Educating the Incarcerated Learner: How HBCUs Can Help

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Erin S. Corbett

Minority Serving Institutions, for the most part, were founded for the purpose of providing a postsecondary education to historically excluded populations. In particular, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a long history of service to their respective communities with missions focusing on individual and collective uplift and traditions steeped in social justice activism. These schools served as the primary institutions of higher learning for their African-American students relegated to living and learning within the context of segregation. Today, HBCUs enroll approximately 3% of the nation’s postsecondary population and, despite representing such a small portion of the overall college-going population, graduate 20% of the nation’s African-American college students. As such, the histories, missions, and trajectories of these institutions have consistently demonstrated a commitment to underserved citizens as part of the larger quest for equal educational access.

The success of HBCUs has occurred against the backdrop of our nation’s crisis of mass incarceration. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate that 2.2 million persons were in the physical custody of either a state or federal correctional facility. The incarceration rate of the United States, according to Marie Gottschalk’s Caught, is approximately 730 people per 100,000. This rate dwarfs the incarceration rates of all other nations; the next highest incarceration rate is in Russia, at 568 per 100,000, followed by Georgia, at 547 people per 100,000.

The mass incarceration conversation is incomplete without addressing the ways in which race figures prominently in the composition of incarcerated persons. Indeed, as Gottschalk notes, African-Americans are overrepresented in national incarceration rates, being jailed at a rate of 2,285 per 100,000 people; in comparison, Whites are jailed at 400 per 100,000 people. To contextualize an egregiously high overall incarceration rate, she argues that even if African-Americans and Whites were jailed at the rates of Whites, the United States would still have an incarceration problem; this is an accurate assessment. However, the reality is that African-Americans continue to be incarcerated at rates that exceed not only their percentage of the total population but the rates of every other ethnic group. Even further, some research, done by Todd Clear and Devah Pager, suggests that post-release outcomes, like employment and recidivism, vary by race/ethnicity, influenced by the ways in which institutionalized racism manifests itself within communities.

Education is one solution that has been found to decrease recidivism rates and increase employment rates of ex-offenders. Data suggest, much in line with similar data for non-incarcerated citizens and learners, that the more education an incarcerated learner can amass pre-release, the better the likelihood of securing employment and ultimately making the decision to not reoffend. Unfortunately, due to amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 made as a result of the Violent Crimes Act of 1994, federal funding for prison postsecondary education programs was eliminated and the number of programs, as well as enrollment in the remaining programs, decreased. As a result, incarcerated persons were then, and remain now, largely unable to pursue postsecondary study; consequently, the educational attainment gap between incarcerated and non-incarcerated citizens continues to grow.

Given the histories and missions of HBCUs, it stands to reason that they could prove instrumental when thinking about the creation of “inside” programming. Prisons, at both the state and federal level, contain the population to which HBCUs remain committed; correctional facilities are filled, primarily, with under-resourced and disenfranchised African-Americans. But HBCUs do not serve solely African-American students; many have increased their enrollment of non African-American students, illustrating that while the empowerment of the African-American community is perhaps the most visible objective, educational opportunity for all is the driving factor. HBCUs could serve the educational needs of the non African-American individuals as well, providing a comprehensive educational experience that is fully mission aligned and transformative.

In many ways, the potential for HBCU programming for incarcerated learners represents a convergence of two populations often overlooked in traditional higher education discussions. HBCUs often find themselves having to justify their relevance and existence, at times amid accusations that they are racist and/or discriminatory in their admission practices. Incarcerated learners are simply invisible in all education conversations. Incarcerated learners enrolled in GED programming are never counted in secondary program enrollment numbers; they are routinely excluded from the higher education enrollment data upon which researchers rely to thoughtfully discuss policy. If HBCUs decided to extend their commitment to educate the community to one of the most vulnerable populations in our country, the possibilities of prison education reform could be endless and HBCUs could, once again, be at the forefront of educational activism, empowering those most in need of justice.

Erin S. Corbett is Chief Executive Officer at Second Chance Educational Alliance, Inc., a leading nonprofit that provides academic refresher workshops to incarcerated learners in the state of Connecticut; she writes about her experiences teaching inside here. Corbett earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Education from Swarthmore, an MBA from Post University, and a doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.

From HBCU to PWI: Embracing my career trajectory and story

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Kaleb L. Briscoe

Recently, I attended the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. In a session focused on providing support to African American and Hispanic students at Predominately White Institutions (PWIs), the presenter and students of color began to bash Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Rhetoric such as MSIs are not competitive enough, PWIs offer more experiences, students of color only attend MSIs because they are unable to meet the acceptance criteria at other institutions, or the graduates of MSIs struggle with getting into graduate school at PWIs were common themes throughout the discussion. I began to reflect on my own personal experiences as a HBCU graduate and how these experiences played an influential role in my life.

As a second generation college student and graduate of Albany State University (ASU), I understand the importance of lifting MSIs. My mother, a graduate of Paine College and my father, a graduate of Morehouse College, attended HBCUs during a period when acceptance to PWIs was rare for African Americans in the South. Although there have been changes, we are reminded of the importance of MSIs when situations surrounding sociopolitical and campus racial climate arise. One of the most talked about occurrences this year has been is Education Secretary DeVos’s statement on HBCUs:

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

When misrepresentation of HBCUs happen in Washington, there is no surprise of the rhetoric presented at National Conferences such as NACA. It is clear that DeVos and students at NACA missed the opportunity to speak to the factual history of African American Education in America. HBCUs are not the result of the system not working. They are robust responses to an educational system that was not created for minority students. HBCUs continue to focus on educating minority students because PWI’s offer minimal support for this population. Further, MSIs teach students dual citizenship and democracy; while not compromising cultural identity.

My experiences at ASU in organizations such as Student Government Association (SGA) and Student Activities Advisory Board (SAAB) sparked my interest in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA). Further, my interactions with faculty in the classrooms and at internships gave me practical experience and soft skills. My college experience empowered me to work at a technical college, small PWI, and Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Using ASU as a catalyst, I quickly learned the importance of working with minorities. Minority students are often eager and motivated to create change. These students approach issues with creativity and use their experiences to build institutional traditions.

Listening to the above-mentioned views made me wonder why these students felt obstinately about MSIs. Had they heard disparaging stereotypes come from the media? Had they heard of a bad experience? What was driving these thoughts? Was it simply a lack of historical understanding? All institutions of higher learning face issues; therefore, we know that controversy knows no color.

