Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with Noah Golden

August 17, 2021 Lindsay Persohn Season 2 Episode 7
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with Noah Golden
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Noah Golden talks to us about advocacy, relationships, and creating spaces for responsiveness in schools. Noah is known for his work in the areas of critical literacies, urban education, and English education. Dr. Golden is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at California State University, Long Beach.

Lindsay Persohn:

Education Research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. But the questions and challenges from teachers practice sometimes don't become the work of education researchers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In a new episode every other week, I talk with an education researcher or a classroom teacher about what they have learned from their work in education, and what questions they still pursue. In this episode, Dr. Noah Golden talks to us about advocacy, relationships, and creating spaces for responsiveness in schools. Noah is known for his work in the areas of critical literacies, urban education, and English Education. Dr. Golden is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at California State University, Long Beach. For more information about our guest, stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite morning drink. And join me your host, Lindsay Persohn for Classroom Caffeine research to energize your teaching practice. Noah, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the show.

Noah Golden:

It's a pleasure to be here, Lindsay. Thank you so much for having me.

Lindsay Persohn:

Thank you. So from your own experiences and education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now?

Noah Golden:

Well, that's a powerful question and thank you for posing it. I want to say it's an honor to be here and to reflect on my work and the contributions that I am trying to make in connecting with practitioners, with teachers. And I want to say that all of my work stems from my 15 years as a teacher in alternative education and as a literacy coach in New York City schools. And with the moments that I reflect on, that come from my research very much resonate with my work as a teacher. They are about young people's lived realities and ways of making meaning in classroom practice. I want to talk about a young woman whose pseudonym, of course we use pseudonyms in our research, her pseudonym is is Mariana. Mariana is Mexican American. She was 17 years old at the time that I had a chance to talk with her. I'm still in touch with her. There's a great end to the story. She's she's in college, very successful now. But she had an extremely difficult time when she was going through school. And I want to talk about moments that she that she entrusted me and people who I write with, because I think they're very instructive for teachers to reflect on and to think about. Mariana, I grew up in a family where the first language is Spanish, and her mother and stepfather speak some English, but the primary mode of communication is Spanish in their home. And when she went to school, she got this lesson that Spanish didn't count, and in fact, was something that you didn't use in your school community. To be a quote unquote, good students, was to leave Spanish behind to leave your identities as Mexican American behind to really align with these cultural norms linguistically, and otherwise culturally of whiteness. And that meant speaking English and English only. Now, when she was in elementary school, this was a time when California had a deeply problematic relationship with education in multiple languages, dual language, so on and so forth. Thankfully, a few years ago, we reversed the very xenophobic, problematic policy from the late 90s that made it a lot harder to do a language and to value other languages other than English in school. But Mariana learn the lesson very quickly, that to be a good student and of course, she wanted to be a good student, and she was a good student, she had to leave her Spanish behind. She had to dress, speak, do her hair, so on and so forth in ways that aligned with whiteness. And this in a sense worked for Mariana for many years while she was in a primarily white, small city that in my work I call Hanover, which is a small city that borders other cities that are primarily Latinx, and her family moved when she was getting ready for high school. And she moved to a primarily Latinx community, which is primarily comprised of recent immigrants from Mexico mostly from Michoacan. And the young people there saw her as an outsider because she spoke and this is her term she spoke messy Spanish. She wasn't fluent