Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Does Culture Have Relevance to Higher Education? Of course it does - Statement to the New York City Council Committee on Education

Does Culture Have Relevance to Higher Education? Of course it does
Statement to the New York City Council Committee on Education
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Paraphrasing educational psychologist, in "The Concept of Guided Participation"
the concept of guided participation highlights that cognitive development occurs in a social context while extending sociocultural theory beyond language-based dialogue. College student’s cognitive development is an apprenticeship of sorts that occurs via guided participation in social activities with companions, mentors and organizations who support and stretch their understanding of and skill in using the tools of the culture.

Academic or extracurricular centers provide a vehicle for guided participation that focuses more centrally on the interrelatedness of students and the broader society.

While “guided” does not necessarily mean face to face interaction, it does provide exposure and experiential opportunities. For example, a student working on a research report in isolation is still “guided” by the faculty, staff, librarians, classmates, the publishing industry, parents, the broader community who help shape the writing of the research report as a cultural activity. Tying culture to the relevancy of what the student has chosen for a major or for his or her life’s work is also an important function of the MEC college, as it is with any of the other CUNY campuses.

Ironically, Italian students are provided with more than ample opportunity to tie in their cultural heritage from Italy to those who early on came to the US for a better life. It shows a great deal of pride in the maintaining of newsletters that are clearly Italian oriented; programs and activities that reach out to the Italian community; programs that are based on traditional Italian rituals. Italians don’t have any problem with having Italian-American programs.

But when it comes to AFRICAN-AMERICAN, or AFRICAN-CARIBBEAN, or AFRICAN oriented programs that are designed to enhance the lives and educational experiences of AFRICAN-AMERICANS - PROBLEM.

Why? What is the issue with our having the same enlightened programs and activities - even a newsletter - that speaks to the cultural uniqueness of people of AFRICAN HERITAGE? Would it not be the same as those of Italian heritage?

Didactically speaking, the instructional implications are these: “Informed by a sociocultural perspective, learning is thought to occur through interaction, negotiation, and collaboration. While these features are characteristic of “cooperative learning,” what sets instruction that is informed by sociocultural theory apart is that there is also attention to the discourse, norms, and practices associated with particular discourse and practice communities. The goal of instruction is to support students to engage in the activities, talk, and use of tools in a manner that is consistent with the practices of the community in which students will interact, as our future scientists, mathematicians, historians, politicians, etc.

Now, somehow the foregoing concept appears to be perfectly clear and acceptable when it comes to the non-Black society, but appears to be problematical when it comes to those of us who are Black. Why is that. What is the problem with CUNY, from whom the foregoing was paraphrased, can’t make the extrapolation?

When I interviewed the late Percy Ellis Sutton, former Boro President of Manhattan, founder of the Inner City Broadcast Company, entrepreneur, intellect, political figure, hero, I asked him what stood out most in his mind as the motivating factor for so many things he accomplished: he responded that his father had made it a policy to keep them (his brothers and sisters) with so many great Black people of accomplishment and intellect. He thought that having met Carter G. Woodson when he was a kid, and learning of so many things that Black people had accomplished - even back in the day - also inspired him to go beyond the mediocre.

Henry Louis Gates is a distinguished professor of African American History at Harvard University. Director of the WEB DuBois Institute for African and African American Research. What do you think would happen if suddenly Harvard University declared Dr. Gates not relevant to Harvard? There would be a hue and cry that would be heard around the world. Why does Pollard, Goldstein, Johnson and Herschenson think that we would sit quietly by and state that the members of the Bunche DuBois Center, that the Center for NU Leadership, are no longer relevant to the Brooklyn Community and that they can just destroy and dismantle it with impunity? They are only hired by the CUNY System - they don’t own it. And they do owe a responsibility to the Brooklyn Community, and the broader general community of greater New York City to abide by and provide for the same sociocultural programs as Harvard does.

Roger L. Green represented District 57 in the New York State Assembly, which comprises Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Bedford-Stuyvesant. He was first elected in 1980, and provided stellar service to his constituents until he stepped down in 2006. · In 1983, Coretta Scott King and labor leader, Cleveland Robinson asked Green to serve as the New York State Political Coordinator for the Memorial March on Washington. It was during this period that Green authored the bill that established the New York State Martin Luther King Holiday Commission and the New York State Martin Luther King Institute. In 1985 and 1986 in conjunction with the founding of the National Holiday, Governor Cuomo signed these bills into law.