My counter narrative to the aforementioned views of MSIs is grounded in my experience. MSIs reaffirm cultural identity and provide a supportive learning environment. Being challenged academically and socially, they prepare students for professional experiences while enriching their personal development. They welcome diverse populations and provide a fertile learning experience for all students that should never be mistaken for a second class education. Most graduates of MSIs build lifelong friendships, mentors and colleagues. What is most important to graduates of MSIs is the part they play in the legacy of their institution.

My connection with MSIs prepared me for my current doctoral studies at the University of Nebraska. As we seek to prepare students to be global educators, we should include MSIs in our conversations. Those who have attended an MSI understand the heritage and passion that graduates have for their institution. Students who choose other educational options should visit to create an unbiased and authentic opinion. MSIs have thrived on smaller budgets, minor resources and less staff yet produce an equal amount of successful minority graduates.

The question is what can you do to support these institutions? Share your talent and time with these schools. Encourage students to visit MSIs. Consider working with faculty of MSIs on academic projects. Extend opportunities to students at MSIs for mentoring, internship programs, scholarships, and research. There are so many opportunities to build bridges and enhance the educational landscape through partnerships and collaboration. By simply sharing your story with students, you will make a difference.

Kaleb L. Briscoe is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Higher Education program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). She serves as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Department of Educational Administration. Prior to pursing her Ph.D., Kaleb served as the Associate Director of Student Life at the University of Houston-Victoria.

It’s No Wonder We Can’t Fix Higher Education

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Karen Gross

A recent article in the New York Times by Ron Lieber focuses on how private colleges are reaching “back” to students they accepted after the traditional May 1 deposit deadline to lure these students into enrolling by sweetening financial aid packages. OK, at first blush, this article appears to be yet another piece on the enrollment strains in higher education, acutely felt among smaller private institutions. Higher ed, the piece suggests, is changing.

I agree with the latter statement but not for the reasons provided. Sadly, the article reveals something vastly more and vastly different than what appears on the surface. Let me quote the first paragraph of this piece in its entirety so it can then be deconstructed and examined for its deeper and more devastating meaning. My blood is boiling.

The piece begins:

“In the minds of parents and teenagers going through the college application process, May 1 is the magic date. At that point, you’ve sent in a deposit, bought a sticker for your car window and posted your choice on social media.”  

Start with this, college is not on the minds of many parents, particularly the parents of first generation, low-income students. Sadly, and it is embarrassing for our nation, many low-income, first generation, minority students have not even applied to college. And if they did apply (and complete the Free Federal Financial Aid form), they often did it without parental involvement. Add in students from deeply entrenched white poverty to that group. And, if they applied, they often did not apply to America’s elite ranked private institutions; indeed, these institutions were not on their radar screen – the well-described issue of undermatching. Parents did not visit campuses with them; parents did not get them executive coaches to work on application preparation including college essay writing; parents did not know about deadlines for notification.

So, my first suggested edit: delete the words “parents” or add the modifier, “some percentage of….”

Next, there is an assumption, suggested above, that the May 1 deposit deadline is well known – as in common knowledge. Really? Among what population? For starters, it is not the deadline for many colleges with rolling admissions. Many less selective colleges have long ago abandoned the May 1 deadline. A host of colleges – many of which offer quality two or four year degrees – admit students right up to the day classes begin. Really. And, of course, for those in the know, there is early decision, which has a date for committing way before May 1. And, for the record, many students do not apply to 5 or 10 colleges, given the cost of applying (in time and money); they are not advised – assuming they are well advised at all – to apply to ranges of schools. Many low-income students apply to one or two schools. Period. Full stop.

So, my second suggested edit: delete the May 1 date.

Proceeding onward, the paragraph notes that students have sent in their full deposit by May 1. Well, in truth, many students today cannot afford the deposit. Some send in their acceptance but not the deposit and wait for the college to do something. Some ask for a deposit waiver (risky for institutions on several levels) or pay their deposits in installments. Yes, that happens. And, sometimes those installments are small — $50 at a time.

So, my third suggested edit: qualify the deposit statement by adding “for those able to deposit…”

Moving right along, the first paragraph provides that parents and deposited children then get a car bumper sticker. Another really? This assumes that parents and/or children have cars. For many inner city youth, they not only do not have cars, they do not have a license. Indeed, they have not taken drivers ed. Forget affording a car; they cannot afford insurance.

Indeed, one of the initiatives I considered but never got to launch when I was a college president at a non-selective rural institution was to provide drivers’ education to our many inner city kids – so they get a license which could serve not only to enable them to drive but to have a suitable piece of identification. Forget addressing the issue of parental car ownership among low-income families in urban environs.

Oh, and where exactly does one buy that bumper sticker? It is not in a corner bodega. To get one (unless the college sends it to you), you would get it from the campus store (which means you are ON campus) or through the web (assuming one knows to go there to get a bumper sticker – something that may not be self evident).

My fourth suggested edit: delete the whole discussion of bumper stickers.

Finally, the paragraph ends with a reference to posting choices for college on social media. Yet another really? Doesn’t that depend on whether going to college is seen as a plus and whether one wants to share one’s choice if many of one’s friends have not applied to college, are not interested in college or think you have lost your mind because you are going to college? Yes, a subgroup of students will post where they are going but hosts and hosts of students will not – first generation, low income, minority or ethnically diverse students.

My fifth suggested edit: delete the references to social media.

With all of these edits, one is left with little in that opening paragraph and for good reason. That paragraph applies to a very limited group of graduating high school seniors — those applying to and accepted at America’s more elite private colleges and universities. The paragraph and the article that follows it do not apply to the vast and growing number of first generation, low income, minority students who are or will be attending post-secondary education — many of whom apply to non-selective two and four year institutions. And, many of these students are non-trads (actually more traditional than ever before), returners, transfer students, veterans, parents of all ages. Many do not travel far from home to attend post-secondary education. Many plan on using public transportation (that’s why the Dallas Community College system provides free public transport). Many are working over the summer to see if they can even afford one or two classes in the fall.

This Ron Lieber article and its first paragraph ignores Minority Serving Institutions, such as Hispanic Servicing Institutions, HBCUs, in addition to non-selective public and private two and four year institutions. Add to that, the article ignores certificate and technical training programs. Basically, more is ignored than covered.

Let’s be very clear here. Most first generation, low income, minority, ethnically diverse high school graduates and white students who are the product of deeply entrenched white intergenerational poverty are not going to the institutions listed in the article in the New York Times. Sure, a few are. But, the number of Pell eligible students attending America’s elite colleges numbers is in the hundreds of thousands (being generous). More than 7 million “others” go to college and there is nothing in the first paragraph of this article or the article as a whole that applies to them. Full stop.