in the same way. In fact, she and her siblings sometimes had to work together to communicate with their parents, because school had, to use Mariana's term, subtracted her cultural identity and Spanish from her. She experienced what is called subtractive schooling. And she was bullied and tormented by her peer group. Now, this was around the time that the 45th president was elected, President Trump. There was many, many anti Latinx, anti immigrants, discourses, stories, comments being made in mass media, that we're filtering into many communities. I don't seek to legitimize in any way, any of the tormenting or bullying that Mariana experienced. But my understanding based on what you've shared with me is that these young people were feeling hurt, and took out their hurt on someone who was an easy target, a first year high school student who was aligned with cultural norms of whiteness. They called this young woman, Mariana. Trump's daughter. They threw things at her, they verbally tormented her very regularly. And when Mariana and her mother went to the school to try to get support, there was a Oh boys will be boys, kids are just teasing, you know, kind of approach. And this led to some very difficult times for Marianna. She ended up going to school for a time, that was homeschool, and just a district sending packets to her. And as we all know, as educators, packets are not the answer, basic skills are not the answer. And yet, of course, this is what the district did was, we want to get rid of any liability, have the child be at home and send packets home, right, and this is for a 14 year old. Eventually, that wasn't working, she went from being a very strong student to, you know, feeling completely disengaged from school for obvious reasons. And she went to an online school for a period of time, and then tried another school for a period of time. And in each place, there was a lack of responsiveness. And yet, when Marianna eventually transferred after seeking out different programs and opportunities, a quote unquote, second chance, alternative high school, well, we call on the Southern California context to continuation school, she was able to make strong relationships with their peers, with her teacher to do amazing project based and place based learning. And she flourished. And this was the time that I met Marianna, and in after school focus groups with two trusted friends, she shared her experiences. And so the moment I want to talk about here is the responsiveness that supported Mariana's flourishing in school, and the lack of responsiveness and the dismissal that created so many issues. And I think because Marianna has a Latix, you know, Spanish, last name, so many educators kind of think, Oh, well, this is who this person is, this is what funds of knowledge she has, this is what she knows, this is what she needs. They already have a picture in their mind about who this person is. And so the first moment I want to think about is that lack of responsiveness, those conditions that contributed to the extremely hard time Marianna I had in her first three schools at the secondary level, and then the sets of conditions and support that led to her flourishing, right, that led to her making a speech at her graduation, representing her class, and giving advice to her peers about you keep your head up, and you find ways and you find the people to support you. And you find ways to achieve your desired life goals, which in Marianna's case, is to become a social worker. And she's on that path now, I'm happy to report as a successful, strong college students with strong webs of community and familial support. But we have to recognize that school sometimes is in fact, a problem or the problem, right? In the ways in which what we consider to be knowledge can subtract cultural strengths, linguistic strengths, and the ways in which when students have needs and need community to tap into those supports those strengths. We sometimes aren't responsive. So that's the first moment and I'll and I'll stop there.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well know what you're sharing with us about Marianna makes me think about what we do to kids at school, and the ways that we tell them to be one particular thing. And then certainly in the case of Marianna, she became that thing she was told to be more more like white people, and then found that that she didn't fit in her in her home culture. And I'm afraid that that happens all too often to kids in schools. You know, I think that this is probably a story that many children and many families could tell. And I'm hoping that you will offer some ways that we as teachers can avoid doing this to kids, and, and really help them to become who they are and who they're meant to be and to really reach their potential.