· From 1986–1991, the New York State Martin Luther King Institute trained more than 1000 high school and college students through its Ella Baker Academy. Students participating in this program learned the theory and practice of non-violent conflict resolution. Students were also provided with an opportunity to study civil rights and human rights social history.

In 2006, Green retired from the New York State Legislature . Shortly after, the Chancellor of the City University of New York and the President of Medgar Evers College, appointed him as a Distinguished Lecturer. Green currently teaches a course that explores the historical significance of the freedom amendments, 13th , 14th , 15th and 19th Amendments, and their influence on state and local government.

Roger Green was/is also the Director of the Dubois-Bunche Center on Public Policy, a think tank dedicated to advancing best practices in law, policy, and community covenants that advance social and economic justice for urban communities within the U.S. and throughout the African Diaspora.

ROGER GREEN’S presence at Medgar Evers College is as relevant to Brooklyn, and Henry Louis Gates presence is to Harvard University. Dr. Gates W.E.B. DuBois Center for Africana Studies is relevant as is the Bunche DuBois Center. The BUNCHE-DUBOIS Center at Medgar Evers College must be reinstated under its original leadership immediately and without prejudice. They must be made whole.

Congressman Major Owens, now a faculty member in the Department of Public Administration at Medgar Evers College, retired from Congress at the end of his term in January 2007, and was succeeded by Yvette Clarke. The Congressman received his BA from Morehouse College and a master of science degree from Atlanta University; and was a librarian before entering politics. He was elected to the New York state Senate in 1974.

He authored the treatise on Communiversity, which is the contract that Medgar Evers College and CUNY has with the Community.

In 1982, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, replacing the retiring Shirley Chisholm. One of his achievements in the House was the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Owens district included low income areas of Brownsville, a large Hasidic area of Crown Heights, the heavily Caribbean areas of Flatbush and East Flatbush, and the upscale neighborhood of Park Slope.

Major Owens received an "A" on the Drum Major Institute's 2005 Congressional Scorecard on middle-class issues. For those who don’t remember, the character Mark Richardson in The West Wing, a show no longer on the air, is believed to be based on Owens. Richardson plays an African-American Congressman from Brooklyn who looks a lot like Owens.
Owens is nicknamed the "Rappin' Rep" since he writes raps. His rap songs are often political and liberal in nature.
Owens is also the father of actor Geoffrey Owens, best known for playing the role of Elvin on The Cosby Show. (wikipedia)

An intellectual and pragmatist of the highest order, Congressman Owens called himself the Education Congressman, and firmly believes that an education is not just didactic, but the sum total of what can be brought to bear culturally as well as intellectually. He believes that Pollard and CUNY have violated the concept of COMMUNIVERSITY, the tenets upon which Medgar Evers was established.

Carter Godwin Woodson, a Black historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, was one of the first scholars to value and study Black History. He recognized and acted upon the importance of a people having an awareness and knowledge of their contributions to humanity, and left behind an impressive legacy. A founder of Journal of Negro History, Dr. Woodson is known as the Father of Black History (wikipedia)

Convinced that the role of his own people in American history and in the history of other cultures was either being ignored or misrepresented among scholars, Woodson realized the need for research into the neglected past of African Americans. Along with Alexander L. Jackson and three associates, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History September 9, 1915, in Chicago. (wikipedia) Now I cite Dr Woodson because it is apparent that neither the CUNY administration, nor Dr. Pollard are familiar with these issues or concerns.

Our Dominican and Puerto Rican Brothers and sisters are embarking on doing for themselves what we as Black people were doing for our selves at Medgar Evers. By the way, in case you did not notice, in case no one told you, our you were not able to observe by empirical observation: MEDGAR EVERS COLLEGE IS A BLACK SCHOOL - IT IS BLACK, AFRICAN, AFRICAN AMERICAN, AFRICAN CARIBBEAN, AFRICAN LATINO - it is Black. It is the only Black College in New York.