So, if our focus on higher educational reform is on the limited audience to which the Lieber article applies – and it is emblematic of many – we are working to fix a wee piece of the higher education pie. Might we be wiser –we would be wiser– to pay attention to broader issues that involves way more students – the students who will be enrolling today and into the future? Might we actually write about how to improve education for at risk students – regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, geographic locale?

Here is one thing I can assure you: the parents of low SES children are not helicoptering for the most part; May 1 is a fake deadline; there is no car to which to affix a bumper sticker and no social media hoopla and certainly for some, there is not even an application let alone a deposit. This Lieber article is why higher ed is not improving; we are not focused on the audience for whom it needs to be improved. That’s an indictment if ever there was one: we are focused on the wrong group of students.

Can we collectively say: Yipes?

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

“You Are My Other Me”: Reflections on AERA 2017

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Alice E. Ginsberg

The American Education Research Association’s (AERA) annual meeting was noticeably different for me this year. After watching our country start rolling back civil rights at an alarming rate, and seeing so much unabashed racism drive our national dialogue, I went to AERA with hopes of feeling empowered. The conference did not disappoint me.

Today began bright and early at 8:15 a.m. at a panel discussion “College Curriculum at the Crossroads: Women of Color Reflect and Resist.”  According to the description: “With increased interest in issues of equity and access, there remains a dearth of scholarship focused on the complexities of women of color’s experiences.” The seven panelists were diverse in race, age, academic credentials, and surprisingly, gender too. (One panelist was an African American male, who spoke poignantly about being an advocate and ally across race and gender.) Although they taught at colleges and universities as geographically diverse as Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, and Georgia, it was significant that none of the panelists were from Minority Serving Institutions.

The panelists each spoke about how difficult it was to be a woman of color in primarily white institutions as they navigated dissertations, teaching evaluations, publishing, and facing tenure review.   With remarkable honesty, they talked about what it was like to center issues of racism while standing in front of a classroom and staring into the eyes of a majority of young white faces.   When they left the classroom, they stared into the faces of white male colleagues who didn’t take them seriously as academics. As one panelist, Ebony Pope from the University of Oklahoma, declared: “As Black women walk into white classrooms, we are subjected to the terms and expectations of operating in whiteness – and to the judgment of whiteness. This includes teaching and learning in the right white ways that seek to invalidate our existence and disrupt the acknowledgement of one another’s existence.”

Panelist Marelsie Velazquez, also from The University of Oklahoma, likewise noted: “To teach in Predominantly White Institutions is to contemplate and internalize feelings of isolation, not only in the halls of academia and faculty meetings, but in the lack of curriculum interventions that would place us, our ideas, and histories, within larger curriculum meetings. Who we are and what we teach in always in question.”

Bridget Turner Kelly, from Loyola University in Chicago, agreed that: “Isolation often compounds essentialism as female faculty of color, often the only people of color in their program, department or college, are asked to teach the diversity ‘add-on’ that is perceived as not core to the academic mission.” Perhaps it was not surprising then, when the next panelist, Altheria Caldera, from Texas A&M – Commerce reflected before she began her prepared talk: “It’s just a powerful experience being surrounded by other academic women of color. That in itself doesn’t happen very often.”

Although I knew that sexism and racism have not been totally eliminated at Minority Serving Institutions, I was acutely aware that my experience working at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions affords me the privilege of listening to, learning from, and being immersed in the lives of academic women of color on a daily basis. Over the last three years I have been able to travel to and meet faculty and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Asian American and Pacific Islanders Institutions (AANAPISIs) across the country and one of the most profound parts of these experiences has been seeing women of color at the center rather than the margins. I was happy for the panelists that — even for this brief ninety- minute session – they were surrounded by allies.

At the same time, however, there was an elephant in the room. The panelists were told that the session would be a roundtable. Instead, they sat in a straight line, behind a row of desks, while a mere eight audience members sat awkwardly in stray chairs in front of them. While I was very honored to be there I was also reminded why academic conferences are often not very powerful sites of social activism. Yes, AERA is a huge conference, with a phone-book size program of concurrent events, but still: Why did only eight people choose this session? Why weren’t we sitting in a roundtable? Forget the roundtable, why weren’t we even sitting next to each other? Why weren’t we looking each other in the eye?

The next panel I went to, immediately afterwards, was as different as night and day. The discussion was titled: “Linking Knowledge to Action Through Youth Participatory Action Research to Reduce Latino/a Educational Disparities.” While the discussants at this session were also from a PWI (The University of Arizona), their work was intricately “linked” to a marginalized and minoritized community. Their commitment to using youth participatory action research (YPAR) as the cornerstone of their own academic research mirrored many of the same methodologies that I have witnessed at MSIs. The community and the college worked together to produce new knowledge, and advocate for social justice, in a genuine partnership.

Indeed, the very organization of the session reflected the ethos of re-centering the voices of people of color.   While it was only slightly larger than the previous session I attended – there were about 12 attendees –the organizers immediately asked everyone to put their chairs in an intimate circle. One of the organizers then began by reminding us that we were sitting on Indigenous Land. [The conference took place in San Antonio, Texas]. Next, she then led us all in a common reading of “In Lak’ech: You Are My Other Me,” a Mayan law and greeting:

In Lak’ech

Tú eres mi otro yo.
You are my other me.
Si te hago daño a ti,
If I do harm to you,
Me hago daño a mi mismo.
I do harm to myself.
Si te amo y respeto,
If I love and respect you,
Me amo y respeto yo.
I love and respect myself.

This was an unusual and very emotionally moving experience for an academic conference, that was followed by an even more unlikely event. We went around the circle and shared our first names only, and what we felt we were each “bringing” to the discussion. To be clear: this was not about listing our qualifications and expertise. This was about a common interest in being challenged, in collaboration, and scaling good ideas. This was about honoring the coming together of the group, and making sure that everyone was listening and felt represented. I was reminded of my visit to Stone Child College, a TCU in Montana, where we began our “business” meeting with the college President listening to stories from a Tribal elder.

Although the larger discussion at this panel was about research methodology, typically dry descriptions of theory and numbers were grounded in beautiful illustrations of students’ community maps.   The presenters explained that they worked with Mexican American youth living in poverty to help them design and create their own maps of their neighborhoods, including places that symbolized college-going resources and college-going barriers. Resources, for example, included out-of-school time youth centers, library and schools, while barriers included high density of graffiti, vendors of alcohol, tobacco, and drug paraphernalia in their community.