Noah Golden:

Absolutely. The number one answer, I think, is relationships. I believe that strong teaching and learning happens in relationships. We need to take the time to get to know young people for who they are. Of course, the way that all people's brains work, we immediately want to put people in a box. We see someone, we have assumptions, we have ideas. And it's it's normal to have that initial response and experience. Hopefully, we all in our teacher education and beyond, have learned to check our biases, assumptions, which we all have, and we need to find ways to reflect on those and continue to grow. But beyond that, whatever assumptions we have, when we first meet a person, we have to say, Okay, why am I thinking those things? What do I know about this person, and create the opportunities to get to know, you know, these young people for who they are. And learn about those cultural strengths, those funds of knowledge, those identities, those ways of being in the world, inside and outside of school, and tap into those? Right? We as educators always say, access prior knowledge, build on prior knowledge. How on earth do you do that if you don't know what the prior knowledge is? If you simply have an assumption about what that prior knowledge is? So we need to create a space for relationships. And I think this necessitates teacher activism. And that may seem like a leap, but I'll say, explain my thinking here. Schools right now, we're not set up to create, to foster those sorts of relationships. In many traditional comprehensive high schools, which is where my area of expertise is at the high school level, we have so many kids crammed into classrooms that it's very hard for them to be anything more than a number, or a grade, right. It's a dehumanizing experience and process for young people. So in the short term, right, I think of activism in in sort of three different temporal modality modalities, the short term, the medium term, and the long term. In the short term, we do whatever we can we take any opening, to adapt, revise our curriculum, if we're given a curriculum that we have to use, we make sure that we adapt it to be responsive, we create space for young people's literacies, and stories and experiences in the curriculum. And then we are responsive to them. We do whatever we can. And of course, that's context specific the ways we do that, in the medium term, we work for change in our school communities. We create, we try to foster structures of support, and spaces where we educators work together to try to create responsive practice at the mezzo level of the school. And then, of course, at the larger, longer term level, we need to engage in activism for better policy and better educational systems. And that's not work that happens overnight. But I remain more convinced now than I was when I became a teacher in 1998, that we can do that work, we are doing that work, and it does come to fruition not alone. I think part of the challenge is that so many of us as educators feel like we're alone, we close our door. And we've got to navigate these dilemmas of practice, these challenges that every educator faces, we've got to navigate these alone. And instead we've got to open up that door, we've got to forge a relationship with the teacher or teachers down the hall. Or if they're not people we feel like we can look up to and collaborate with, we find the teachers at the at the school down the street or the next city over whatever it is. And we work collectively, agreeing disagreeing, whatever may come but we find ways to build solidarity to learn with and from each other. And we work for system change, because system change is sorely needed. Because as you say, Marianna story is so many young people's stories, right? In terms of cultural responsiveness, in terms of lack of equity and material conditions in schools, in terms of whose knowledge counts whose stories are valued, right, in the literature and the history that we study, in the ways we think about mathematics, in what counts is science, and what we use science for, and so on and so forth.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right, I think that's so helpful to think about activism in sort of those three ranges. I think the short term sometimes feels just as inaccessible as the long term. But whenever we can find these concrete ways to make steps for today, to change something about our practice and to become better teachers today, so that we can then share those practices at a school level, and then hopefully get like minded folks together to work towards advocating for changes in policy, thinking about it in those three phases, I know is very helpful for me. Because sometimes, you know, activism feels like such a big task, it feels like something that we may not at the end of the day have the time or energy for. So thinking about in sort of these three big buckets, or these three big ways that we can move in the world and, and really work to shape the kind of future for kids that we want to see for them is so helpful. So thank you for for that. I know that might seem simplistic, but I think that it does help to give us a kind of a bite on where we go next, when we're thinking about truly helping kids, meeting them for who they are and where they are, and then helping them to, to become the people they want to be. So I really appreciate that.

Noah Golden:

Yeah, and if I could just say the first school that I taught at was not a school where I felt like I could do that. To be candid, I felt like I was given a curriculum and expected to be on a certain page at a certain time. I was, you know, not given the tools that I needed to try to be responsive. And I did what I could to be, you know, to form relationships with students with their families. But eventually, I felt like the we didn't call it supervising the snoopervising of administrators coming around and kind of, and that's a joke that goes back to the 1920s, in New York City schools, where teachers weren't given professional agency to be responsive to adapt curricula, but that the supervisors coming around made me feel like, okay, I'm being handcuffed, right? I'm being told to, you know, swim the English Channel with these young people. And we're all we all have handcuffs on. Right. And it's really hard to swim with handcuffs on. And so I sought out a community where I felt like I would have the support, the solidarity, the community, and the right conditions to really be responsive. And I found that in alternative education, a particular approach to education that came about in the 1970s, and continues to this day in many different pockets of the country. And the real initial goal was to say, how do we do education differently? How do we do it better? And this was a school community where teachers went by first names, just like you and I are doing right now Lindsay. We went by first names, because we wanted to let the high school students we worked with know that we're no better we're human beings to, we're older, we have more experience, perhaps, and we have things to share and things to teach. But they have life experience and things to teach us. And it's a dialogical process, we moved our tables into circles. And in fact, even the school furniture didn't feel right to me. So with the support of our director, I built tables in the classroom, that could move into a horseshoe or six different sections, or could be made into different variations and groups. And that was the kind of thing that was welcomed there, because space can shape pedagogy. So one message I really want to get across to teachers who are listening now is that absolutely try to find the spaces for solidarity and support to make change in your school. But I believe that there are some school communities that are working against students and teachers. And if that is the case, my own personal opinion, is find a school community where that isn't the case. Because that's a recipe for burnout. And we're not helping kids. We're not supporting young people on their paths if we are simply in a place where we're not free to do the work that we need to do. We are professionals, we need to have professional agency to adapt, revise, create curricula that are responsive, right? If we're simply taking these corporate curricula that are established by people 1000s of miles away who don't know the young people, and we're told to do this first, do this second, do this third, and we don't have that freedom in that space to say, well, I don't know if this is going to work. You know, for Miguel, I want to try to adapt this because I think he's really interested in this. And this young person, you know, is really, really interested in making presentations. So I'm going to create a space for that at the beginning. And this person is going to be paired with this person for that reason, right? That's teaching. We're not robots, we're not automatons. We are people who help mediate a curriculum and guide young people and support them in sharing and developing and furthering their own literacies their own ways of symbolically representing and making meaning in the world that they can use beyond our classrooms.

