The forced, unnecessary, ritual extraction of children’s teeth. That’s the process to which Christopher Emdin compared educating minority children in America today.
In front of a packed room at South by Southwest this month, Emdin, a professor at Columbia Teachers College, explains how the Dinka tribe in South Sudan once suffered an outbreak of tetanus, which created lockjaw in their population. The elders removed young people’s teeth in order to force them to eat.
Even after the outbreak was over, though, the tribe continued to engage in this ritual. Says Emdin, “The ripping out of teeth is like the extraction of culture,” which our schools do in order “to give kids some knowledge.”
Instead, he suggests that schools embrace black culture — he takes teachers to visit barber shops and black churches and to listen to rap music — in order to learn how to communicate with these children. He decries the young white people teaching urban youth as having a “savior mentality” reminiscent of “colonialism” and tells them, quoting A Tribe Called Quest, “We got it from here.”
And yet, these students’ schools have repeatedly failed to give them the most basic tools they need to survive in 21st century America — despite the fact that these schools have plenty of minority teachers.
Emdin, whose book last year “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood . . . and the Rest of Y’all Too,” was a New York Times Best Seller and who has been the subject of glowing profiles on PBS and in The Washington Post (among other outlets) has been making the rounds.
And though his message may seem new to the audiences he is speaking to — last week he was the keynote speaker at a conference of teachers from the Buffalo Public and Cheektowaga Central School Districts — Emdin is just repeating the same nonsense we have heard for years.
Indeed, those of a certain age will remember the Ebonics craze of a couple of decades ago. In 1996, the Oakland,…