The dangers I faced on the streets of 1980s Brooklyn forged a powerful survival skill in me: the ability to use language in marvelously improvisational ways to unknit myself from life-threatening situations. Where others would fight, or run, I would talk my way to safety. Words became my greatest weapon and friend. All told, a precarious urban environment developed highly sophisticated "verbal intelligences" in me.
This ability with language and reasoning would later blossom into my entire identity as a professor, writer, and speaker. And yet throughout nearly all my years of schooling, I chronically earned poor grades. When the system looked upon me, it saw cognitive deficit. Idiocy. Just another delayed, at-risk Latino who'd probably just end up in....
In this workshop, I explore a blindness, rooted deeply in the traditional American educational system, that renders invisible the intelligences that Latin- and African-American students bring into the classroom. These students come with incredibly advanced skill sets that, if recognized and properly channeled, would change not only their lives but the world we all live in. Even still, so many of the teaching methods we teachers know to use tragically fail to bring these gifts to light.
My workshop is adaptable to address faculty on any level—from elementary on through to college. Drawing on my own experience as a former high-school teacher and current college professor, I ask: How might we "learn to see" the intelligences our Latin- and African-American students bring into the classroom? How might our teaching more effectively recognize and tap into them? What pedagogies might empower these students to unleash their giftings toward life-giving, socially constructive purposes? Starting in the classroom, then beyond?