When Tavis kindly agreed to be interviewed by phone for this blog, I knew right away I wanted it to take place in Rajesh Barnabas’ Intro to Media class at Northeast Preparatory High School
Rajesh is a man who wears many hats. He is a television producer and instructor at Rochester Community TV-15, in addition to working part-time as a media teacher in the RCSD. He teaches graphic design, video editing, and media literacy at Northeast. Two of his students, Jonelle and Tatiana are considering careers in the media field and joined us for the interview. Both were eager to hear what Tavis had to say about urban education. Rajesh believes real-life experiences like this help prepare students for the media world they are entering.
The first question was based on my participation in a RCSD professional development program, Teaching as Historians. This year’s program is entitled “The Long and Wide Civil Rights Movement.” Through a lecture series and small group discussions, social studies teachers create strategies to make the civil rights movement and its legacies meaningful for the current generation, for example, a lesson plan on the 1964 Rochester riots.
I asked Tavis what it takes to engage students with history, particularly African-American history. Tavis says teachers need to find a way in: “For many young people Barack Obama is the first piece of black history they know. If you want to talk about American history, Barack Obama is your way in.” He adds if you want to teach about the sacrifices and hardships of Jackie Robinson, start with the present: “Make Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Derek Rose your way in.”
Then I offered the grim statistic that by one recent estimate at 8% Rochester has the lowest graduation rate for black males in the nation. (I explained that number was misleading and probably inaccurate, but regardless, the rate is low.) I ask what should be done.
Tavis hits one of his fundamental themes, stating “if a black boy doesn’t develop a love of reading by the third grade, he’s in trouble.” You will hear him discuss how instilling that love must be the number one priority of teachers—a priority emphasized in Superintendent Vargas’ recent budget.
Then I asked about the re-segregation of American schools over the last decades, noting that in the RCSD some schools have so few white students they are barely counted as a statistical category.
Tavis says the persistence of de jure segregated schools is problem Rochester must address. In our ever increasingly multicultural world, in order to succeed students must be meaningfully exposed to as much diversity as possible.
Finally, Tatiana asked her question. Hear the interview to find Tavis’ answer.