FUTURE TEACHERS FIGHT SOCIAL INJUSTICE
Outside the classrooms of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Andrea Brown is getting a lesson in becoming a social activist.
Brown, a UIC doctoral student in education, is among 15 Chicago-area winners of the first-ever Ida B. Wells Critical Action Research Award. Sponsored by the university's Center for Youth and Society and named for African-American activist Ida B. Wells, the award gives financial assistance to future teachers willing to research social injustices in education, which some experts say tend to stifle students' creativity and individual character.
"I am honored yet humbled having received an award with such a powerful name," said Brown. "I've always felt an obligation to do work that will contribute to the empowerment and progress of my community."
Brown, who is from the South Side, was chosen from a pool of undergraduate and graduate student applicants who wish to teach and mentor urban children of poverty. The award, worth up to $1,000, covers research and materials expenses. Award winners must demonstrate a passion for teaching and the challenging spirit needed to tackle issues of social inequality that abound in urban societies.
"Today's society is one with tremendous inequities built into it," said William Ayers, founder and director of the center located in the UIC College of Education. "For example, Chicago schools have 50 percent of the poorest kids in Illinois and 80 percent of the bilingual kids; yet they're asked to do a harder job with less resources than the surrounding communities - that's inequitable. Overcoming these kinds of inequities is part of the work our scholars will be doing."
The Center for Youth and Society, said Ayers, has a twofold purpose: to redefine the role of educators beyond traditional school structures, and to put more emphasis on merging the educational experience with the topical lessons students absorb from the streets, peers and family, and from the local community. Through projects like the Wells Award, the center plans to work with tomorrow's teachers to build more diverse instructional courses than are found in most classrooms today.
"Education is not just something isolated in schools," Ayers cautioned. "It's an endeavor of a whole community." Ayers hopes the center will become a site for scholars and youth workers from all types of disciplines and professions to "gather to share approaches in the interest of serving kids better."
To give African-American girls the opportunity to be heard, Andrea Brown's prize will go toward publishing a collection of writings titled "The Politics of Black Hair: Girls' Voices." The writings, she said, will focus on the contradictory messages the girls receive about their appearance while at school and at home.
"I plan to work with the girls and discuss the issues affecting them," Brown said. "Their writings should give readers an insightful look at what it means to be African-American and female, and how young women of color can keep alive positive identities amid intense peer pressure and criticism from mainstream culture."
While she considers herself an educator, Brown said she is not interested in teaching in the traditional sense. Instead, she wants to focus on ways to provide an up-to-date, culturally relevant education for African-American children to improve their quality of life.
"Similar to Ida B. Wells, I consider this work to be a calling, and thus, I have dedicated my life to sharing my teaching gifts and talents with the community, which has supported and nurtured me to be the person that I am," she said.
Wells Award scholar Greg Michie wants to connect with the large number of youth from the Back of the Yards community who have dropped out of school or have become wrapped up in gang life. Michie, a doctoral student from Pilsen, plans to use his award to publish a coming-of-age oral history about the youth who attend a support group he helps facilitate in the community.
"I hope to shed some light on the group's struggles," wrote Michie in his award proposal. "I want to encourage them to look more closely at ways in which they might become more responsible for the choices they make. If, as many of the guys admit, there is no future in the kinds of lives they're living, then what kind of future might they imagine, and how might they get there?"
On May 18, 2000, the Center for Youth and Society will host "Youth and the Challenge of Social Justice," at the Chicago Illini Union, Chicago Rooms A and B, 820 S. Wolcott Ave. This event will launch a year-long series of community forums intended to bring together activists, educators, scholars and artists together to consider the state of youth in Chicago and beyond.
With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area. UIC is home to the largest medical school in the United States and is one of only 88 national Research I universities. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the area.
The Spring 2000 Ida B. Wells Critical Action Research Award winners and their neighborhoods are:
- UIC -
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