Lindsay Persohn:

And Noah when you mentioned earlier about sort of putting students in a box and you know, assuming that we know things about them before we even get to know them, I also immediately thought about how teachers have have sort of fallen victim to this trap also that regardless of their background, skill set, personality, you know, everyone's expected to... I think of it as like this widget style teaching, you know, as though we're all on an assembly line, and everyone is supposed to come out the same at the end, as if that is some sort of reasonable or desirable outcome of education, you know, but the things that you talked about here about trying to swim while handcuffed, you know, I remember some of those feelings when I was a classroom teacher. And, and thinking about relationships, my mind also immediately goes to the fact that we don't build relationships off a script.

Noah Golden:

Yes.

Lindsay Persohn:

You know, whenever, whenever I, I talk with folks on this podcast, and particularly the that first question about your own experiences in education, the most impactful moments either have nothing to do with the scripted curricula, or they are directly opposed to or against the scripted curricula. So you know, I think about what that has done on on this, this really, you know, kind of 10,000 foot level what this has done to education. And it is sad to me and and I think that we have, like you said, we have got to find these spaces where we can work with folks who are also interested in helping kids to become the best version of themselves they possibly can be.

Noah Golden:

Absolutely, and if teach organizations don't exist, that are doing this work, then my advice to teachers are create one, even if it's four people or three people at the beginning, create that space, right, create a site of resistance to business as usual. And these people can be part of a network where if you have a rough day, and let's be honest, every teacher has those rough days where, you know, the lesson goes brilliantly period one and then absolutely nosedives, you know, period two, and you don't know why you need people to reach out to of course, you need a romantic partner or family member, best friend. But you also need need professional people, people who know what it is to teach, right? You know, as, as Mickey Shaw, someone I studied with, when I was earning my master's degrees to say that everybody feels like they know what it is to teach, because they've been, you know, a student in a classroom, but nobody thinks they know what it is to be a dentist because they've sat in a dentist's chair, right. And and sometimes you need other people who know the experience of what it is to be a teacher. And I think it's so important to have that collective communal approach, and to navigate the tensions and differences that arrived there. Because too often we fall into, particularly people who look like me, particularly people who are white identified this superhero mentality, and that we're going to save the kids and so on and so forth. It's this solitary effort, and we're going to do it alone. And that is so debilitating and damaging, and of course, very harmful to the young people who we collaborate with, and serve and work with, we have to create these spaces where we are working with our colleagues, so that we can work better with with our students, not on our students, but with our students, and create those spaces where we are truly being responsive. We're getting beyond these reductive notions about what it means to be of a particular racial identity or ethnic group or to speak a certain language. And of course, all of those things are important. And those are important starting points. But we get to know how young people experience the world. How do they make meaning? In an earlier work, I call this a radical listening with to try to get to a place of not how these young people make sense in my world. But how does their world work? How are they making a sense of their world so so that responsiveness, I think, is so important to radically listen with. And this comes up again, and again, in my own scholarship. When I first came to Southern California as a teacher educator in a research, I miss the school that was so formative in my own experience. I taught for many years at Schomburg Satellite Academy in the South Bronx, an amazing school community that values young people, values teachers, is grounded in collaboration and responsiveness and project based learning and, and performance assessments, all the things that I think are so important in similar high schools, and I missed that community so much. So I reached out to friends and colleagues and tried to find the most similar school community I could find. And that is a school that I call on my work the Dolores Huerta Alternative Learning Complex and I've been working on building relationships and partnering with that school for the past four years, so that I can be a colleague and collaborator and, and Marianna was a graduate of that school two years ago.

Lindsay Persohn:

That's wonderful. Collaborations I have found can be very powerful. But I've also unfortunately found that some collaborations can be a bit detrimental so it's always great to hear have a strong and meaningful collaboration that's it's mutually beneficial to, you know, to all involved. So that's fantastic. Noah, what else would you like listeners to know about your work?