As we talked about the maps, terms such as “homelessness” were redefined as “houselessness.” In other words, not having a house does not necessarily prevent someone from having a family, a community, and a lineage. Breaking from a deficit perspective, the presenters honored the fact that the young people they worked with – though poor, Latino/a and perhaps undocumented – had dignity, agency, and precious knowledge. At the end of their mapping, youth created new spaces in their communities, literally opening new avenues of access to college.

Thinking of mapping, after these two AERA sessions, I went to explore San Antonio. I visited the Alamo and visited a Mexican marketplace. I marveled at foods I had never tasted, and watched as families settled in to watch the upcoming Fiesta parade.  Aside from being very humid, it was a near perfect experience. A mingling of cultures combined with a strong sense of ethnic pride permeated the city.

I wish I could end this here. But something else happened today. I got back to my hotel room, turned on the television and saw Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania (my home state) to mark his first 100 days as president.   Every word out his mouth was one of hatred and divisiveness. As he talked about securing the border, and keeping all the “bad people” out, he outdid his own record of fear mongering warning that people who cross the border illegally will be in direct danger of being deported “back where they belong,” or put in jail.

Trump then read a poem called “The Snake” by Al Wilson, wherein a woman shows compassion for a hurt snake, bringing him into her home and giving him sustenance, only to be bitten mercilessly and mocked by the snake for being so gullible:

“I saved you,” cried that woman
“And you’ve bit me even, why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”
“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

The moral of the story being that certain people will always be bad to the core, that we shouldn’t try to help other people, and that if we do, we have only ourselves to blame for being so stupid. Trump told the story with great relish, savoring the anticipation of the moment when the snake is once again vilified and the old lady humiliated.

As I tearfully watched his supporters stand, cheer, and chant “build the wall,” I was reminded that I began the day reciting In Lak’ech with a group of total strangers at an academic conference.   If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself. What would our future look like if all Americans could say these words with the same conviction that Trump and his supporters brag about eradicating the enemy by any means necessary?

I didn’t leave AERA with the answer, but, as I’d hoped, I did leave feeling more empowered to keep fighting for social justice – inside the academy and out. I also left feeling more grateful than ever to be representing the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, where I do not have to travel to a national conference to gain wisdom from, and hear about the first-hand experiences of academics of color.

Alice E. Ginsberg is Assistant Director for Research at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. She also teaches urban education and teacher research in Penn’s Teach for America masters program.

Shaping Teacher Education to Meet our Distinct Needs

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Danielle Lansing

This is the third post in a three-part MSIs Unplugged series on teacher education at federally-designated Minority Serving Institutions from the contributors to Teacher Education across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs Policies, and Social Justice, edited by Emery Petchauer and Lynnette Mawhinney. Authors will draw from their chapter to illustrate some of the important work happening in MSI teacher education programs. We hope this series helps move MSI teacher education into the view of both education scholars and the general public.

Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU) across the United States were founded to specifically meet the needs of tribal communities through access to higher education and capacity building. More than half of TCUs include teacher education as part of their academic programming. At many TCUs, teacher education programs tend to have the highest student enrollment compared to other offerings. This is due to the motivation of tribal community members who seek to improve the education systems that directly serve their children.

In the past, tribal nations have been excluded from determining how their children might best be served. Generations of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) families have experienced assimilationist curriculums that necessitated the exclusion of parents to be effective. Consequently, parents and community members have been left out of the equation and were expected to trust in the schools they sent their children too. As a result, many AIAN communities have felt the negative impact of unresponsive educational systems.

I remember the stories my mother told me when I was a child. These stories included being sent away to school as early as third grade. My mother left home to attend off-reservation schools hundreds of miles away from home. She was only allowed to come home during the summers. Much of what she learned was incongruent with the teachings of our family as she was expected to leave her culture at home. As a result, her home life and schooling were very disconnected. Unfortunately, her story is not an isolated one. I often wondered how much potential was lost as future community members experienced an education that could not be translated back into their communities.

Tribal communities continue to grapple with the loss of language and culture as well as the pervasive achievement gap. For many school systems that serve AIAN children, their focus continues to rely heavily on mainstream curriculum and remediation. Teachers trained in mainstream teacher education programs often learn very little about how to shape their curriculum to meet the unique needs of AIAN students. In order for a change to take place, a new cadre of teachers and leaders need to be developed. One that is ready to provide effective educational programs that support the unique needs of AIAN communities.

Part of why I was drawn to become part of the Tribal College Movement, was to participate in developing a foundation for educational sovereignty to emerge in tribal communities. It begins by partnering with tribal communities and including them in determining how educational programs, schools, early childhood centers, and teachers can be instrumental in solving the complex problems that impact student success. For many communities, this necessitates striking a balance with mainstream curriculum and culturally relevant curriculum. In order to develop teacher education programs that can train teachers to maintain a curriculum balanced with AIAN community needs, tribal voices will have to be heard.

As a TCU faculty member, I consider myself privileged to participate in a community of practice that includes AIAN students who represent the distinct needs of their communities. In the safe spaces of our classrooms, we are able to learn mainstream early childhood education concepts but also develop a discourse of how these concepts may or may not support the distinct traditional learning systems already present in our communities. We think critically about how mainstream educational concepts can be enhanced and modified to better address the issues in AIAN communities. These deep discussions come from a shared history that we bring to the classroom. I believe that it is within this focused discourse lies the beginnings of educational sovereignty and solutions to the complex issues that continue to challenge our nations.

We continue to learn that tribal communities are very unique. Generalizations can seldom be made across tribal nations. For teachers to be effective in AIAN communities, understanding these realities is of utmost importance. As a teacher myself, I remember going through a period of relearning each time I entered a tribal community. As a teacher who was trained in a mainstream institution, I don’t ever remember being taught how to enter a community through a learning perspective. I must admit, I felt that I knew what had to be taught. However, as I entered each of the four tribal communities I served, I learned that I was expected to support a great deal more than the academic needs of students. Luckily, I learned quickly that including parents and community members to “school me” on what they felt was important would serve me well. In retrospect, I would have been better off initially if I had entered the field with the expectation that, in addition to the delivery of curriculum, each tribal community also had its own needs that needed to be considered.

