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“He’s More Like a ‘Brother’ Than a Teacher”: Politicized Caring in a Program for African American Males

by Maxine McKinney de Royston, Sepehr Vakil, Na’ilah Suad Nasir, kihana miraya ross, Jarvis Givens & Alea Holman - 2017

Background/Context: The link between care and teaching is well accepted, and positive teacher-student relationships are known to benefit students’ in-school experiences and academic success. Yet, positive teacher-student relationships are not the norm for African American males and African American male students’ experiences and performance in schools remains an issue.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: What characterizes the teacher–student relationships within the all-Black, all-male classes of this district-sponsored program? Moreover, how do the instructors for the program enact these characteristics in their classrooms?

Setting: This study examines a project of the Office of African American Male Achievement in Oakland, CA. The Manhood Development Program was an elective class in the high schools and an after school program at the middle schools that sought to improve Black male students’ academic success and school experiences, and teach students about their cultural and community histories. MDP classes were offered to Black male students and taught by Black male educators.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Based on support from and communication with the MDP facilitators and school administrators, the participants in this study include MDP instructors and their students at three high schools and one middle school within an urban school district where there are persistent, racialized disparities in rates of discipline and in levels of academic success.

Research Design: This article reports on a qualitative case study of the teacher–student relationships within four classrooms that were part of a program for African American male adolescents within an urban school district.

Data Collection and Analysis: During one academic year, four of the MDP classes were observed at least four times and videotaped at least twice. Interviews were completed with three of the class instructors and with 41% of students across the four classes. The observations and videos were analyzed for instances when teacher–student relationships were leveraged towards specific pedagogical ends. Micro-ethnographic analyses were conducted of the video instances to highlight the dimensions of caring exhibited in the teacher–student interactions. From these analyses, one interactional segment was chosen to illustrate the existence and nuances of a politically intentional form of caring.

Findings/Results: The MDP instructors' sociopolitical consciousness impacts and shapes their relationships with their MDP students. MDP instructors articulate and enact specific goals around how to construct caring teacher–student relationships that stem from their intention to positively influence the lives of Black children, push back against the racialized and hegemonic institutional structure of schools. MDP instructors teach in a way that is fundamentally connected to the local community in Oakland and make a concerted effort to know, rather than stereotype, each student and to develop each students’ full potential. These relationships are intentional, political, and visible acts of care by MDP instructors that are interactionally coconstructed within their classrooms.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This case of politicized caring questions the premise that education and schools are, and should be, narrowly focused on developing test preparation, career-readiness, or content-specific practices. Instead, this case illustrates the alternative educational ideologies and practices of four Black educators that allow them to reclaim their social and political responsibilities and create effective, nurturing, antiracist schooling environments for Black students. This microanalysis of one of these classes offers an example of a type of caring and pedagogy that currently exists and that could be more widely available to Black students.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 4, 2017, p. 1-40
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21748, Date Accessed: 4/22/2021 1:03:18 PM

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About the Author
  • Maxine McKinney de Royston
    University of Wisconsin, Madison
    E-mail Author
    MAXINE MCKINNEY de ROYSTON, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her research focuses on race, identity, and pedagogy, with a focus on STEM learning environments. Her work has been published in journals such as the Harvard Educational Review, Journal of the Learning Sciences, and the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. Her forthcoming work examines how mathematics classrooms operate as racialized learning environments and the need for teachers’ political clarity about what they teach, who they teach, and to what ends they teach.
  • Sepehr Vakil
    University of Texas, Austin
    E-mail Author
    SEPEHR VAKIL is an Assistant Professor in STEM Education at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also Associate Director for Equity & Inclusion in the Center for STEM Education. His research interests include the cultural and political dimensions of STEM teaching and learning, critical approaches to computer science and engineering education, and participatory design research. Recent publications include: "Rethinking race and power in design-based research: Reflections from the field" published in Cognition and Instruction, and “A Critical Pedagogy Approach for Engaging Urban Youth in Mobile App Development in an After-School Program” published in Equity & Excellence in Education.
  • Na’ilah Suad Nasir
    University of California, Berkeley
    E-mail Author
    NA'ILAH SUAD NASIR is the Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Professor in the Graduate School of Education and African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her program of research focuses on issues of race, culture, and schooling. She is the author of Racialized Identities: Race and Achievement for African-American Youth, published by Stanford University Press. She has also published over 40 articles in scholarly journals.
  • kihana miraya ross
    University of Texas, Austin
    E-mail Author
    kihana miraya ross is a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at UT Austin. Her program of research explores the multiplicity of ways that antiblackness is lived by Black students, and critically, the potential for transformative resistance in educational spaces that confront racialization and antiblackness directly. Her most recent publication, “'Be Real Black For Me': Imagining BlackCrit in Education," co-authored with Michael Dumas, theorizes the usefulness of a Black critical theory, or BlackCrit in education. Her forthcoming work examines the ways Black girls experience antiblackness in education, and the ways that Black girl space is imagined, politicized, and embodied by Black students and educators in the construction of what she calls, Black educational sovereign spaces.
  • Jarvis Givens
    Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    JARVIS GIVENS is a Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and earned his Ph.D. in African Diaspora Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. His research spans the following areas: 19th and 20th Century History of African American Education, Education and the African Diaspora, and Race and Urban Schooling. Givens is currently working on a book that analyzes the educational philosophy of Carter G. Woodson and his influence on Black schools during the Jim Crow period.
  • Alea Holman
    California School for the Blind, John F. Kennedy University
    E-mail Author
    ALEA HOLMAN, PhD., MPH, is a school psychologist at the California School for the Blind and an adjunct faculty member in the Doctor of Psychology Program at John F. Kennedy University. She is a graduate of the School Psychology Program in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include familial racial and gender socialization, including the experiences of parents raising Black children within a racially hostile society. Her recent publications include “Pedagogies of race: Teaching Black male youth to navigate racism in schools” (Nasir, Holman, McKinney de Royston, & ross, 2013).
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