Noah Golden:

So I think that time and again, in research that I've done both in New York and here in Southern California, I have seen well intentioned educators just stuck within the box of identity of just seeing people in a particularly reductive way. And that way is sadly for young people of color, oftentimes a deficit framing. And I think that we as researchers and teacher, educators really need to communicate the damage that we do when we're stuck in this deficit lens. And to share another moment from earlier work several years ago, there was a young man named Jamahl or his pseudonym is Jamahl, who always carried his camera with him at a second chance Alternative Learning Program. And I heard about this young man and early morning meeting because we teachers really have time to meet. That's another thing we have to change is building into the structure time to collaborate and meet, but teachers are meeting early morning to talk about, quote, unquote, students of concern. And Jamahl was at the top of the list, and his well intentioned English teacher ELA teacher said, I'm worried about him, he hides his low skills behind his camera. He's always fidgeting with it during class, and Jamahl later joined an after school project in which he and several other young men were sharing some of their experiences in school and also joining me and doing some professional development work as a youth participatory action research project. And as I got to know Jamahl, the importance of this camera really became clear to me. I write about this in a piece that was published several years ago, but the camera was a cultural tool that he used to reposition who he was in the space of school. Let me explain what I mean by that. Jamahl told me a story of being in first grade, five or six years old, right? Very young, and a teacher telling him on a day that I imagined he acted up, just like I'm very sure I acted up when I was a first grader on the teacher, sadly, I can't believe an educator would ever say this to a young person said you're going to be nothing in life. Mind boggling. How can anyone call themselves an educator and speak to a young child like that? And of course, this is a racialized discourse. Jamahl is an African American man, at this time an African American boy. And as a black boy, in a classroom, he had a teacher telling him, you're never going to be anything in life. Well, he tells the story of going back after he's become a self taught photographer. And he's about to graduate with his secondary diploma, going back to that very school, and having his camera with him, and how she was still doing the same thing, still being a first grade teacher. But he had done something with his life he had, he was in a position he wanted to be in. And I asked him what he meant by that. And it was clear that he said, I'm about to graduate. And I'm a self taught photographer. So being a photographer, was his way of saying, I'm not nothing, which was something that stayed with him, it seems like on many days, as he experienced school, it was like this weight on his shoulders everyday going to school. His camera was a way for him to say I'm not a nobody. I'm a self taught photographer. This is the lens through which I see the world. Now, that well intentioned teacher, if he'd had an opportunity to get to Jamahl, to get to know Jamahl, the way that I did, through our research collaboration and my research project, perhaps that teacher could have seen this camera is such an important aspect of who Jamahl is, how do I tap into that as a strength as a fund of knowledge? Right? Rather than simply saying, you know, you're fidgeting in class, get back to your basic skills worksheet, which is sadly our response. Right? So how do we find the ways for organic dialogical relationships to form and we won't connect with every student? Right? But we can connect with so many students far more than we currently do in the way the system is designed now. So number one, I would say we need to create spaces for that responsiveness. And number two is I've mentioned several times is we need a space for agency professionalism of teachers to balance out the mandates in terms of curriculum and process that get handed down from people sitting at desks far away at district offices, kids who don't know the young people who we are working with, right. And I think it's so important to have not just a teacher agency approach, but a teacher collective agency. That is we can't transform systems on our own. This is not about me, this is not about you. This is about what can we as educators working with students and their families, what can we do together to transform systems. So we need a collective agency approach to build the conditions for the kind of education that every young person deserves. Because too many people are minoritized in our society, and following many other scholars and researchers, I don't say minorities, I say minoritized, to call attention to the fact that this is a verb. This is a process where people are being pushed into majority and minority communities that are grossly inequitable. And schools play a huge role in that process of minoritization. So how do we see ourselves as interrupting those processes, and creating spaces sites of solidarity? Another young man, I had a chance to get to know an interviewer, who his pseudonym is Elijah, sadly, was taught that the way to be successful in school and in life is to have this grit, self overcoming, I'm going to tough it out, I'm going to do it alone mentality. And I don't fault this young man, I fault our system for teaching him that that's what it means to be successful. In my own experience, as a human being, as a student, as a teacher, as a teacher, educator, as a researcher, I'm only where I am, because I have webs and communities of support that have supported, you know, helped me along the way. All of us that is true for. And yet in schools, we have this narrowly individualistic, you know, metric way of measuring of, do you have this ability, or do you not, that kind of erases those webs of community and support that are so integral to success. And we end up giving students the message that whatever you become, it's on your own, instead of creating those spaces of real collaboration. And so given that our audience is teachers, I really want to stress that point, find your community of teachers, I was in some ways active with a group called NYCoRE, New York Collective of Radical Educators. I was a member of the broad base, I wasn't super involved. I was also a member of multiple grad school communities, of teacher collaboration committees, at Schomburg Satellite where I worked. And with those communities of support, I became a better teacher. I had people encouraging me to try new things, to push the envelope to create and make space to build those relationships. That is key. So to the teachers out there, whether you're in your first year, or your 50th year, make sure that you have that community of support, that space of solidarity, to navigate the dilemmas of practice. A dilemma that always comes up for me is, at what point does empathy responsiveness become enabling? Right? How do we navigate that tension of a young person is going through whatever it may be, and we connect a student with the appropriate services, we connect the student with the appropriate people. And we need to, of course, offer extensions and work after school and so on and so forth. At what point are we doing too much in a sense that it isn't in that young person's interest? That's a dilemma of practice that I think comes up for all of us? Should I try to figure out the answer to that on my own? Or does it make more sense to collaborate with a group of colleagues and say, I'm working with Jessica, here's what she's experiencing, here's what I'm doing, or use a pseudonym, if it's private information, you know, what do you think about my approach, and get that feedback, so that we feel like we're doing what we can with our collective wisdom guiding us.

