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Letter of Support - Dr Gabrielle Foreman - Occidental College

Page history last edited by Jeff Ecc 12 years, 5 months ago

Letter of Support for Karen Salazar

by Dr. Gabrielle Foreman, English Professor, Occidental College

 photo of Dr. Foreman- source: oxy.edu
Last month, schools in Watts were on lock-down because of huge conflagrations between Black and Brown students. Now, a Latina teacher whose pedagogy encourages critical engagement through a responsible multicultural curriculum is being let go instead of commended for reaching across the barriers that students face every day. For teaching Malcolm X's autobiography and the world famous poet Langston Hughes (who translated Gabriela Mistral and encouraged Nicolas Guillen and others), Salazar was called "too Afrocentric" even though these writers appear on a list approved by the School Board. Salazar has a MA in Education and a BA degree in Political Science with minors in Chicano and African American Studies from UCLA-so her curricular choices are informed by her academic training and background. Who better to teach and inspire the Latino and African American students who are practically the only ones left in LA's public schools?
 
Karen Salazar wants her students to be "freedom-fighting intellectuals" who understand how the lessons of many people's pasts inform their own future. Infusing substantive and challenging learning with a passion for justice-what Ray Cortines has called "advocacy that may have crossed the line"-is education at its best. Her students attest that such learning shakes many out of apathy and nihilism and connects them to their own intellectual power and social capital. It gets students motivated to attend classes, be connected to their own learning and hunger for more. At a moment when Cortines has vowed to fight the alarming, more than 50%, drop out rate in LAUSD, teachers like Karen Salazar are critically important.
 
When I was in graduate school, I taught my first college seminar on African American literature while I also offered a class at East Campus, Berkeley's continuation high school. At a crossroads, I struggled with deciding to finish my Ph.D because the pipeline to college was too narrow to justify my leaving high school students who needed me more. I asked myself  how I, a young woman from a humble economic background, could justify teaching college if students from classrooms in Watts and the South Side of Chicago and East LA, had so little chance of enrolling in places such as Occidental or Pomona College, where I would later be offered positions.
 
My mother used to read me Langston Hughes' poetry before I went bed. My father recited Claude McKay's "If We Must Die" to me when he encouraged me to write my first term paper on the Harlem Renaissance poet as a freshman in high school. My teacher-and the principal who had to make decisions to keep or let her go-let me write that report, and then one on the radical actor, singer, activist Paul Robeson, and then one on Russian Serfs and their fight for freedom. With teachers like Karen Salazar in my past, I could make the connections. Instead of cutting school-as I did when I was bored and uninspired-I worked full time in my last year of high school, excelled in college and then went on to graduate school and to the crossroads where I asked "how can I teach college now when so many students in Watts and the South Side of Chicago and East LA have so little chance of making it to my classroom"? I teach college because teachers like Karen Salazar are working everyday to train and encourage students to become freedom fighting intellectuals who will excel and go on to college.
 
Once they get there, I will be honored to train them to be Karen Salazars, young women and men committed to learning, to contributing to their communities and to being warrior scholars who are part of a long legacy and bright history of critical struggles for educational and social justice. 
 
Dr. Pier Gabrielle Foreman
Professor, Occidental College
English and Comparative Literary Studies/Critical Theory and Social Justice 

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