Dr. Woodson published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861; A Century of Negro Migration (1918) and The History of the Negro Church (1927); The Negro in Our History.
In January 1916, Woodson began publication of the Journal of Negro History (I grew up on these publications - they were in my home as well as those of my relatives). It has never missed an issue, despite the Great Depression, loss of support from foundations and two World Wars. In 2002, it was renamed the Journal of African American History and continues to be published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

Dr. Woodson worked to preserve the history of African Americans and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications. He noted that African American contributions "were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them. “Race prejudice is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind."

In 1926, long before Stevie Wonder, Dr. Woodson single-handedly pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week", for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In the 1980’s after a massive national movement on the part of Black people, Negro History Week became Black History Month and was celebrated throughout February.

Dr. Woodson believed in self-reliance and racial respect, values he shared with Marcus Garvey. Back in the day Woodson also wrote for Garvey's weekly Negro World. Woodson collaborated with such Black luminaries as W. E. B. Du Bois, John E. Bruce, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (founder of the Schomburg Library in Harlem), Hubert H. Harrison, and T. Thomas Fortune among others.

In 1933 Dr. Woodson wrote The Mis-Education of the Negro which continue to have wide readership - they reprint it every 10 to 20 years, but the message continues to miss the mark. Dr. Woodson was perfectly clear that the only ones responsible for preserving and telling our history was we ourselves. We can share the information, but no one can do the telling or preserving for us, but us. Just as our counterparts at CUNY who have the center for the Italian Students, the Centers for Asian students, etc.

Dr. Edison Jackson made it possible for Carver Bank to have ATMs on Medgar Evers Campus. He obviously had a sense of history and connectedness. Carver Bank was named after famed scientist and inventor, George Washington Carver. William Pollard had Carver Bank kicked off campus and replaced by Citibank -on a Black Campus. Who is CitiBank named for?

The purpose of a college or higher education is both for the practical application of instruction and information, as well as the acculturation and refinement of those who come to the institutes of higher learning. Being in the environs of those who have made their mark in the world, who look like those who aspiring to do so is an inspiration in and of itself, is as important as classroom activities. We live in a dynamic community, not a static community.

What would happen if Hostos College students and faculty were suddenly told that they could not speak Spanish, or they could not have community based programs, or Dominican heritage studies. What do you think would happen?

What if Yeshiva University - not part of CUNY, but you understand the analogy - was told that there would be no Jewish or Hassidic information or influences on campus, and their learned scholars were suddenly evicted from the campus, and all their personal computers were seized, and their hard drives confiscated? What do you think would happen?

What do you expect when this kinds of heinous egregious acts are now perpetrated against the programs at Medgar Evers College. These kinds of moves parallel that of Nazis - and Gestapo actions. They cannot be tolerated. CUNY does not deserve a red dime for any of the other programs until the programs at Medgar Evers are fully reinstated with the originators in place; until those who have worked diligently and tirelessly to bring quality to Medgar Evers: Dr. Zulema Blair, Roger Greene, Dr. Divine Pryor, and others, are fully reinstated to their offices, at full salary, plus compensation for their losses - IMMEDIATELY, IF NOT SOONER.

The perpetrators against Medgar Evers College must go. IMMEDIATELY, IF NOT SOONER. They have set up an atmosphere of hostility and adversity on Medgar Evers Campus, where faculty, students, staff feel threatened and cheated. The Black community stands firmly that the CONTRACT FOR COMMUNIVERSITY must be adhered to.

My statement and I’m sticking to it. ###

Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Presented to the New York City Council Hearing on
Academic Centers for CUNY
March 8, 2011

Please note: that Brooklyn's City Council Member CHARLES BARRON and Bronx City Council Member LARRY SEABROOK, walked out of the hearings in protest when it was discovered that the committee presenting the program for the hearings were all white, without one representation from any of the African, African America, African Caribbean or African Latino Students and CUNY's many campuses.

The Students themselves spoke out at a recently held Spoken Word Event (3/16/11), in depicting the dismantling of Medgar Evers as though they were walking on Medgar Evers Grave, and putting up a gate to keep the Black students away from their destiny.

But that's a separate article for another edition.

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