When she applied to graduate school at New York University, Geraldine resided in Jackson, Mississippi where she worked with the state’s Head Start Program. As I researched Geraldine’s biography, I connected with her story, her resilience, and her passion for the education of African American children. It helps that her archival collection at the Schomburg holds 13 boxes of her personal writing and professional papers. One which I believe captures the essence of her spirit is her statement of purpose to graduate school. Geraldine continued her education at NYU as she pursued her Ph.D.; however, she passed away before she completed this degree. Below is her statement of purpose to NYU’s doctorate program in early childhood education.
Statement of Interest
One of my primary interests is the retraining of teachers, specialists and trainers-of-teachers who work with young children; particularly those who will work in communities where people of color live. Additionally, I am interested in the re-training or adjunct training for those who set policies, do research, develop curriculum, etc. that impact on settings where young children are involved. Much of my energy in the last several years has gone into developing various approaches to training early childhood personnel that can result in their recognition of the strengthening and supporting the cultural base and world-view of children of color and their families. Early childhood personnel, by and large, are subject to the distorted views, perceptions and practices in relation to people of color, learned in the wider society and re-inforced by their professional training. There is profound need for positive and energetic intervention in the imposed process of the curricular harassment of children–however unintentional–in early childhood classrooms. The same or similar process is in operations in settings where the various and particular behaviors of the children are diagnosed and “treatment perscribed [sic]” by clinicial and/or diagnostic specialist. What interests me is the possibility of a different set of descriptions of the children of color and particularly children of African descent in North America. Very specifically those Black children that early childhood professionals come in contact with are African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Central American. A hopeful assumption is that the research and teaching profession would respond in positive ways to a more accurate set of descriptions of the children, their families, and their behavior. Different approaches to working with children, different curricula and related materials could result/ The present arrangement can only continue to frustrate the teaching and specialist staff, many of whom want very much to do a good job and don’t know how to begin. And a large part of the frustration is because the “tools and instruments” of assessment, the treatment, the incorrect a priori research hypotheses, data and resultant theories are rooted in inaccurate, distorted descriptions of the children and their families.
My beginning doctoral investigations, coupled with long-term observations, reading and talking to people have revealed that Black children grow up in setting that make them different–both actually and qualifiedly –from their research descriptions. Their childhood as African Americans is largely unrecorded, but is characterized by a seeming paradox:
- cultural and aesthetic response that reflect an Afro-Centric heritage, as well as
- minimal and/or deficit attention from the behavioral and social sciences
- caricatured portrayal of their characteristics
- educational and clincial personnel who do not have the training that would help them to acknowledge the childrearing system that has no parallel in this society
My dissertation is an attempt to detail some of the experiences of children seven/eight years of age and under in the Slave community. Who were they? Culturally? Legally? Who cared for them? How? What kinds of childhood experiences did they have? What childrearing practices obtained ? How can they be described? What was role of culturally continuous African behavior? How can it be described? Who were the adults in the lives of children? How did colonialism function vis-a-vis the rearing of children in the Slave Community? My study spans the years from 1619 to 1860 and in brief summary will be a look at the childrearing setting and the experience of the children in that setting.
I’m fascinated with the idea that through the study of the history of Black children and their families–combined with a knowledge about and the use of African and African-American cultural arts, that one can develop descriptions of Black children that are rooted in their actual experience. What are the implication of this kind of study for developing approaches to understanding the language, the cognitive/problem-solving/intellectual, emotional, spiritual aesthetic and psychological development of Black children? Using many primary sources, I would like to begin to answer those questions in my dissertation and develop a beginning description of the varied faces of Black children.
Another of my primary interests is, the development of training approaches and activities for staff, parents, and children using their “cultural stuff” of their lives as the base for the learning experiences. In addition, I’ve had a long-standing interest in children’s literature, in the thought and “logic” of children’s thoughts, and language development.
I am, though, a teacher; at heart. I love teaching. I had a really nice thing happen to me when I was visiting San Francisco last year. One day I was one of the first of a big crowd to board a bus around 4:00 PM. The bus stop was in a rather well-to-do neighborhood and a big high school was across the street. Two older Black women who appeared to be domestics on their way home, boarded the bus, as well. By the time they got on, I was seated and reading. The women had apparently been involved in conversation. One of the women reached over the man setting next to me, touched my shoulder to get my attention. She said in a declarative way, “You a teacher, ain’t you?” I smiled and said, “Yes ma’am, I am”. She tossed her hand and said to her friend (and everybody else on the bus), “See, I told you, I can tell’em. The ones that are teachers and the ones that like it and the ones that don’t. She one of them that LOVE it. See how she grins. I learned all I need to know about teachers in Georgia where I grew up.” Don’t know how she knew, but it’s true. I love teaching. That’s my primary interest.
Until the next post,