Lindsay Persohn:

It takes us right back to relationships. Again, it's a relationship with a student and it's a relationship with, with colleagues who are also considerate and, and careful and interested in how we help students to really achieve their personal best and how we help them, not our personal best for them, but their personal best and what they want, right.

Noah Golden:

We have to tap into young people's desires, not our desires for them, right? If a young person sees higher education, as a form of cultural imperialism, and subtractive schooling, then simply because we as teacher educators and researchers went that higher ed path doesn't mean that we say that's the only way. You know, we listen and say, What are your desires? What is it that you want to do? And there aren't necessarily pre established frameworks for doing this work. We have to make the road as we walk it. And that's one of the things that's so exciting and invigorating about being a teacher. You know, it's not the widget kind of, you know, factory that you were talking about earlier. And by the way, I think you're right to talk about it as a factory style schooling because the way we do schools going back to the work of historian education historian, David Tyack, is grounded in the Gary, Indiana Model, which was you ring a bell and the students get up like widgets and go from one room to the next. And we are still grounded in this deeply problematic developmental psychology where we think that all 13 year olds should be at the same place and learn exactly the same things in the same way at the same time. And that keeps us from doing cross age learning and mentoring, and creating spaces where young people are teaching each other. And young people are teaching adults, we have to create spaces for that work.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, and as you mentioned, these tensions that I think we feel as educators are so deeply rooted, they they are in the structures and the foundations of what education is supposed to look like, right? We're all supposed to move at the same times. And we're all supposed to follow the script, when everything I think we know as practicing educators is that that's the stuff that doesn't work, we have to be responsive in the moment. The curriculum is something that we need to have in order to have some sort of foundation for what we're teaching. But as far as you know, down to the move this way, say this thing at this particular moment, that's ultimately not helpful, and unfortunately, extremely counterproductive. Because, as I said earlier, you can't build a relationship off of a script.

Noah Golden:

Exactly.

Lindsay Persohn:

It's all individual.