For tribal colleges, our missions explicitly necessitate partnerships with tribal communities. Our hope is to continue to work towards striking a balance between the mainstream curriculum and what is culturally relevant. In this way, our teacher education program continues to be informed by the AIAN communities we serve. Our hope is that we are always moving towards building our own systems. We are on that journey now.

Danielle Lansing is a faculty member in Early Childhood Education at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI). She is a scholar and practitioner who has spent the majority of her career teaching the primary grades in Bureau of Indian Education and tribal contract schools in various tribal communities. Dr. Lansing’s research interests include Participatory Action Research in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities as well as Indigenous research methodologies. She is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and credits her family history as shaping her motivation to improve Indian education.

Teacher Certification Exams as Barriers to the Diversification of the Teacher Workforce

This is the second in a three-part MSIs Unplugged series on teacher education at federally-designated Minority Serving Institutions from the contributors to Teacher Education across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs Policies, and Social Justice, edited by Emery Petchauer and Lynnette Mawhinney. Authors will draw from their chapter to illustrate some of the important work happening in MSI teacher education programs. We hope this series helps move MSI teacher education into the view of both education scholars and the general public.

This is the time of year when the emails and phone calls from worried teacher candidates start to ratchet up at our minority serving institutions. Candidates are concerned about the possibility they will not pass all of the exams or be certified in time to take a full-time teaching job come the fall. Last year, a teacher candidate, Maria, approached us about her persistent failure on one of the state-required content exams for teacher certification. It was her third time taking it and despite the time she spent studying and reviewing, a few points on the exam continued to elude her. Is this an indicator that this teacher candidate is not going be effective in the classroom?

Teacher certification exams are designed, in theory, to prevent ill-equipped teachers from entering our public school classrooms. The research suggests, however, that most certification exams are poor measures of a teacher’s ability to effectively teach the diversity of children in classrooms or of a teacher’s readiness to teach. Performance assessments, like the edTPA, are theoretically better indicators of these capacities, but the research is still emerging. Maria is a creative and purposeful teacher, with deep content knowledge, who is invested in working in urban schools and teaching all students effectively. She knows her students and we can attest that her lessons were consistently designed with each and every one of them in mind. It is possible that these paper-and-pencil exams might keep her from the classroom. Moreover, while she was less concerned about the edTPA, Maria mentioned to us that she faced the choice between paying her electricity bill and paying the $300 required to submit her edTPA.

As faculty at minority serving institutions, who are invested in the diversification of the teacher workforce, we consider supporting our teacher candidates through the hurdles of teacher certification exams as critical to our work. Our teacher candidate populations speak a variety of languages other than English; identify with different racial, ethnic, and religious groups that are highly underrepresented in the teacher workforce; and describe themselves as low- or working-class. Cost is a huge barrier to certification for many of these candidates who, like Maria, find the approximately $800 fee to complete all of the required exams daunting and, sometimes, impossible.

Our institutions have worked to find vouchers to support initial costs, and also to create zero-cost, faculty-led workshops designed to prepare candidates for the content and structure of the exams to reduce the need for retakes. Many of our candidates’ K-12 educations poorly prepared them for college-level work and few received strong feedback on their reading and writing. Moreover, most teacher certification exams are no longer pencil-and-paper tests, creating a need for candidates—whose K-12 educations integrated little technology—to practice reading and writing responses on a computer.Thus, within these workshops, candidates are supported in increasing their efficiency as readers and writers; familiarity with a wide variety of genres and content;and knowledge of techniques for taking computer-based exams.

Our teacher candidates often describe extreme fear and anxiety of the unknown at testing centers where they will take these computer-based exams. Rarely are they aware of the ways in which these actual testing situations, beliefs about self-efficacy, and their mindset about test-taking, shape their success. We have found that providing some familiarity with the situation within courses and the workshops (e.g., what identification will be required; the process for getting a new whiteboard on which to write; going to use the restroom) alleviates much of this anxiety. For the edTPA, we have found that it is also important that candidates feel they have permission to request the necessary time and assistance to complete the lesson sequence in classrooms. Mobilizing faculty members and university supervisors to work with candidates on the language and approach for these discussions with their cooperating teachers has made a significant difference in their confidence to advocate for themselves.

These exams are daunting for many of our candidates, but we have seen them thrive with targeted preparation that addresses gaps in their skills, knowledge, familiarity, and concerns. Finding avenues to seek out vouchers, ensuring candidates are well-prepared for the exams, and preparing them for the realities of testing centers, can help qualified and talented individuals from being kept out of the profession. However, supporting teacher candidates’ success on these exams does not diminish the responsibilities we, as teacher educators, have to be guardians of the profession. Our commitments to access, excellence, and the diversification of the teacher workforce drive our work, and this includes being mindful that not all individuals are appropriate for the profession despite their ability to pass certification exams.

Joni Kolman is an Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education at California State University San Marcos; from 2013-2016 she served as an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at City College of New York, CUNY. Her research and teaching focuses on teacher quality and is situated at the intersection of teacher education in/for high-need schools, K-12 inclusive classroom practice, and education policy.

Laura M. Gellert is Associate Professor of Mathematics Education/Childhood Education at City College (CUNY), where she also is the director of the childhood education program. Her work focuses on such topics as in-service teacher mentorship, inclusive education with mathematics education and integrated STEM education that meets the needs of underrepresented minority populations.

It’s a Family Affair: Teacher Education at Minority Serving Institutions

This blog entry begins a month-long MSIs Unplugged series on teacher education at federally-designated Minority Serving Institutions from the contributors to Teacher Education across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs Policies, and Social Justice, edited by Emery Petchauer and Lynnette Mawhinney. Authors will draw from their chapter to illustrate some of the important work happening in MSI teacher education programs. We hope this series helps move MSI teacher education into the view of both education scholars and the general public.

As educators working at an HBCU in the past, we have been surprised by the lack of awareness around HBCUs and MSIs more broadly, particularly in the world of teacher education where there are consistent calls for a more racially diverse teaching profession. Often times, when people asked where we worked, we often responded with pride, “At an HBCU!” To our dismay, people didn’t know what that was or would reply, “You work in banking?” mistaking the acronym for Historically Black College and University acronym for the international bank, HSBC.

Little did they know: Teacher education programs at MSIs have been answering the call for a more racially diverse teaching profession for quite some time. In fact, many MSI teacher education programs are ahead of the curve in responding to challenges that historically and predominantly white institutions are only starting to confront.

