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Reality Pedagogy: Christopher Emdin’s Radical Reframing of Urban Education

By Theresa Perry

Christopher Emdin
Photo credit: TEDx Talks

Happy publication day to scholar and professor Christopher Emdin and his new book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too! In For White Folks, Emdin offers his theory of Reality Pedagogy, a new approach to the outdated modes of thinking about teaching and learning in urban schools. Reality Pedagogy provides practical tools to unleash the brilliance and eagerness of youth and educators alike. Merging real stories with theory, research, and practice, Emdin demonstrates the importance of creating a family structure and building communities within the classroom, using culturally relevant strategies such as hip-hop music and call-and-response, and connecting the experiences of urban youth to indigenous populations globally.

For White Folks is also part of the Simmons College-Beacon Press Race, Education, and Democracy Series. Series editor Theresa Perry wrote the following note for the book, describing how Emdin is revolutionizing pedagogy in urban schools.


As I was reading this book, I remembered Dr. Emdin’s March 2014 Simmons College—Beacon Press Race, Education, and Democracy Lectures, upon which this book is based. To the rapt audience, overflowing with high school and college students, teachers and teacher educators, community activists and organizers, the excitement was palpable. The young and the elderly enthusiastically embraced Dr. Emdin’s ideas about urban education and urban youth. Most importantly, all of us in the room could feel Dr. Emdin’s passion, love, and respect for our youth.

For White Folks Who Teach in the HoodDr. Emdin has brought his considerable passion and expertise to this outstanding and important book. It comes at a time when we are overwhelmed by descriptions of urban students that have little resemblance to who they are. Situating himself as narrator, teacher, and teacher educator, Dr. Emdin makes visible the dominant narrative about teaching in urban schools, which ultimately debases what it means to be a teacher—“stories about angry and violent urban youth who [do] not want to be in school and [do] not want to learn.”

Dr. Emdin forces us to pay attention to an unquestioned assertion that is routinely and glibly communicated in school reform circles: “urban students have to be saved from their communities.” Instead of the community being a place for students to be saved from, Dr. Emdin conceptualizes the community as a location where teachers can experience and learn about community-based models of effective teaching and learning. He brilliantly and exquisitely describes and deconstructs the pedagogy and participant structures of the Pentecostal sermon, the barbershop and beauty shop, and the hip-hop cypher—formal and informal community-based cultural/institutional formations. He demonstrates how these models can be used to influence and improve the pedagogical practices of urban teachers.

Describing and theorizing urban youth as neoindigenous, Dr. Emdin situates students as members of a historically oppressed group, who are routinely educated for compliance. Here, also, Emdin offers us a powerful set of alternative practices and structures, under the descriptor reality pedagogy. He challenges us to meet “each student on his or her own cultural and emotional turf.” Instead of being educated for compliance, the student is positioned as “the expert in his or her own teaching and learning,” co-constructing the classroom with the teacher.

This book is filled with wisdom, theoretical and practical knowledge that has been formed in praxis. It is required reading for teachers, teacher educators, and community activists. Dr. Emdin brings the culture, insights, and genius of the hip-hop generation to the critical task of educating our youth for freedom.

This is an important book. It is smart, compelling, filled with emotions, and brimming over with commitment.


About the Author

Theresa Perry is Professor of Africana Studies and Education at Simmons College. She is co-author of Young, Gifted and Black, and co-editor of The Real Ebonics Debate, among other books. She is faculty director of the Simmons College/Beacon Press Race, Education and Democracy Lecture and Book Series.