Scatological Hope

A colleague from where I teach sent me an article written by one of his former colleagues. The article: Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete by Jeffrey M. R. Duncan-Andrade, appears in the summer 2009 edition of the Harvard Educational Review.

It opens with this quote from Paulo Freire:

“The idea that hope alone will transform the world, and action undertaken in that kind of naïveté, is an excellent route to hopelessness, pessimism, and fatalism. But the attempt to do without hope, in the struggle to improve the world, as if that struggle could be reduced to calculated acts alone, or a purely scientific approach, is a frivolous illusion.”

The piece then goes on to identify what Duncan-Andrade terms, enemies of hopeand “false hope” namely: Hokey Hope, Mythical Hope, and Hope Deferred.

Eventually, the author identifies Critical Hope as the true hope that is crucial for the betterment of lives of urban youth — inner city young people inhabiting what he terms “socially toxic environments“.

A metaphorical vehicle for the thesis stems from a quote by Tupac Shakur whereby young people, transcending such obstacles, are like that of “roses that grow from concrete” — and a perfectly fine metaphor it is for lives overcoming the obstacles of concrete, analogized as, “one of the worst imaginable surfaces in which to grow, devoid of essential nutrients and frequently contaminated by pollutants.”

Nonetheless, a glaring omission from Duncan-Andrade’s analysis is educational technology’s mix in the concrete — concrete through which Duncan-Andrade suggests we encourage cracks through “the quality of our teaching, along with the resources and networks we connect our students to.”

After characterizing the effective urban teacher’s strategy for critical hope as, “a committed and active struggle against the evidence in order to change the deadly tides of wealth inequality, group xenophobia, and personal despair”, the author concludes: “At the end of the day, effective teaching depends most heavily on one thing: deep and caring relationships.”

Fine. I don’t argue with sentiments such as, “treat every classroom as having the potential to be a crack in the metaphorical concrete that creates unnatural causes in the lives of urban youth.”

What gets me is that this call for compassionate and caring teaching — essential to the “radical transformation that Obama is calling for” as Duncan-Andrade adds — does not, at any point, address a significant antagonism to this human-centered pedagogy: the zealous imposition and promulgation of information technology. (Hooking students up to “resources and networks” seems more of an advocacy for such technology.)

Does the author not see this as significant to the discussion of generating genuine hope in urban schooling? I do. I also reckon that the Harvard Educational Review and Harvard’s latest presidential alumnus President Obama have a technocratic, high-energy-demanding, economic agenda that won’t allow for recognition of such things. I wonder if the Harvard Educational Review might publish my little educational ditty which goes:

You know what folks? Educators are running around talking hope — using metaphor of roses and concrete. Guess what? The concrete is largely being poured by professional educators — corporately/institutionally co-opted into the notion that PowerPoint, Clickers, various other gadgetry, and fixations on information/data processing are the preferred approaches to growing lives into whole persons capable of critical thinking — for better livelihoods.

It’s a misguided route.

Yes, the digital machinery of our times will demand that we learn to use it if we want competitive and competent skill-sets. But there ain’t gonna be any hope, compassion — love — in information technology, or: management information systems.


No my friend.

Okay. Well, then how about, uh… hope management systems?

How about we develop such systems for hope in our urban schools? How much info-edu media technology will we need? (i.e. budget, i.e. money, i.e. tickets with which professional educators can buy their beer and sandwiches.)

Er, let’s just say not enough.

President Obama knows this. He and countless others, perhaps deep down, realize that hope — the kind not from slogans or prescribed curriculum — does indeed grow from cracks in concrete.

So wouldn’t it be salient to the discussion to recognize what constitutes the concrete — as well as the stuff that goes into growing roses?

Of course it would.

Would also be a quick way of shooting one’s professional-edu-career foot: bam! (read: no beer — no sandwiches.)

Computer labs? You know how much money gets budgeted for such things? How much testing? How many “educational testers”, engineers, programmers, managers, lobbyists, institutions, publications — are fully invested in perpetuating… concrete?

To borrow from Freire’s above quote: “…reduced to calculated acts alone, or a purely scientific approach is a frivolous illusion.”

Illusion perhaps… Frivolous? Hardly. Actually highly profitable. Actually a not so hidden global curriculum that local communities would do well to recognize — use it, like how concrete can be judiciously used — doesn’t mean we gotta pave the whole friggin’ landscape.

Illusion is where the money is — Educational Money: a big fat wad of publicly-generated money.

Shit... I’m sitting at a computer lab right now. You too. I got technological-communication-management-ability-galore under my fingers. Don’t need a school. Public equal-access community resource centers? Perhaps.

Media? How about equal access to media?

Got to know how to read for sure.

Gotta have kids off of the street?

That’s a different issue.

But hope? — that’s in the eyes, words, laughter, sensitivity, — the human being — of my friends, family, community members. It’s in the ‘aina (land) — doesn’t pay shit.

Well, no — that’s just it — It does pay shit: shit that grows roses.


2 thoughts on “Scatological Hope

  1. A legitimate dialectic to Jeff’s piece, Darren. You ask two provocative questions, which you’ve begun to answer yourself, and “hopefully”, others will join in response: “What constitutes the concrete?” and What is stuff that make roses grow?”

    Knowing Jeff, when he refers to “resources and networks”, I believe he’s referring more to the social rather than digital networks. He’s advocating for folks in the educational system who work as counselors, academic advisors, teachers and teacher-educators to do the hard work of not-giving up on students who historically have been left out of the educational pipeline, to do the hard-work of not letting them give up on themselves. It’s the human resources and social connections, which Jeff argues, that will make the great difference, though there is indisputably a digital divide issue when it comes to poor schools and underserved students, but that is another article altogether, don’t you think?

    But I hear what you’re saying, and it echoes with the core of Jeff’s message. It’s the “eyes, words, laughter, sensitivity…”, the humanity we share when we are authentically connected, either face-to-face in a critical dialogue or by keyboard and HTML that will foster critical hope.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments.


  2. Aloha J,

    Glad to see you dropping an island note!

    Also, it’s intriguing to reflect upon whether I might make knee-jerk assumptions regarding said “resources and networks“. Could be.

    President Obama’s brand of hope coupled with his obvious penchant and advocacy for high-technology in classrooms, so as to “compete globally“, certainly compels me to ask such questions. The push to indiscriminately embrace/promote technology in the classroom is fully sponsored/endorsed by educators and corporations fully aware of how their bread is buttered.

    On the other hand, dissenting opinions — advocating for community determination of appropriate uses of technology — of public education money — have virtually no platform on which to even be heard. Check out so-called “public” media. Barney the purple dinosaur now even stammers, “Hey, wait up kids! Barney’s got to check with his Blackberry!

    In any case, it’d be nice to learn of Jeff’s take on this and I’d hope I haven’t waged a straw man argument.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking comments. ..still waiting on that hidden-curriculum poem you’d mentioned..


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