MSIs produce an oversized proportion of teachers of color in the country, as illustrated by figures from 2015. Enrolling about 20 percent of all students in higher education, MSI teacher education programs produced:

  • 54.1 percent of Latinx students who received undergraduate degrees in education
  • 32.8 percent of Black or African American students who received undergraduate degrees in education
  • 57.7 percent of Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander students who received undergraduate degrees in education
  • 17.4 percent of Asian American students who received undergraduate degrees in education
  • 11.7 percent of American Indian and Alaskan Native students who received undergraduate degrees in education

Given this lack of awareness toward MSI teacher education, we set out two years ago on a mission to co-edit a book on this topic. Our goal was to make the teacher education work at MSIs more visible to teacher educators, education scholars, and policy makers. We wanted to shed light on this work that is so often overshadowed.

It was important for us in this project to work with scholars at MSIs, especially teacher educators, because their knowledge and expertise is often invisibilized. Over the course of this project, we worked with seventeen 17 authors, most of whom were teacher educators at MSIs. As we and our interviewees have experienced, scholars at MSIs often have some of the heaviest teaching loads in all of higher education. While professors at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, we routinely taught 16 credit hours each semester in addition to administering multiple programs, mentoring students, and maintaining a presence on campus often every day of the week. At teaching-heavy institutions, these duties leave little time to pursue book contracts and peer-reviewed articles. Knowing how real the struggle is at some institutions, we wanted this book to identify and insert the work of MSI teacher educators directly into the purview of scholars, policy makers, and the public.

Through this project, we came to see that the goal of creating a more racially diverse teaching profession only scratches the surface of what is happening in MSI teacher education programs. For instance, tribal institutions are building teacher education around the Native communities their teachers will serve. Hispanic Serving Institutions are leaders in “grow your own” teacher education programs that recruit young adults to become teachers in their own communities. Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Institutions are building support systems around their students to pass teacher licensure exams that often unfairly screen candidates of color out of teacher education programs. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are the originators of justice-oriented pedagogy and continue pushing teachers to think about equity and justice in a changing world. We came to understand that MSI teacher education programs do much more than create a more racially diverse teaching profession. They shape teacher education in important ways not always evident at historically and predominantly white institutions.

From completing this project, we also came to see MSIs not as four separate institution types under one umbrella term but as a family of institutions. We think about this term “family” and what it offers to the ways we think about institutions. Individual family members are not identical, but they share a common lineage. Of course, there are families by birth and families by earth. Some family members might not share biological lineage, but their circumstances and journeys (like adoption) have given them family bonds nonetheless. The diversity among family members is what makes them sturdy and strong. We see something similar among MSIs and their teacher education programs. Although there is great variety among them, it is useful to see their commonalities and intersections. Doing so reveals the collective thrust they can have on teacher education.

What came from this year of work was Teacher Education Across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs, Policies, and Social Justice, which was just released by Rutgers University press. This blog entry starts a month-long series on MSIs Unplugged based upon the contents of the book. Authors will draw from their chapter in our volume to illustrate some of important work happening in MSI teacher education programs. We hope this series helps move MSI teacher education into the view of both education scholars and the general public.

Lynnette Mawhinney Ph.D., is associate professor and co-coordinator of urban education program at The College of New Jersey, where her work focuses on the professional lives of aspiring and current urban teachers and urban schooling. She began her career in teacher education at Lincoln University (PA), the oldest historically black university in the country. She is the author of We Got Next: Urban Education and the Next Generation of Black Teachers (Peter Lang, 2014), co-editor of Teacher Education across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs, Policies, and Social Justice (Rutgers University Press, 2017), and co-author of her upcoming book There Has to Be a Better Way: Lessons from Former Urban Teachers.

Emery Petchauer, Ed.D., is associate professor of English and Teacher Education at Michigan State University, where he also coordinates the English education program. His work has focused on urban education, teacher education, high-stakes testing, and hip-hop studies. He is the author of Hip-Hop Culture in College Students’ Lives (Routledge, 2012) and the co-editor of Schooling Hip-Hop: Expanding Hip-Hop Based Education Across the Curriculum (Teachers College Press, 2013). He began his career in teacher education at Lincoln University, the oldest historically Black university in the country.

Guide for Educators To Feature Tribal College Professionals’ Work

 

DINAHEDSHOT

Dina Horwedel

Teacher Education Across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs, Policies, and Social Justice, edited by Emery Petchauer and Lynnette Mawhinney, is a new guide for educators that shares successful teaching practices and teacher education programs from minority-serving institutions and how they are creating social change and transforming communities in the process.

Two TCU professors’ work cites the importance of community relationships when creating education programs. The Native approach to teaching, in which educators collaborate with parents and the community to integrate Native knowledge and cultural understanding into curriculum, best reflects Native community values. The approach is also proven: it grounds children in their identity, building healthy approaches to learning and healthy relationships, and creates positive validation of community ideas, helping students to succeed academically and socially.

The Navajo nation established the first tribal college in 1968 to provide place-based education steeped in language and culture for its community. Other tribal communities followed in the spirit of self-determination to create higher education institutions to serve their communities. Today, 37 TCUs serve American Indian communities across the United States, located on or near Indian reservations, 34 of which are accredited.

In “Learning from the Community: Innovative Partnerships That Inform Tribal College Teacher Education Programming,” Danielle Lansing, an instructor at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a TCU in Albuquerque, New Mexico, details how community-based partnerships created a strong, culturally based early childhood education curriculum and preservice teaching opportunities.

Lansing shares that for generations Native parents were excluded because they were seen as an impediment to their children’s assimilation. Yet consulting parents is paramount in defining community culture when creating education programs to develop engaged tribal citizens.

SIPI engaged early childhood education parents through a Photovoice Project. Using photographs, they answered research questions that allowed them to act as change agents for their children’s education, many for the first time.

Parents shared the need for their children to learn about their tribal heritage and cultures, a connection to ancestral homelands, kinship connections, the value of Native teachings and knowledge, and creating harmonious relationships.

The Photovoice Project also provided preservice teachers with new opportunities to implement a locally created curriculum; experience fully developed practicum experiences and curriculum that integrate language and culture; and develop strong connections with teachers and community members.

Lansing says TCUs are ideal institutions for creating community-based partnerships between tribal nations and families because of their unique missions and tribal communities. These partnerships strengthen early childhood education by creating innovative education practices and culturally infused curriculum, and positively impact preservice teachers by building their capacity to create community change.

