Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a well organized and inspiring conference put on by the San Diego chapter of the Association of Raza Educators. Held at the grounds of Lincoln High School in San Diego, the all-day event drew 750 participants which was well over the organizers’ projections. The 2nd Annual A.R.E. “Struggle for Social Justice in Education,” conference had breakfast keynote speeches, two one hour workshop sessions on various topics, and closing keynotes. Among the invited speakers were Dr. Antonia Darder, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Chente Jimenez, and Kobina Bantushango. The event wrapped with a four-mile March for Zapata!
After waking up at the ass crack of dawn and driving an hour and a half to San Diego, I arrived to the most expensive high school campus in the San Diego Unified School District. After a 129 million dollar renovation, Lincoln High School reopened its doors to the mostly black and latino population of its surrounding areas. I registered as media to begin the day and entered the school’s auditorium for the breakfast keynotes. A.R.E. is a radical teacher’s association which centers itself around the critical pedagogical theories of Brazilian educator and social activist Paulo Freire. All the speakers and day’s workshops at the conference focused at least in part on how best to utilize the classroom as a base for social justice.
The breakfast keynotes began with the voice, not of an educator, but of a student. Chente Jimenez, a South Central youth, spoke of the disconnect and alienation that our mainstream public education system offers poor students of color. As a young person who was going down the wrong path prior to joining a group called, Somos Raza, Jimenez laid the groundwork by speaking to teachers and fellow students about why the education system is failing its students and not the other way around!
Dr. Antonia Darder, perhaps the most engaging speaker of the entire event, followed Chente Jimenez, with an passioned plea for justice. A professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champagne, Darder’s scholarly work has focused on identity, language, race and gender within education. She has had the honor of working directly with Paulo Freire and is a main proponent of critical pedagogical theories in the United States. When first session workshops commenced after the breakfast keynotes , I had the privilege of speaking with Professor Darder one-on-one for an interview regarding her work. We spoke about critical pedagogy, but the space where I felt the conversation became intensely interesting is when we talked about the overlap between the educational and media systems of society. Darder is a community radio programmer as well, and she spoke of independent media as a public pedagogy and how it is just as important a battlefield in the ideological struggle!
Puttin’ the O.G. in ‘pedagogy,’ was the last presenter Jeffrey Duncan Andrade. His talk focused on the pedagogy of T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. By brining up the often misunderstood acronym of the late Tupac Shakur, Duncan-Andrade offered insights into how to reach ghetto youth and understand the roots of their indignation. Without this, he believes there is no hope in trying to turn things around. Duncan-Andrade, with a upfront and unapologetically uncouth style, drew his theory from the experience of his praxis being on the front lines of teaching in the poor inner city of East Oakland. The relevancy of Pac and understanding him to be representative of a certain type of intellect was refreshing to hear. As a closing speech, the innovation of presenting Pac alongside the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire was doubly so.
In the end, the A.R.E.’s conference for social justice in education can only be deemed a smooth success. In only their second annual gathering, they were able to pull off an efficiently organized and informative conference that brought together the best in radical teachers around the state. As teachers in California receive pink slips that could spell doom for their job security, hearing the insights of educators in San Diego over the weekend just reaffirmed to me how off-base public school policy is at the state level of governance.