Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, PH.D. is the founding director of the PIN@Y EDUCATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS at San Francisco State University. As the opening keynote at the 2021 Deeper Learning conference, Allyson talks about how radical reengagement will lift students out of a year of COVID and racial trauma.
ALLYSON TITANGCO-CUBALES: Right before this quarantine, we were talking equity, this equity that, and we may even still be talking about equity now, but my big question is equity for what, what was the purpose of equity?
ALEC PATTON: This is High Tech High Unboxed, I’m Alec Patton and you just heard the voice of Allyson Titangco-Cubales profess or Ehtnic Studies at San Francisco State University. Professor Titangco-Cubales gave the keynote address that kicked off the 2021 Deeper Learning Conference and it made a big impression on all of us so were sharing it with you. Her keynote is titled Radical Reengagement: Repurposing Education, Culturally Rooted Pedadgogy, Ethnic Studies and Wellness. Here it is.
ALLYSON TITANGCO-CUBALES: My name is Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales and I come to you from a land steward by Onlone people. Specifically here at Ohlone College and what some people call Northern California.
I am Ilocana and from Tagala descent. And I come from a family of immigrants from Moncada Tarlac and Lipa City, Batanagas in what some people call the Philippines, I am Pinay, which means I’m a Filipino born in the United States. I am a professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University, and I am the founder and one of the directors of Pinay and Pinoy educational partnerships, aka PEP, which is a grassroots ethnic studies, K-12 educational community. I am also one of the co-founders and directors of community responsive education. My talk today is called radical re-engagement repurposing education through culturally rooted pedagogy, ethnic studies and wellness. So I’m going to just start off talking about education. I think we’re all here to talk about education. I think the one thing though, is that when we talk about education, we automatically associate it with schooling. Today I’m going to sort of step back and talk about what is our real purpose when we think about education? A couple of questions that I want to bring up are what does it mean to re-engage education after being in quarantine for over a year? And then my second question really is how do we take this opportunity to radically change schools?
Let me start off by talking about what it means to be radical. And so radical is often misused. It is also villainized in this particular moment when people use the word radical, they’re really trying to diminish the kind of work that we’re doing around justice. And so what I think is important is to begin to think about what does the word radical mean and how does it relate to the work that we do and how does being radical, help us reimagine what it means to return to schools. And so I’m going to talk about this notion of culturally rooted pedagogy. You’re probably used to hearing things like culturally relevant pedagogy, culturally sustaining pedagogy, or culturally responsive pedagogy, but I would have focused on the notion of being rooted, drawing from ethnic studies. I propose culturally rooted and radical pedagogy, which places high value on black cultures, indigenous cultures, and cultures of communities of color to be culturally rooted. Both teachers and students are in conversation about the perpetuity of cultural practices that provide decolonial medicine while critiquing and imagining beyond systems that have created toxicity in their lives.
You probably knew that the word radical actually means roots or it’s meaning root. Right? And I think it’s important that we think about what does it really mean to be rooted? That’s the central notion of radicalness. And so I’m going to focus on an acronym and I’m going to use the letters.
R A N D. Let me start with the R
The R represents reflect on your roots. I like to ask questions, like, what is your story? Who are your ancestors and what did they experience that shapes influences and impacts your life today?
How does this shape your identity and the identities of your communities? For many of us we’re educators in this space. So I want to also ask why did you decide to become an educator? My guess is that you had noble intentions. When people ask me why I decided to become an educator, I often tell them that all my teachers hated me.
But I had one teacher who loved me. Then this one teacher is someone I met here at Ohlone college.
Ohlone college is this place where I took my first ethnic studies course from professor Ramon Quesada
When I took this course, I had no idea what I was doing. I just took the course because I heard it was an easy a and it was transferable. But I remember walking into class that very first day with my homeys, from high school and some people that I used to hang out with all the time. And so we took this class, I sat in the back of the room and I wasn’t really intending to learn anything, but this professor walked into the room and he commanded the,
And he asked all of us, how many of you have experienced racism?
People raise their hand. I didn’t raise my hand cause I actually didn’t know what that meant. I mean, what really does racism mean? And I thought that maybe I didn’t experience it. But then as he was talking, I realized that all the examples that he was giving were experiences that I had experienced myself.
I also learned that racism was the core of why I was not doing well in school. I mean, I came to Ohlone because I could go, I couldn’t go anywhere else. My grades from high school were horrible. I barely graduated. I took summer school and night school. Because really most of my teachers hated me.