In “The Future of Teacher Education at TCUs: A Talking Circle of Education Warriors,” Dr. Carmelita Lamb, a former TCU a former TCU chair at Turtle Mountain Community College (serving the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota) and current Chair of Graduate Studies and Distance Education-University of Mary, Bismarck, North Dakota, shares how intertribal and inter-institutional collaboration in the Native community helped empower more Native students in their educational journey without requiring them to leave their communities. She illustrates how collaboration and grassroots-based education have transformed how TCUs implement higher education to meet their communities’ needs.

Using the Native tradition of Talking Circles, Lamb interviewed education department chairs to deepen relationships and discern the current status of education programs at TCUs, current challenges, and their vision for teacher education in Indian Country.

Lamb delves into professional relationships at TCUs and a shared mission of promoting student success with a focus on “deeply personal [student] relationships.”

Lamb worked with institutions offering education programs to identify the concerns and successes of TCU department chairs, including inadequate funding to maintain courses of study, the need for technological resources, and disparity in federal funding opportunities across institutions for TCU teacher education programs. Students also face transportation challenges, lack of or shortage of student housing, and funding issues that prevent enrollment or completion.

It is not surprising to anyone involved with TCUs that the same programmatic and institutional successes Lamb’s interviews reveal are those Lansing identifies as the underpinnings of SIPI’s early childhood education program success. The work of TCUs shows that collaborative and culturally based curriculum help Native students succeed while furthering “…the efforts of their ancestors to pursue a better future for all Native people.”

Dina Horwedel is the director of public education for the American Indian College Fund, the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education. She holds a B.S. degree in journalism with honors from Bowling Green State University and a J.D. degree from Cleveland State University.

Pioneers on the Pathway to the Professoriate: How the B.A. in Latin American Studies best prepares Latino/as and HSI students to pursue humanities Ph.D.s

Andrew Millin

Andrew Millin

In anticipation of the rapidly diversifying young population, an increasing number of education initiatives seek to increase the percentage of Latino/a students from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) who seek to become humanities professors. While Latino/as in the U.S. make up 4.1% of the professoriate and 6.1% of humanities Ph.D.s, they make up 20% of adults aged 18-44, and 62% (1.75 million) of these undergraduates are enrolled in HSIs. The National Endowment for the Humanities is taking action to modify Ph.D.s to prepare students for careers in business, government, and non-profits. Dr. Marybeth Gasman, Director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania, announced in 2016 that she received a $5.1 million grant to launch “Pathways to the Professoriate.” Gasman constructed this initiative with the goal to increase Latino/a humanities professors at U.S. institutions. As part of the initiative, 90 students from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) will prepare for and enter Ph.D. programs over five years.

Due to the culturally relevant and interdisciplinary nature of a Latin American Studies major, Latino HSI scholars who receive a bachelor’s with this major would have the transferable skills to research, acquire foreign languages, and teach within a humanities Ph.D. program.

Why pursue a Ph.D. in Latin American History? Compared to a Ph.D. in European History, there may be at least one position per graduate, versus positions for only a handful.

Program requirements and student learning outcomes from California State University Northridge’s B.A. in Central American Studies can increase overall demand toward humanities. 86% of students spent at least six hours per week preparing for their classes, and 18% of these students worked on a research project with a faculty member. With their interests, building on the advisement from faculty, Latino/as and HSI students will succeed in identifying faculty mentors when applying to Ph.D.s, and constructing dissertations. There is also a trend toward team-based inquiry in the development of research skills. Within the major there are required survey courses, fieldwork, and seminars. Coupled with qualitative skills, awareness of historical development complexities, and understanding of transnational communities, these students will have both the professional development and training to minimize bias in their field research.

Acquisition skills are not just skills that humanities Ph.D. students will develop by the end of their studies; they are employer expectations. Employers will seek cognitive skills such as communication and analytics from job applicants rather than physical skills.

With study abroad opportunities, and faculty who have expertise in human rights debates, Latino students have available opportunities to minister across cultural and linguistic divisions. New York University B.A. in Latin American Studies students must demonstrate fluency in Spanish, Portuguese, or Quechua. For many humanities Ph.D. programs, students will be required to demonstrate proficiency in two foreign languages. It is projected that only 37% of Latinos will complete Ph.D.s in Humanities, versus 46% of Asian Americans, 51% of Whites, and 52% of African Americans over ten years.

Foreign language preparation is not the only hallmark of advanced preparation the Latin American Studies major will provide. NYU also offers an accelerated B.A./M.A. in Latin American and Caribbean Studies with a 50% discount on graduate tuition. With the discounted tuition comes an extra year of engaging with faculty. Research has shown that 1) students of color will better persist toward degree completion with faculty of color as role models and 2) Latino/a faculty members are more likely to produce scholarship relevant to Latino/a communities and individuals. Faculty will not only help these students persevere toward the Ph.D. They will be vital in helping these students communicate to their communities the mobility and relevance a college degree can provide. HSIs have proven determined and effective in producing motivated Ph.D. candidates.

Whether serving as a teaching assistant or as an instructor, in some capacity students pursuing Ph.D.s in humanities will be teaching and building relationships with undergraduates and graduates. The major not only qualifies students to excel as TAs in the U.S. From the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, graduates were reported to be Fulbright Teaching Assistants in Brazil and Argentina, and salaries for students knowing multiple foreign languages were 20% higher.

The demand for TAs who address the developmental needs of Hispanics caused the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to propose a $20 million grant to address these deficits. The B.A. in Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley specifically prepares students to teach foreign languages and social sciences.

It is implied that in teaching a subject that there is background in it. Students will be prepared to enter, teach, and engage students within multiple programs. Latino/a students attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and HSIs had similar scores on the National Survey of Student Engagement in terms of satisfaction with college and gains in overall development. This speaks to the increasing quality of both PWIs and HSIs in producing students who take initiative to inspire social change. Students at UC Berkeley can focus their four upper division electives on central themes such as gender and society. The curriculum structure enables students to develop research interests and engage what they want to study.

The B.A. in Latin American Studies will continue to produce expert scholars who inspire new findings and students in the humanities.

Andrew Millin holds his M.S.Ed. in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania.  He serves as the Program Coordinator of the Medical Office Assistant Certificate of Proficiency and volunteers with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, NJ.  He is an active member of NACADA:  The Global Community for Academic Advising, and will be serving as the Selection Chair on the 2018 Region 2 Conference Committee.  His research interests include applying theory to practice in academic advising, ethics in transfer credit evaluation, and interpersonal communication and relationships between faculty and administrators in higher education.

The History We Don’t Know

K_Gross

Karen Gross

Note: This is an expanded and edited version of a piece posted on LinkedIn on January 13, 2017.

