Mario Benabe and his students

Hispanic Heritage Month: Do The Right Thing Pedagogy

In our latest piece celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, Mario Benabe (New York '14), who was recently honored by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, describes a method of instruction he calls Do The Right Thing Pedagogy.

By

By
Thursday, October 13, 2016

As educators, we often look for teaching treasures that are distant, when in fact there are acres of diamonds in our own classroom. You make the best sense of these gems by connecting the experiences of the community to the classroom. Fortune within teaching and learning exist when you understand that these gemstones are our students.

Structurally and historically, the most common pedagogical practices have alienated forms of excellence in communities of color, largely as a result of the injustices that came with integration. We integrated some schools but never integrated curriculum. The structure, then and now, continues to resegregate folks of color within the context of curriculum, while reinforcing a culturally relevant learning experience aligned to best fit one group: white folks.

So how do we move beyond this educational structure? One part of the work is to do the right thing within the context of teaching and learning. This requires you to merge mindfulness education with what Maxine Greene and others describe as “the wide-awakeness.” The wide-awakeness, according to Alfred Schutz, is a “plane of consciousness of highest tension originating in an attitude of full attention to life and its requirements.” In order to be a mindful educator you have to attack the system, push against convention, and admit that in classrooms across educational spaces, charter or district, your students of color are part of an oppressive process. 

South Bronx Community Charter High School display

As a Latino educator, from the South Bronx, who still lives and teaches in my hood, there’s a huge contrast that exists between what education has told me to be and my true sense of authenticity that has guided my spirit to breath freely without feeling as though I am being choked by the confines of oppressive pedagogical practices that have tried to silence forms of my Latino brilliance, including my language. The good thing about learning a new language is…you must think before you speak. Learning the cultural and pluralistic representations of the young people in front of you, as an educator, requires you to do the same for yourself in order to be culturally sustaining. It is important to learn from, and not about, a person’s qualities of mind and character.

For the past year I have worked to anchor learning experiences to young people’s cultural and pluralistic identities and demonstrate the layers of cognitive rigor within the depth of students’ realities. While this may sound abstract, it is truly innovative to artistically follow the traditions of Indigenous and Afro-Centric learning and use that as a Dialectical Opposite [Do] To Heal Education [The] that invites Reality, Immersion, Good-Hearted Teaching [Right] Through Historical, Indigenous | Afro-centric | Aboriginal and Native Grounds [Thing]. The learning experience becomes a ritual. The social and emotional well-being of the child’s spirit becomes a priority. 

Mario Benabe and his students

At South Bronx Community Charter High School, we’ve engaged in a six-week learning experience influenced by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between The World And Me. In every academic space [STE(A)M or humanities], students are investigating critically and consciously about how its structure has rendered their bodies disposable. They make connections between the American Dream, the relationships people have with the Dream, and access they have to the Dream. They have written letters to a younger loved one and have engaged in social science research on quantifying aspects of themes related to the Dream in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ text. Together we employ a set of purposeful practices and approaches that are meant to help each student realize his/her ideal self. We offer one-on-one advising, group mentoring, rites of passage, and a range of other holistic supports rooted in our desire to assist students in developing the skills and confidence they need to be effective critics, collaborators, stakeholders, problem-solvers, and leaders across a range of contexts.

“The book, Between the World And Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, has helped me reach what Maxine Greene describes as wide-awakeness— an open eye into seeing the realities of injustices from a historical and contemporary context that has continued to intentionally disembody black bodies; but more importantly, this book has empowered me to find a way to make a difference in this world.” — Shayla Stone, ninth grader

As educators, we often understand that doing right by young people could be viewed as wrong because it goes against what the structure, network, administration, or conventions imposes on us to do. Building a collective effort to ensure that we don’t feel silenced is critical to this work. Allyship is important to doing right by young people. I challenge you to share what you’re doing on social media using the hashtag #DoTheRightThingPedagogy to allow for this movement to take its own form. The easiest way to know you are doing the right thing in teaching and learning is to rid yourself of conventional models.

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