“I’m an unorthodox teacher, let’s say professor, so I work very diligently at not presenting an image as a traditional professor, and as it turns out, it works well for me. My approach to pedagogy is quite different… I would get down and dirty, and again I’m speaking metaphorically, almost through cultural lenses, but I get down and dirty to teach. You know, I’m a teacher before scholar. I’m a teacher-scholar rather than a scholar-teacher so I work hard at teaching and I think you have an obligation--- a real ethical responsibility--- a competence obligation when you stand in front of a group in the role of teacher to do something other than just go and spew out information... I use a very mobile approach to my pedagogy. I’m kind of all over the place, if you will, so I think that what I may have done with students is to demonstrate that you can be in the academy and you don’t have to be bored. That there’s a way of being in the university and there is a craft, a talent to teaching that can be demonstrated here. I think my teaching provides a very, very different look at what being a student and a teacher is and what a university is like because I think there’s some very, very horrible notions about what teaching is in a university.”
“...Always ally yourself with those on the bottom, on the margins, and at the periphery of the centers of power. And in doing so, you will land yourself at the very center of some of the most important struggles of our society and our history.”
Many years ago, I decided to stamp my curriculum vitae, teaching portfolio, and many other professional documents with a particular icon. It is a black and white graphic design called “Tito’s Style” (presented at the top). If you are someone who transacts with Graffiti, you will read my name there: C-A-R-M-E-N. “Tito’s Style” was taught to me by one of my former ninth grade students at an alternative high school with the Coalition of Essential Schools in the Bronx, New York in 1996. During an inquiry unit where one wall of the classroom was transformed into a New York City subway line to display students’ visual-autoethnographic narratives of the Bronx, Tito showed me how to capture one of his styles in order to re-script my writing for this audience. Some have wrongly assumed that my representation of “Tito’s Style” in my professional documents indicates a lack of understanding of the academy’s forms, standards, and expectations. On the contrary, I know these rules, genres, and elitisms very well--- I simply refuse to replicate the racial and political homogenization these norms impose. I ground a different set of discourses and cultural politics for my teaching, writing, and researching. Tito is always part of those processes because he reminds me to always ask how such distinct and sophisticated aesthetic and intellectual identities/histories are continually displaced in the educational theories, pedagogical paradigms, and discursive canons (and thereby, insidership) that are often promoted. It is not enough to simply numerically recruit, physically enroll, or financially subsidize racially/economically subordinated groups into American universities. We must question how the academy consistently functions alongside and because of these groups’ exclusion and re-imagine our universities’ boundaries from the vantage of alternative worldviews and color-conscious perspectives.
For twenty-five years now, I have taught with “Tito’s Style” in two ways: 1) as a teacher educator amongst instructors who work in culturally and linguistically pluralistic, urban settings who are, most often, in ways that they are “dysconscious” of, unable and unwilling to make critical pedagogy and curriculum a centripetal force in their classrooms and opt for a centuries-old white paternalism instead; or 2) as a secondary, undergraduate, and graduate educator who sees young people’s own self-designed activism (as opposed to outsider, colonial models) as a way to pedagogically activate racial justice in classrooms. My commitment to teaching as a foundational part of my professional identity represents many years of experience which include: founding teacher for one of the Coalition of Essential Schools in Bronx, New York; on-site school consultant and summer institute leader for the New York City Writing Project; curriculum consultant and designer for the African Diaspora Research Institute and Caribbean Cultural Center in New York; instructional coordinator for the Center for Black Literature (CBL) at Medgar Evers College; facilitator for CBL’s Literature-to-Life and arts programs for Brooklyn high schools; instructional coordinator for pre-college workshops and dual enrollment courses at Medgar Evers College aimed at area Brooklyn high school students; curriculum designer and staff developer for a Community Learning Center Grant in Harlem, New York; and more. Each of these experiences has situated my work in very different ways and continues to shape my ongoing understandings of the multiple sites of pedagogical intervention where such work must occur.
Today, I teach at the crossroads of some of the most interesting social movements that have occurred in my lifetime. For me, this is one of the most exciting times to be in a classroom. #MeToo. #TimesUp. #UnapologeticallyBrown. #IStillBelieveAnitaHill. #IBelieveChristine. #WithDACA. #ConDACAlogré. #HereToStay. #BlackLivesMatter. #BlackTransLivesMatter. #BlackGirlMagic. #ICantBreathe. #SayHerName. #NoDAPL. #IStandWithAhmed. #CrimingWhileWhite. #OscarsSoWhite. You could trace any one of these hashtags and uncover a range of radical literacy events that are shaping the ways that students are reading and writing their world right now.
As just one example, in my first month in 2013 at my current college, one student, Guowei, talked openly about what it meant for him to be an Asian American male in the context of Stop-and-Frisk policies in New York City. He was a HipHoppa with all its attending sociocultural meanings whose friends were mostly Latinx and Black. While he identified with and as them, as a non-Black/non-Brown man of color, he was not targeted for Stop and Frisk. What does this mean? was the question he asked frequently. He decided to do a qualitative study to better understand multiracial, New York college students' experiences of and perspectives on police profiling. He specifically interviewed (using a semi-structured protocol) white, Asian, Latinx, and Black students, a decision motivated by his quest to see and hear what it meant to be allied as an Asian man not targeted for profiling. How could he understand this and more, importantly, how might he ensure that his relative privilege not block his own criticality? Guowei’s study came on the heels of my own organizing and protesting in the summer of 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, a landmark moment for 21st century social protest and a renewed political charge for my own teaching. Guowei and Tito, separated by almost twenty years of my teaching, are a stunning pair: they typify both the experiences of first-generation immigrant/migrant urban youth of color in our nation’s largest city centers; they also both typify the kind of epistemologies that remain out of the grasp of most teachers’ understandings who typically set such students’ learning within the realm of autonomous, socially decontextualized skills acquisition and white cultural norms of curriculum and instructional stylings.
I learned early on that students like Tito and Guowei are co-creators of the critical questioning, meaning-making, and theorizing that happens in classrooms. My pedagogy attempts to honor the cultural and psychic well-being of students that is so intimately tied to the ways they read and write the social moment in which we are living.
September 22, 2018
 For what I mean by color-conscious, as opposed to the dominant motif of color-blind curriculum and instruction, see: Kynard, Carmen and Eddy, Robert. “Toward a New Critical Framework: Color-Conscious Political Morality and Pedagogy at Historically Black and Historically White Colleges and Universities.” College Composition and Communication 61.1 (September 2009): W24-W44. Reprinted and expanded in Racism and Representations: A Reader of Language and Power.
 See: King, Joyce. “Dysconscious Racism: Ideology, Identity and the Miseducation of Teachers.” Journal of Negro Education 60 (1991): 133-146.