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ED Talks inspire education with social justice

By Jess Linde

Section: News

February 6, 2015

Brandeis Professor Derron Wallace (AAAS/ED), Professor Emerita Jane Hale (AAAS/COML/ECS/ROMS) and Sujan Talukdar ’96 gave a series of miniature “TED talk-style presentations” on the role of social justice in the classroom Thursday, Feb. 5, as part of the ED Talks series. The event was organized as part of Brandeis’ ’DEIS Impact festival of social justice and the university’s education program and was designed by the department’s undergraduate department representatives (UDRs). After a short explanation of the event’s background from UDR Vinh Nguyen ’15, the panelists were each given a chance to speak following introductions from UDR Cynthia Jackson ’16. Each short talk provided the respective speaker’s background and ideas on social justice in the classroom, directed specifically toward students considering a career in education.

Hale went first, and detailed her experience working all over the world, often teaching English literature in French-speaking countries, with students from various backgrounds. “Happily, it’s become somewhat of a common practice of teachers to select books and curricular materials that acknowledge the existence of different types of humanity and different experiences,” Hale said. “But what I think we need to look at more closely in our classroom is how the student’s experience in the classroom is an equal, if not more powerful model of how to respect, listen to, value, empathize with and celebrate the different experiences.”

She also stressed the importance of teachers having and nurturing relationships with their students and putting in the extra work to create an environment that encourages trust and cross-experience friendships. “On the first day, try to learn the names of everyone in your class,” Hale told the audience. “Even if you’re going to forget most of them the next day, try to learn their names, find out who your students are.”

Talukdar, who graduated from Brandeis in 1996 and was one of the first directors of the university’s Intercultural Center, focused on educational advocacy as social justice in her talk. The daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, Talukdar decided in her senior year to pursue a career in education. “My parents are the prototypical example of the American dream,” Talukdar said. “From as early as I can remember my parents emphasized the value of education, repeatedly driving home that it is the key to success.” Talukdar took this to heart but was concerned that her parents did not think that “people like ‘us’” were not meant to be educators. “South Asians and people of color in general were not reflected in the American K-12 educational system,” Talukdar said. “They believed that I should follow a path where I would not be ‘the only one.’”

Talukdar nevertheless pursued her passion for education, being influenced largely by working at Brandeis with high school students unprepared for higher education. She noticed systematic problems with students of color—particularly African-American students—being labeled as underachievers and coming to believe it. Talukdar then committed herself to anti-racist education as a means of promoting opportunity, which she currently teaches postgraduate classes on to young educators. Talukdar is a coordinator for the METCO Program in Brookline, a position in which she helps students of color and/or less fortunate economic backgrounds attend and integrate well at public schools in Brookline.

Wallace, the final speaker, began his talk with a story of a child he had been working with in London who was murdered seemingly for no reason when buying food. Wallace, a sociologist of education and its relation to racial, gender and economic inequality and identity, then began what he called “three and a half of the toughest years of my life.” Incensed by the violence he was witnessing in the communities he studied, Wallace became a community organizer. “I realized that in order to produce change, institutions in communities must be made relevant,” Wallace said.

Through this work, he helped to create London’s CitySafe campaign, which seeks to establish relationships between children and shop owners in a neighborhood, and train said owners to offer refuge to children and teens fleeing violence. “If you seek to be relational, you will be radical,” Wallace said. “That’s because most of us don’t do it … we don’t move beyond our homes or our schools.” As a believer in social justice, Wallace believes in work that “agitates, provokes and demands attention until real change happens.” Following raucous applause from the audience, the panelists then asked each other short questions about their methods, and interacted with attendees over refreshments.

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