SPEAKER PREVIEW: Christopher Emdin

This week, the National Partnership for Educational Access (NPEA) will welcome nearly 475 educational access professionals to its annual conference. Over the next few days, we’ll introduce you to the three keynote speakers who will share their insights and expertise with conference attendees.

First up: Christopher Emdin, who will discuss his recent book: For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… And the Rest of Y’All Too. 

An NPR interview with Christopher Emdin begins with the following anecdote:

Years ago, in a Brooklyn high school, a door slammed. Christopher Emdin, then a 10th-grader, immediately ducked under his desk. His math teacher accused him of being a clown and sent him to the principal’s office.

Emdin wasn’t being a clown.

A couple of days before, there had been a shooting just outside his apartment building. He thought the slamming door was a gun shot. His jump for cover was instinctual.

It’s a jarring story, and one that drives home the cultural differences that can affect students’ learning and their relationships with their teachers.

Emdin has since become a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University; a contributor to media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and The Huffington Post; a Minorities in Energy Ambassador for the U.S. Department of Energy; the STEAM Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State; and the holder of many other titles and honors too numerous to list.  An outspoken advocate for bridging the gap between urban minority youth and their teachers, many of whom come from vastly different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, he told The Huffington Post,

“I think the reality is that a majority of teachers that work in urban spaces are white and don’t come from those communities. A majority of them are really well-intentioned but have no idea how to do this work properly.”

As a means to begin bridging the divide, Emdin began tweeting with the hashtag #HipHopEd, giving educators a space to discuss the challenges they faced and the intersection of hip-hop and education. #HipHopEd took off, and it’s since evolved into a nonprofit that “brings together a community of educators and scholars who challenge traditional educational systems to value the power of youth culture and voice.” Rapper GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan even came on board and partnered with Emdin to host a science hip-hop battle for high school students.

In 2016, years after that first Twitter conversation, Emdin wrote For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, which became a New York Times bestseller. The book focuses on ways teachers can create classroom environments where children in low-income urban settings can learn as effectively as their higher-income suburban counterparts, even if the environments around them are vastly different.

When asked about the provocative title, Emdin responded, “I’m not against white teachers. I’m not against white people. In fact, I’d make the argument if we don’t have white folks teaching in the hood we’re screwed – who’s going to teach? But I need those teachers to feel some tension, some discomfort.”

Christopher Emdin will discuss For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too at NPEA’s conference on Friday, April 7. For more information or to register for the conference, click here.