And it wasn’t until I met Ramon Quesada, who took an interest in my life who made a decision to mentor me, that I actually realized that education was where I was going to spend the rest of my life. Now in his class, we actually didn’t cover a lot about Filipinos, But one day after class, he’s like, I need to talk to you. And so I went up to him and I said, okay, well, what did I do? Because oftentimes when people say they want to talk to you, you’re usually in trouble. But for me, I was getting, I was used to getting in trouble. So when I went up to him,
So what do I do?
And he handed me my paper that I had written the week before and on that paper was in bright red,
The letter A
And I looked at it and I thought, Oh, I’ve never experienced that before. And he said, well, this is, this is your paper. You got an a on your paper. And to me, that was a huge, huge marker of my ability to do well in school. He also said to me, you had the potential to succeed. And when I think about it, those very simple words, you have the potential to succeed, completely changed my entire life. And when I think about how that changed my life, that notion of reflecting back on my roots, it allowed me to really think about why I decided to become an educator. I decided to become an educator because I wanted to do what Ramon Quesada was able to do for me, letting young people know that they have the potential to succeed.
So let’s move on to the A,
A represents, analyze and critique, oppressive systems. We want to ask questions, like, what are the systems that have been oppressive to the liberation of black indigenous and people of color? How have they been oppressive? How has this impacted relationships to ourselves, each other to the world and to power. We want to think about this current moment when we’re thinking about reengaging schools, but before the quarantine, we still want to ask that question. How has schools been oppressive? And then what is the purpose of education? We had this hyper focus on equity.
You all know that right before this quarantine, we were talking equity, this equity that, and we may even still be talking about equity now, but my big question is equity for what, what was the purpose of equity?
Currently, schooling has not provided us the opportunity to remake and rethink the way we participate in the world. And so our job, when we think about going back to this notion of the AE, analyzing oppressive systems, we also want to look at how schooling has been oppressive. And there’s this difference between schooling and education. There’s this quote that some people say Mark Twain said, I think he’s not the first one who said it, but I’ll, I’ll quote him. Don’t let your children’s schooling get in the way of their education. My guess is that Mark Twain probably took that from indigenous people because indigenous people were very much oppressed by the schooling system. So let’s talk a little more about the debate between schooling versus education. Schooling is really rooted in this colonial understanding of education. So if I can quote my colleague, Jeff Dunkin on that either this idea of schooling is really about teaching us how to accept our current position in whereas education is really about transforming it.
So let’s go back to the a, which is analyzed oppressive systems. Schooling is an oppressive system that has made it very difficult for us to actually become educated. Let’s return to the question equity for what I think about equity and its relationship to schooling. Like are we trying to get equity for young people so that they can do well in school? Or are we really thinking about how equity can support them to get an education? I think it’s important that we remember that schooling is not the same as education and that schooling has often failed our people. So when we think about reengaging schools, we really need to think about re-imagining education.
The last letter is D and it stands for determine and do take action. What types of actions need to be taken to both determine your actualization, but also to determine your community’s actualization for the purposes of this talk. I really want to ask these questions, how do we repurpose schools to better serve the wellness of youth and the adults that support them? And then also, what can we learn from ethnic studies to reimagine education? When I think about the question equity for what the for, what part of the question was what we were trying to answer before the quarantine, we were already having discussions about the purpose of education, and we realized that it couldn’t be about equity. It had to be about something more. And so we worked with a bunch of our colleagues, psychometricians indigenous healers. We worked with youth and their families, their teachers, and we came up with this definition of community responsive wellness. Wellness is the harmonizing of mind, body emotion and spirit. It is cultivated and sustained through healthy relationships that are responsive to the lived experiences and the historical and material conditions that shaped them community responsive wellness, strengthens the sacred link between self-actualization and community actualization in the following three domains.
The first domain is inner self, a strong sense of culture, identity, and agency. The second is interpersonal, uh, rootedness and commitment to showing empathy toward family, community, and peers. And our third domain is interconnectedness positive interrelatedness to ancestors place land, and the natural world. This grows ecosystems where people and communities experience, place, power, purpose, awareness, resilience, empathy, hope, love, and joy. Okay.
