Teachers are not fully prepared to serve diverse population of students in school, particularly those institutions serving economically disenfranchised communities and children of colour, says former American Educational Research Association president, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings.
The award-winning scholar, whose research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with Black students, is also concerned about the absence of deep intellectual interrogations of race and the work of race in teacher education programs.
She said teacher educators provide prospective students with data that either re-inscribe their longstanding notions of race or invoke emotional responses that trouble them without causing them to address race in their teaching practices.
“Teacher educators have to talk about race, not to give it more colour, but rather to take control over it and expose it for the lie that it is,” Ladson-Billings said in her keynote address at an event at York University last week to honour the memory of Dr. Patrick Solomon, who succumbed to cancer seven months ago.
“We have to find ways to render it useless. Now, while this work sounds impossible and impractical, it is exactly the kind of work that African-Americans have been participating in since their arrival in the Americas. Theirs has been a project, not only of survival, but also of subversion and revolutionary freedom. The work of African-American survival necessitates the creation of new language and new forms of human expression.”
Ladson-Billings, who is credited with introducing and applying the framework of critical race theory in the realm of education, suggests that teacher educators must work to defund race despite the enormity of the task.
“Fighting for justice is never about winning,” said the Kellner Family Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Hilton Endowed Chair in Iowa State University’s College of Human Sciences. “It’s about the hope of winning, but more importantly it’s about fighting for the right cause. Our responsibility to democracy and democratic education extends much further than the folks in the White House or State House.
“It extends much further than the current students we hope to shape into democratic educators who live and work in a multicultural society. It extends into spaces and places we can only imagine, but extend it we must. We are obligated to retrieve a vision of democracy that was never intended to extend to non-Whites, women, poor people, people with disabilities and those with different sexual orientation. It belongs to them just the same. This vision can never be realized as long as its foremost enemy – that concept of race – serves the current arrangement so well.”
As part of its 50th anniversary celebration this year, York University marked the milestone last Thursday with the program to honour Solomon’s remarkable legacy. The event explored the significance of diversity, social justice and equity in education and for the university’s shared future through a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Warren Crichlow, a colleague of Solomon for more than a decade.
The panel of teaching colleagues and research collaborators reflected on Solomon’s scholarly contributions and provided commentary on ways in which his ideas serve as a compass for future directions of academic inquiry and practice in urban education.
Solomon spent most of his life in education, teaching in elementary and secondary schools and at the university level. A graduate of Mico University College, he taught in Jamaica before coming to Canada in 1969 to, among other things, complete his Bachelors degree at the University of Waterloo, his Masters in Educational Administration at the University of Western Ontario and his Doctorate in Social Foundations of Education at the State University of New York.
He began working at York University in 1991 where he launched the highly successful Urban Diversity Initiative three years later in response to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s call for academic institutions to make teacher education more relevant to the province’s increasingly diverse population and to integrate issues of equity, diversity and social justice into the schooling process.
Close to 1,000 teachers have graduated from the program and are using what they have learned to engage and empower students in Canadian and other classrooms.
“In all of my work, I always mention Patrick’s name,” said Dr. Andrew Allen, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor. “He taught and mentored me and created a space and opportunity for me and many other minority students. Prior to meeting him, I never thought about becoming a faculty member. He created that possibility for me.”
Solomon received many accolades and awards for the Urban Diversity Teacher Education program that he conceived.
“Patrick worked very hard to ensure that teacher education is connected to the community,” said retired teacher, Claude Grimmond, who taught at Westview Centennial Secondary School and was the first recipient of the York University’s Faculty of Education Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching award which was presented in 1998. “He was a pioneer in the whole issue of urban education.”
Dean of York’s Faculty of Education, Alice Pitt, said that Solomon was a wonderful colleague and an active participant at so many levels of faculty life.
“He will be greatly missed, but the passion and commitment that he brought to us will continue,” she added.