds.). (1995). Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement. New York: The New Press.

Delgado, R. (Ed.). (1995). Critical race theory: The cutting edge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Delpit, L. (1993). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other people’s children. In M. Fine & L. Weis (Eds.), Beyond silenced voices: Class, race and gender in the United States (pp. 119-139). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Foster, M. (1991). “Just got to find a way”: Case studies of the lives and practice of exemplary Black high school teachers. In M. Foster (Ed.), Readings on equal education: Qualitative investigations in schools and schooling (Vol. 11; pp. 273-309). New York: AMS Press.

Foster, M. (1993). Urban African-American teachers’ views of organizational change: Speculations on the experiences of exemplary teachers. Equity and Excellence in Education, 26(3), 16-24. Foster, M. (1994). Educating for competence in community and culture: Exploring the views

of exemplary African-American teachers. In M. j. Shujaa (Ed.), Too much schooling, too little education: The paradox of Black life in White societies (pp. 221-244). Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Foster, M. (1995). African American teachers and culturally relevant pedagogy. In J. Banks & C. A. M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 570-581). New York: Macmillan.

Foster, M. (1996). Like us but not one of us: Reflections on a life history study of African American teachers. In G. Etter-Lewis & M. Foster (Eds.), Unrelated kin: Race and gender in women’s personal narratives (pp. 215-224). New York: Routledge.

Foster, M. (1997). Black teachers on teaching. New York: The New Press. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.

Freire, P. (1973). Education for critical consciousness. New York: Seabury Press.

Henry, A. (1992). African Canadian women teachers’ activism: Recreating communities of caring and resistance. Journal of Negro Education, 61(3), 392-404.

Henry, A. (1998). Taking back control: African Canadian women teachers’ lives and practice. Albany: State University of New York Press.

King, J. (1991). Unfinished business: Black student’s alienation and Black teachers’ pedagogy. In M. Foster (Ed.), Readings on equal education: Qualitative investigations in schools and schooling (Vol. 11; pp. 273-309). New York: AMS Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dream keepers: Successful teachers of African-American children.

San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.

Ladson-Billings, G., & Henry, A. (1990). Blurring the borders: Voices of African liberatory pedagogy in the United States and Canada. Journal of Education, 172(2), 72-88.

Lee, C. D. (1992). Profile of an independent Black institution: African-centered education at work. Journal of Negro Education, 61(2), 160-177.

Lightfoot, S. L. (1983). The good high school: Portraits of character and culture. New York: Basic Books.

Lightfoot, S. L., & Hoffman-Davis, S. (1997). The art and science of portraiture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lynn, M. (1999). Toward a critical race pedagogy: A research note. Urban Education, 33(5), 606-626.

Matsuda, M. (1987). Looking to the bottom: Critical legal studies and reparations. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 22, 323-399.

Matsuda, M., Lawrence, C., Delgado, R., & Crenshaw, K. (1993). Words that wound: Critical race theory, assaultive speech, and the first amendment. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

McLaren, P., & Dantley, M. (1990). Leadership and a critical pedagogy of race: Comet West, Stuart Hall, and the prophetic tradition. Journal of Negro Education, 59(1), 29-44.

Menchu, R. (1984). 1, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian woman in Guatemala (A. Wright, Ed., & E. Burgos-Debray, Trans.) London: Verso.

New Visions Foundation. (1996). [New Roads School information pamphlet.] Los Angeles: Author.

Parker, L. (1998). Race is . . . race ain’t: An exploration of the utility of critical race theory in qualitative research in education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1), 43-55.

Perry, T., & Delpit, L. (Eds.). (1998). The real Ebonics debate: Power, language and the education of African-American children. Boston & Milwaukee, WI: Beacon Press & Rethinking Schools. Pizarro, M. (1998). “Chicana/o power!”: Epistemology and methodology for social justice

and empowerment in Chicana/o communities. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1), 57-80.

Shujaa, M. J. (Ed.). (1994). Too much schooling, too little education: A paradox of Black life in White societies. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Stanfield, J. H., II, & Dennis, R. M. (Eds.). (1993). Race and ethnicity in research methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Walker, A. (1983). In search of our mothers’ gardens. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. Wells, A. S., & Crain, R. L. (199. Stepping over the color line: African-American students in White suburban schools. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

West, C. (1988). Prophetic fragments. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. West, C. (1993). Race matters. Boston: Beacon Press.

Woodson, C. G. (1993). The miseducation of the Negro. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. (Original work published 1933)

Wright, B. E. (1984). The psychopathic racial personality and other essays. Chicago: Third World Press.

Marvin Lynn, University of California-Los Angeles; Charletta Johnson and Kamal Hassan, New Roads School-La Cienaga Campus (Los Angeles)

Copyright Howard University Winter 1999

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved