By. Chris Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education Department of Science, Mathematics and Technology Teachers College, Columbia University
Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to visit hundreds of classrooms across the United States. Some are in communities where incarceration rates are high, graduation rates are low, and young people are so preoccupied with making it through each day that they view dreaming about a better future as a luxury they cannot afford. Others are more affluent, and resources are plenty. In these schools, students are unconcerned with crime and the socioeconomic realities that challenge their counterparts in other places. However, in each of these schools, there are shared challenges that we fail to recognize that negatively impact our collective ability to move forward as a society. These issues lie in the ways that schools and the larger education system are so preoccupied with a hyper-focus on teaching content that they ignore context, and breed schools that foster and breed apathy among students.
My belief is that if we were to truly address the large issues that affect communities and the world writ large, the way forward is recognizing the role they can play in changing the world. We cannot address poverty and the inequities that many youth suffer from or are benefitted by without making them aware of where they are positioned in the larger sociopolitical spectrum, and how they can address the issues that affect them and their counterparts in other settings.
As we move educators toward understanding multiculturalism, the significance of STEM education, and the ever-changing standards and assessments, we must also challenge ourselves to teach care and empathy. It is more important than ever for educators to understand that addressing all of the “new” expectations for their classrooms can be accomplished through empowering youth to be socio-politically aware and encouraging them to not just learn, but do something about issues affecting other young people and their community. Green schools are equipped to do this work because of our collective focus on the environment and the mission to have all students learn in green schools. In other words, the schools themselves are focused on ensuring that young people have the opportunity to learn in the best-designed and environmentally friendly schools. This mission is in many ways driven by educators and schools that care. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are helping students to have that same ethos of care not only about the environment, but for other people as well. Are we going to keep using where our school is located as a reason for not teaching them to be better citizens? Are we willing to teach poor students about how they can be agents of change in their own communities? Are we willing to teach more affluent students about being allies to those who face more challenges than them? Are we willing to understand that both of these groups of students need teaching tailored specifically to them?
If education becomes driven by how closely schools can follow new mandates, shifting curriculum, and ever-evolving guidelines, educators become bound by the chase of trying to do all they are asked at the expense of teaching their students to be better people. We cannot become so preoccupied with supporting the green schools movement that we forget to spark the magic in the student who can be the person who leads or creates the next movement to make the world better. This work does not happen when youth are not taught to care about themselves, their peers, and their community. I am arguing for a pedagogy of fostering care and teaching to combat apathy.
Dr. Christopher Emdin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University; where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also the Associate Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is an alumni fellow at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, and currently serves as Minorities in Energy Ambassador for the U.S. Department of Energy and the STEAM Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State.
Dr. Emdin is the creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement, and a much sought-after public speaker on a number of topics that include hip-hop education, STEM education, politics, race, class, diversity, and youth empowerment. He is also an advisor to numerous international organizations, school districts, and schools where he delivers speeches, and holds workshops/ professional development sessions for students, teachers, policy makers, and other education stakeholders within the public and private sector.
Dr. Emdin holds a Ph.D in Urban Education with a concentration in Mathematics, Science, and Technology; Masters degrees in both Natural Sciences and Education Administration, and Bachelors degrees in Physical Anthropology, Biology, and Chemistry.