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Abolitionist teaching: 'It's about you caring and loving our culture'

Kathryn Kao

May 20, 2019

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Bettina Love wants to push American public education to the next level.

The associate professor is calling for more radical reforms to the country's educational system, which she compares to the abolitionist movement.

"I think there's an idea that white teachers can't teach black kids, and so they walk in with those perceptions," Love told Virginia Prescott on NPR's daily news talk show, On Second Thought. "And so, what we try to do in schools of education, and particularly at the University of Georgia, is to challenge them and get them to think outside of the box. You saying you love children is great, but that's not enough, particularly to teach students of color because you don't need to just love them—you need to love their culture."

In a recent column for Education Week, Love—who works in the UGA College of Education's department of educational theory and practice—questioned whether white teachers are culturally equipped to teach in America's public schools where more than half the students are nonwhite.

According to a new study, students perform better in school, are more likely to graduate high school and have higher college aspirations when they have teachers who look like them. The study also found that students with teachers of the same race felt more cared for, more interested in their schoolwork and more confident in their teachers' abilities to communicate with them.

"I'm not saying white folks can't teach black kids—of course they can—but they've got to be knowledgeable, and it's not just about you caring about us, it's about you caring and loving our culture," said Love, author of "We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom," a new book that draws on her life's work of teaching and researching in urban schools.

While many educational schools talk about culture, they never explain what culture actually is, said Love. "To know their culture is to know the social, political, educational, economical and spiritual context that your students are living in," she added. "When I say learn your students' culture, I want you to be a historian."

Love is concerned about the school and life experiences of black girls who are often misunderstood by their teachers. Her research, teaching and service are focused on understanding, contextualizing and deconstructing the formal and informal educational experiences of marginalized youth—be they queer, urban, African American, female, male or a unification of these identities.

"I think the field of black girlhood is really a field many educators should be thinking about," Love said in a video for Education Week. "And if we could have policies and educational reform—real education reform that gets at the most marginal in our society— then it will permeate out to everyone else."

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