From schooling, we’ve had hyper focus on the lagging indicators of student growth. We focus on attendance, behavior, computation, engagement, GPA, reading, test scores, and writing. But if we shift the focus of schooling to really think deeply about wellness, then we need to think about the leading indicators of student growth. So I talked about the three domains in herself, in her personal interconnectedness. And then if you notice in our definition, we break it down with mind, body emotion and spirit within those you’ll find that there are indicators that tell us whether or not young people are well. Those indicators are hope, respect, responsibility, and resilience, physical health boundaries, connection, self-love empathy, awareness, sacred purpose, love of all people and collective joy. Wellness matters. You can go to any field from neuroscience, physiology, pediatrics. All of those fields will tell us that wellness matters. If you had to make a choice between fighting for leading indicators or fighting for lagging indicators, what would you choose
When I think about my own child, I would choose leading indicators. I would focus on wellness, even if that means that her schooling experience or her academic success would not be as great for me, what’s more important is her wellness. So I want to ask the question, how do we do it? Let’s think about how we do this. And I’m going to use ethnic studies as an example of how to achieve wellness. Ethnic studies started at San Francisco state over 50 years ago, the black student union and the third world liberation front had the longest student strike in the nation to fight for this idea called ethnic studies. The focus of ethnic studies is really about access retention and community
There’s benefits to ethnic studies. This is something that we can definitely learn. Ethnic studies provides a safe academic space for all to learn histories, cultures, and intellectual traditions of native peoples communities of color in the United States, in the first person, and also practice theories of resistance and liberation to eliminate racism and other forms of oppression. Let’s ask the question, why ethnic studies a study conducted by my colleagues at Stanford university revealed that an ethnic studies pilot program at three San Francisco high schools, reaped benefits for at-risk ninth graders. Interestingly, those teens enrolled in the class had substantially better outcomes than those who did not. For example, attendance improved by 21%. Their grade point averages jumped 1.4% and credits earned increased by 23. For those who participated in the course,
Let’s keep asking why ethnic studies. So this relates directly to wellness studies have proven that curriculum and pedagogy that is reflective, relevant and responsive to students, racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic background identity and experiences not only improves students’ outcomes, but improves their self-esteem self-concept and self-determination, it also improves their mental wellness, their civic and community engagement and commitment to cultural perpetuity. Along with benefiting students. Ethnic studies also benefits teachers, ethnic studies training has had a positive impact on teacher development. Teachers who are trained in ethnic studies are often more critically conscious. They’re more empathetic. They focus more on solidarity. They’re often more culturally relevant and responsive they’re community responsive. They often focus more on strength-based pedagogy and teachers are often more engaging. The purpose of ethnic studies is to eliminate racism and other forms of oppression, ethnic studies, centralizes, native peoples, and communities of color within a critical discussion about power systems, identity formation, and self-reflection.
Context It is essential for ethnic studies to be responsive to students and their families and communities. Now let’s talk about the content of ethnic studies. It is essential that ethnic studies centralizes the histories, cultures, and intellectual traditions of native peoples and communities of color in the United States. And that these stories are in the first person. The content also fosters the development of all students’ identities, critical consciousness, and self-determination ethnic studies also provides transformative opportunities for the growth of community collectivity and connection, both inside and outside of the classroom. And the methods that we use in ethnic studies are interdisciplinary. They include methods, including media literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, participatory action research and so on. And so ethnic studies pedagogy is really informative, particularly around the notion of wellness.
Now that we know why ethnic studies is important and what it looks like on the ground. I want to talk about one very important person. Her name is Dr. Don [inaudible]. She was my best friend, and she was a professor of history at San Francisco state, but she had this very strong training in ethnic studies and she brought it into the world of history. She left us with some important questions. She, she said that ethnic studies was successful because it asks these particular questions. Who am I? What is the story of my family and community? And what can I do to make a positive change, to bring social justice to my community in the world? She left these important questions that can be answered in any field. Actually, it’s not just, they don’t just have to be in ethnic studies. And what I appreciate about Don and the way that she went about including these questions in her work is it allowed students to be humanized. And that’s really, what’s most important about ethnic studies. It’s really important that students feel humanized in ethnic studies and in any field. And that impacts their wellness. It’s really important for us as educators, to understand that, to provide an opportunity for young people to become well means that we need to humanize them. But at the end of the day, it is our responsibility to radically re-engage schools by re-imagining the purpose of education, where wellness is at the center. The way to do that, just a little reminder is to reflect on your roots, analyze and critique oppressive systems, and determine, and do take action.
ALEC PATTON: High Tech High Unboxed is hosted and produced by me, Alec Patton. Our theme music is by Brother Herschel. You can learn more about the Deeper Learning Conference at www.deeper-learning.org. Thanks for listening.