LEARN with Marginal Syllabus (February): When School Is Not Enough: Understanding the Lives and Literacies of Black Youth

February 04, 2019
By Educator Innovator

Our February reading for Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN critiques narratives of failure associated with literacy and literacy education that schools weave about Black male students. In an article published in Research in the Teaching of English, authors Valerie Kinloch, Tanja Burkhard, and Carlotta Penn detail the out-of-school literacy practices of two Black young men Khaleeq and Rendell. The authors discuss the importance of producing counter-narratives to negative messages that Khaleeq and Rendell receive in school about their intelligence and their community-based trajectories when “school is not enough.”

This is the fourth month of LEARN, a Marginal Syllabus co-developed with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Each month during the 2018-19 academic year, we’ll collaboratively read and discuss an article, published by NCTE, that investigates the intersection of literacy and equity. Refer to the syllabus for information on all the annotatable readings, which will go “live” on the first Monday of each month, along with related events hosted by CLTV and others.

February Topic:

When School Is Not Enough: Understanding the Lives and Literacies of Black Youth,
by Valerie Kinloch, Tanja Burkhard, and Carlotta Penn

“I’m breathin’, feelin’ like I’m smart. That’s how I always wanna feel. I be in school and get tired being labeled the Black boy who don’t know somethin’, who ain’t smart enough. Out here, I don’t worry ’bout that.” —Khaleeq.

In February, we learn from the perspectives of Khaleeq and Rendell, two young men, age 18, engaged in community-based social justice initiatives to counter the deficit narratives encountered in school – narratives that tell them they are not enough. Researchers Valerie Kinloch, Tanja Burkhard, and Carlotta Penn challenge traditional notions of what counts as literacy, texts, and knowledge with this article. The research vignettes they share provide critical and inspiring insight about Khaleeq and Rendell’s frustrations and the shortcomings of schools that fail to recognize these young men’s assets. Because schooling has not developed a sense of agency for either Khaleeq or Rendell, the text shifts the focus from Black youth’s perceived underachievement in school to marking their achievements outside of school.

At the same time, the article brings readers inside intimate conversations with Khaleeq and Rendell as we listen to their voices and learn from their leadership experiences. Kinloch, Burkhard, and Penn’s analysis also offers implications for the design of more dynamic learning spaces to engage the support of families, service agencies, and community organizations. The young men’s counter-narratives provide both a point of reflection for educators, school leaders, and community partners, as well as key considerations for the work we do going forward to better support the literacy development of young Black men.

We invite you to engage in a conversation about professional learning and social justice in the teaching of English by annotating in the margins of this powerful work.

Join the Annotated Conversation

We invite you to read “When School Is Not Enough: Understanding the Lives and Literacies of Black Youth,” and annotate the text with your own thoughts and reactions. Annotations may be added using the web annotation tool Hypothesis. To add your own annotations, as well as to respond to others, sign up for your free account.

Share your annotations as you read or any time throughout the month. We also encourage you to use these readings and the opportunity to annotate however it best works for you—organize a study group, bring a class you are teaching, engage as an individual, or connect it to a meeting.

Image: Created by Matthew Faturoti (Project Write 2016). Project Write is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Writing Project and Independence National Park. Used with permission.