Noah Golden:

Yes. And I wouldn't even say, if we had the conditions for it, I would be in favor of teachers designing curriculum from scratch. The alternative school that I worked at, we did in fact that and that can be challenging, because at a certain point, you lose a common language. And it takes time to forge that common language. But in the very least, we need to be professionals who are adapting, revising and enacting in ways that makes sense based on who we are, and who our students are. And we have to do so much self work, self reflection, to be able to think about who we are in the classroom and how young people see us. I think that's a really important piece of it as well, because young people may be responding to a teacher they had 10 years ago, in the case of Jamahl, for example, that teach first grade teachers said, you're going to be a nobody. If I remind Jamahl of that teacher, then he acts in certain ways that I identify as resistant or, quote, unquote, acting out. There's a very understandable reason for that in the classroom. And for me to be draconian and tough and, you know, isn't going to be in the interests of Jamahl reaching his life goals, I need to take the time to get to know this young person and build that strong relationship. So yeah, we have to get away from this factory model, and create those sites of resistance. And we have to understand that teaching is not a purely cognitive process that is grounded in, you know, certain psychometrics, and certain sciences, and so on and so forth. It's a social and cultural process. We as teachers, as Paulo Freire said, are cultural workers, right, we have to reflect on our own cultural normativities, what makes sense to us, given the ways that we were raised, the ways we experience the world. And think about the ways that the young people we work with, how they experience the world, how they build meaning in the world. And that is easier to do in a humanities, or ELA or social science or social studies class than it is in chemistry, or, you know, calculus, but we have to remember, and I say this to my teacher candidates, students I work with all the time, we don't teach chemistry or calculus, or English language arts, we teach people, right. And if we recognize that we are teaching people, we have to start with what people's prior knowledge and experiences are, and create learning opportunities that build off of those prior knowledge and experiences. And whenever possible, we have to make that work, project based, authentic connecting with young people's interests, and challenges young people face outside of our classrooms, as opposed to well, this connects with R point one, one, dash three, and so on and so forth. And I understand the reality, you know, like in schools, we've got to be grounded in standards and learning targets. But I say use that as a starting point, and then blow it out of the water go far beyond that. Because if we only stick with those standards, we are missing out on so many important aspects of potential curricula and teaching learning experience.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, and what you're saying, Noah, it really makes me think that so often in schools, we tend to think of standards as sort of the ceiling, rather than the floor. And really, if we can, can switch that mindset a bit to think that sure, standards are helpful because they give us some some place to go. But they probably should not be at the top of our aspirations. Instead, they should be where we start and what we build from. You know, so often I think we think about this mastery of standards as though it is the end all be all when really like you were saying it should it should be a common language. It should be sort of where we start and where we're headed but but not where we stop.

Noah Golden:

Yeah, it's a roadmap, right. And there are a lot of ways to get from New York to LA or wherever one is going. And, you know, sometimes you're going to take a different route. And that needs to be okay. Or maybe you decide, you're not stopping in LA, right, you're, you're you're heading to Timbuktu, you're heading to Beijing, you know, so on and so forth. So, I think that's so important. But just a quick anecdote that relates to what you're saying, Lindsay. When I first started teaching, and this was even pre No Child Left Behind in the late 90s, I had a principal actually say to me, when we're looking at New York City, city wide tests, said, Please don't focus on the students who are already passing the test, that's a third of the class. Don't focus on the students who are this range who are not passing the test, I would like you to start an after school program for this group of students in that middle third, who are just shy of passing the test, please invite your students as after school program, if we get enough of those students to pass the test, the data will look better in aggregate, and we will no longer be a school under review. And it's that sort of those machinations and that sort of planning that dehumanize and stop the opportunities for growth and excellence. For two thirds of my class, I was being told to only focus on a small number of students for data reasons. And one thing I want to mention as well is that when we think of data driven instruction, let's not only think about spreadsheets and test scores, let's also think about young people's identities and cultural Funds of Knowledge. That's an important form of data to, I don't want to seed the sense that data can only be certain things that makes a difference, or is important for teachers to know about. Sure, I want to know, you know, which item numbers and a multiple choice quiz my students aren't getting, right? That that's helpful, but much more helpful, is knowing young people's experiences beyond the classroom, or young people's desires in and through education. And we need to create spaces for that important data. And I realize some people won't like that being called data. But I don't want to seed that term.

Lindsay Persohn:

And obviously, you know, that mindset has only become more prevalent, particularly since No Child Left Behind that we go for the data points that are easiest to measure, even if they are some of the least accurate. The whole era of standardized education has, has had so many negative impacts on students, on teachers, and ultimately, on our global society, because of this sort of dehumanization of education, when, as you said earlier, teaching is a social and cultural task. And here we are reducing it to something that's much, much less than that.