The topic of this essay came to life in the context of two recent events: (1) a public conversation at the Aspen Institute with Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., who spoke about his work on race and class, as well as his recent documentation of the civil rights movement; and (2) the truly remarkable movie, Hidden Figures, that details the lives of three African American women “computers” who worked at NASA and enabled the U.S. space program to successfully launch its early flights and the moon shot. Both events displayed actual footage from the 1950s and 1960s. It was footage I knew—and remembered when they appeared on the screen.

Here’s one important realization: at these two events, I treated times in my life as if they were already history. Seriously: I somehow didn’t think of events in my own experience as “history;” at least psychologically, “ancient” is the word that precedes “history” in my mind. Perhaps that is why I look in the mirror and see a person who is decades younger than I am in real life.

But the truth is that the Civil Rights Movement and the space program’s early years were decades ago and are history. I lived through and was a part of them. I am old enough that it is time that I admit that parts of my life are now “history.” And with that insight should come the capacity to reflect back with some clarity of vision and some wisdom.

I should have already known that parts of my past are “history.” When I teach younger students and raise certain topics that seem fully integrated into the lexicon and are just part and parcel of my life, they look at me (quite understandably) as if I were making things up. My “lived life” is history to them. They did not live through the Civil Rights Movement (though discrimination surrounds them still, albeit evidenced somewhat differently). They don’t remember Ed Sullivan and The Beatles. They don’t recall Patty Hearst and her life with the Symbionese Liberation Army. They don’t know about Kent State. They are unaware of how we treated returning Vietnam Veterans. Timothy Leary’s name doesn’t even ring a bell. They would not be able to name 10 colleges, let alone a historically black college or university.

But, what is most striking to me is not the history I lived and of which I have some awareness (even if my contextualization of it is incomplete). It is the vast history that many of us do not even know about—that rich history, filled with insights into who we are/were as a nation and who we are/were as individuals. It is the history about institutions that educated many Americans when no one else did or would. That missing history has lessons to teach and wisdom to proffer and too many people do not even know this history exists. It’s hard to know what you don’t know.

Let me be clear: we all know some bits of history that is not widely shared. Take our own family histories (something Skip Gates knows all about and has shared with many). We know about the immigration of family members and their escape from frightful regimes. We know about family members who went off the beaten path and landed in strange places, and even stranger situations. We know of basement inventions and illicit, and then illegal, relationships. We know about hidden treasures and collections packed in boxes. We know about traditions even if we don’t know how they came to be part of us. (The best example is the Marranos lighting candles on Friday in their basements even to this day.) We know about educational institutions our family attended (assuming they pursued post-secondary education).

Many people (myself included) have done research and have written about people and institutions time forgot. These individuals and organizations contributed mightily to our world and they have gone unrecognized. These are often individuals toiling in the trenches when even their peers and sometimes families were unaware of their influence and impact. You can find these people in business, in education, in religion, in medicine, in science, in law. They were and are everywhere.

One example: when many scholars were exiled from Germany in the 1930s, they came to the United States. Those who were older and famous were taken in by well-known universities—Princeton, Michigan, Harvard. But, there were younger, excellent scholars who did not find academic positions easily and over 1,000 of them went to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs); they went from being the persecuted to the perceived persecutors. And, some of these professors, like Dr. Ernest Manasse, stayed at “their” HBCU (in his case, North Carolina Central University) for their entire academic career, despite opportunities to “move up.” Indeed, in a recently released book, the previously unknown role of Dr. Manasse and his wife in improving the integration of faculty and students in North Carolina was disclosed. This book, The Secret Game, is being made into a movie and perhaps then, as with the movie Hidden Figures, the world will meet some extraordinary men and women who changed how race, ethnicity, and religion played out in some parts of our nation.

By not recognizing or learning about these individuals, we are deprived on many levels. First, their impact is worthy of recognition. Second, their experiences can inform the story of our past; these are people who changed the trajectory of what has happened across the disciplines and in their communities. In a sense, these hidden figures are treasures we have yet to discover. And, perhaps most sadly, these are individuals who lived lives we did not respect,honor, or even acknowledge—except on rare occasion. Perhaps that’s why I feel compelled to write an essay about Dr. Manasse. His remarkable life and influence need to see the light of day—for educators, for students, for civil rights leaders and religious leaders.

Events like that at the Aspen Institute and depicted by the film “Hidden Figures” do more than expose us to people and events of which we were unaware and about which we would be enriched if we knew about them. That is the easy part. These events make me (and I hope others) poignantly aware of how incomplete and distorted our history and storytelling have been. And, it suggests that that defect persists. Not only do we not write these people back into history, but we do not recognize those among us—today—who are reifying a false history and obscuring or obliterating a past that is often ugly and harsh and embarrassing for us. It is far easier to tell a pretty history, even if incomplete.

There is no easy solution to these deficiencies in history telling. The problem is actually more about who we recognize as history-makers. But, here’s the real issue: it’s that we don’t know that we don’t know that is debilitating. We have this assumption that we have learned “history.” But the truth is that we progress ahead, unaware of vast quantities of history—of people, of cultures, of struggles, of discrimination and marginalization and values and quests and talents and improvements and contributions. Think about it this way: it is as if we have a detached retina that has blinded us to so much around us. We don’t see. Literally.

We need more than new glasses. Glasses won’t illuminate the dark. We need the equivalent of laser surgery to reattach our collective and individual retinas. And we need to know they need to be reattached. For me at least, the Gates event, the movie “Hidden Figures” and my work on the life and times of Dr. Manasse serve as a clarion call.

I worry about those in power today who think they know all there is to know. I worry if folks don’t know enough to ask questions. I am concerned when folks cannot admit they have much to learn. I am troubled by distortions caused by a failure to see and a willingness to change. I worry for our children to whom we tell a history that is incomplete at best and distorted or false at worst.

There are no easy answers to uncovering our real “history” (and what is “real” is in and of itself a complexity). But, we could do well to recognize “history” as we know it as if it were a book with missing pages and absent illustrations and the lack of key names and events in the indices. I f we see the emptiness, even if we don’t know what fills it, we are one step ahead of where we are now. And we can start to fill in the deep existing trenches when we stumble into them – knowingly or unknowingly.

And we can ask questions. Good questions. Tough questions. There are no stupid questions. And, without these questions, our history as we know it and tell it will be flawed. You don’t get answers if you don’t ask questions. Start with this one: Who was Dr. Ernst Manasse?

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.