Educator Christopher Emdin has unhappy memories of being a young black student taught by a black male teacher who didn't see value in him as a person. Now, he sees his experiences persists among students he's interviewed and worked with.
An associate professor at Teachers College Columbia University, Emdin's ideas and experiences differ from a belief expressed by former United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and echoed by Duncan's successor John King Jr. — more black teachers and role models in the classroom will help young black boys succeed at school.
"Just recruiting black men alone will not solve our problem," said Emdin, author of "For White Folk Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education."
Despite the fact only 2 percent of the nation's teachers are black men, Emdin disputes the theory recruiting black male teachers will make good students out of young boys of color.
"If that teacher is not prepared to be able to teach me effectively, if that teacher is employing tools that a white teacher may employ who does not know the right thing to do, or if that teacher is following policies that don't meet my needs, their black face alone is not going to offer a solution," said Emdin, who is also the creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement.
Ushering new teachers into the field must be balanced with an effective curriculum and teacher training focusing on giving teachers "what they need to be effective for black young people, or for brown young people, or for white young people," Emdin said.
Engaging young people in a way that makes them want to learn may appear to be a complex question, but Emdin believes there's a simple answer.
"Any time that you can convince a young person that they have the natural ability to be academically successful by being who they are, you'll have them have a different relationship to schooling."
The real work, Emdin believes, is around building self-confidence and self-affirmation. It's about helping students believe they can be both black and smart, that they can be cool and also intellectual, Edmin said.
"That the fact that you love hip-hop music, for example, means that you already have the ability to be able to soak in a lot of information and spit it back out," Edmin said. "The fact that you can memorize a rap album means that you can memorize the periodic table."