Noah Golden:

Yeah. And it reminds me of the quotes, not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts, right? I mean, so so we're kind of focusing on certain things that we're able to measure. That quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but it was actually a sociologist 1963 by the name of William Bruce Cameron, who said it. And I think it's really important, an important thing to think about for us as educators is that we're so focused on building certain data sets on building out our dashboard. And we forget that we're working with people. And I'm speaking more to administrators and policymakers in that. But we teachers are the ones who work with people. And we need to do the meaningful and deep and authentic learning projects and experiences, and not simply say, how do we boost her test scores for the cycle?

Lindsay Persohn:

And teachers are the ones who get stuck doing those things, because we are looking for particular quantitative data points.

Noah Golden:

Yes.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yes. So I know we have talked about a lot of challenges and education. But my last question for you today no is given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Noah Golden:

Teaching can be the most invigorating, exciting, joyful experience, and we have to work together to make it so. And to me, that comes down to teacher activism and advocacy. We need to find ways to come together to transform the systems that we work within, so that we can be there to guide be responsive to, to serve and work with young people. We need to interrupt schools that are serving as sites of minoritization, that are pushing people to margins. And we need to find ways to fight collectively for a multiracial democracy that is grounded in teaching and learning that happens in our public schooling systems. And that work happens in our individual classrooms. And it's as big as we want it to be if we work together. I believe that we need a movement of educators who may have different ideas about where we need to go. But of educators working together dialoguing, getting involved in shaping educational curricula, policy, practice, teacher education, so that we can see our work as a vehicle for the multiracial democracy, that we are, I hope, and I dream, that we are in the process of becoming, but we are far from there now.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, well, I think you really speak to why so many teachers really do feel disenfranchised from the whole teaching process. You know, as you mentioned, we're we're trained professionals. And once you've gone through that training, and you you feel like you know a few things about what you're doing, and you have some experience with a variety of students, but then you have someone who may or may not have ever taught a student ever, you know, they're, they're the ones who are telling us what to do it like your your analogy earlier. Sure. I have I have teeth, I've been to a dentist. Let me let me go get my pliers. So we'll, we'll take care of you. But it's, it's a sad reality, I think in a lot of teachers worlds. And I do, again, think that this idea of beginning with ourselves, starting with our our smaller short term goals, and maybe smaller isn't the right word. Because certainly doing work on our own practice is never small work, but smaller scale work, and then thinking about how we band together locally to create school environments that are positive and productive for our students, and for our teachers, because we know we lose far too many good teachers, because of many of these things we've talked about today. And then also pushing for long term change, advocating for not just this generation, but generations to come so that we can reach a point where we're we're achieving what I would think of as true education, not just going to school, but in fact learning something that helps us to be critical of the world around us, critical and reflective of ourselves, and continuous learners throughout a lifetime. And certainly there are many educational systems right now that just aren't set up to do those things.

Noah Golden:

Absolutely.

Lindsay Persohn:

So well, Noah I thank you so much for your time today. I thank you for your your wonderful and impactful ideas to share with listeners. And thank you for the work you do in education.

Noah Golden:

Thank you so much for inviting me to talk with you and your listeners today, Lindsay and it's been a pleasure being with you.

Lindsay Persohn:

Thanks so much. Dr. Noah Asher Golden is known for his work in the areas of critical literacies, urban education, and English education. He works at the intersection of literacy teacher education, social identities, particularly of minoritized adolescent students, and how those students work to reposition themselves and the pathways and storylines they desire. Noah has published his work in Language and Education, English Education, English Journal, Teaching Education, Equity and Excellence in Education, Educational Media International, Urban Education, Knowledge Cultures, as well as books and practitioner columns. His research has been supported by the Spencer Foundation and the National Council for Teachers of English. Before earning his graduate degree at City University of New York, and Teachers College at Columbia University, Noah served as a secondary literacy educator and teacher coach in alternative education spaces in New York City. Dr. Golden is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at California State University Long Beach. For the good of all students, good research should inform good practice and vice versa. Listeners are invited to respond to an episode, learn more about our guests, search past episodes, or request a topic or conversation with a specific person through our website at ClassroomCaffeine.com. If you've learned something today, or just enjoyed listening, please be encouraged to talk about what you heard with your colleagues, and subscribe and review this podcast through your podcast provider. As always, I raised my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.