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Engaging in the Liberating Experience of Education

Engaging in the Liberating Experience of Education

The ominous reports of the state of education in this country reflect the desire of American education to rigorously prepare its students to the extent that the measurement of their academic performance can be compared to high-performing students anywhere. However, measurements of performance have evolved into high-stakes accountability, and our education systems continue to be guided — even ruled — by the requirements of high-stakes testing. Students of color continue to be outperformed on standardized tests, and teachers of color consistently lament unfair practices in the design and implementation of these tests. Educators seem to be spinning their wheels in their attempts to raise the level of student achievement.
In all the turmoil that high-stakes testing has created, there has been a deafening silence of practicing K-12 educators of color as leaders of conversations that address not only bridging the achievement gap, but that also address pedagogy that engages children in high-level thinking, self-actualization and liberating educational experiences — what scholar bell hooks in 1994 called “engaged pedagogy.”
When I left my high school classroom and moved into higher education, I was happy to begin working with teachers, particularly those who teach in urban settings where there are more challenges to maintaining student achievement. But, what I have come to understand goes beyond the challenges teachers in urban settings face in terms of student achievement. I have come full circle in developing understanding of my own context as an African American educator in the College of Education at a metropolitan university. My voice is indeed important in the conversations and writing about teacher practice, and what it means to engage students in meaningful learning and conversations that challenge views of their world — and mine.
Scholar Tunde Adeleke has brought to light the rarely acknowledged beliefs of the 19th-century political activist Martin R. Delaney, who “held up education as an indispensable factor.” In spite of the attempts to deprive him of access to education, Delaney set out to attain a “level of enlightenment that made him an active force in the prevailing currents of thought.” There were mysteries and discoveries about being enlightened and “knowing” that Delaney consistently pursued. “Delaney early discovered that the answer … lay in the emancipatory effect of education and in the capacity of education to generate emancipatory self-perception and inspire self-determined drives toward freedom.”
 After reading Adeleke’s treatise on Delany’s philosophy of education, I examined my own beliefs about education, its value, and the responsibility of educators of color to uphold ideals of the pursuit of excellence for themselves and their students, in spite of perceived barriers to that pursuit. Educators of color at all levels, particularly African Americans, need to be the leaders not only of discussions about student achievement, but those about engaged pedagogy that makes achievement a reality for our children. Engaging in this type of dialogue is essential.
Our voices must proclaim the potential of our children, and we must lead the discussions about how we practice engaged pedagogy, pursue excellence, and realize the powerful and liberating effect of being — and feeling — educated. The prevailing question might be: In the present environment of high-stakes testing and accountability, is this possible?
It is possible and essential for the success of our children. 

— Dr. Carolyn Walker Hopp is director of the Urban Teaching Residency Partnership at the University of Central Florida.

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