By Nyesha Stone
Out with the old and in with the new. Like with every generation, each one feels their generation has lived the best life, and it’s hard for them to look towards the future and appreciate the present because of the nostalgia of the past.
Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) held the first session of their Equity, Education, & Empowerment Speaker Series, and their first speaker was Decoteau J. Irby Ph.D.
Irby has a Ph.D. in Urban Education from Temple University and he’s a part of the faculty at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
At community school, South Division from 5:30 p.m. till around 7 p.m., Irby broke down the American school system and how we can improve the system with imagination.
He captured the audience’s attention by using his past and the imagination of rapper The Notorious B.I.G. to begin his speech.
“It was all a dream/ I used to read Word Up magazine/ Salt’n’Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine/ Hangin’ pictures on my wall,” he rapped. “Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl/ I let my tape rock ‘til my tape pop.”
Irby didn’t just rap this song because he knew his audience knew it, but he did it to show his audience how attached they are to their past. According to Irby, if we want to improve the school system for our children, and future children, we must understand the past is over, the present is important and we have to start preparing for the future.
“Back in the day is not the future,” Irby said. “We can’t go back.”
Irby spent most of his time discussing the American traditional classroom, which hasn’t changed even though the students who attend school have changed from generation to generation. According to Irby, it’s not beneficial for students to listen to their teacher talk for 45 minutes because they aren’t engaged.
He then compared our classrooms to Japan’s because they’re doing exponentially well.
In America, the teacher teaches for a majority of the class while the students are unengaged and expected to learn in an environment they’re not always comfortable in. American students aren’t taught to work in groups but to solve their problems individually.
In Japan, the teachers give the students tools for them to solve a problem, they are then giving a problem to solve without help from the teacher, then they’re put into groups to explain to their peers how they got their answer. This creates a collective struggle, which makes the students’ mental stronger because they don’t have to struggle alone. And, then the teacher teaches.
Irby also stated there are three questions one must pay attention to when it comes to determining a “good” school, and everyone in that school, including the students, should know the answers to them: What are they learning, how are they learning and why are they learning it?
“If you can teach a young person how to learn then you just created a beast,” said Irby. “And that student is what the city needs.”
A school that can answer these questions is on the right track to a better education system, said Irby.
Just how Irby started his speech, he ended the same way with rap lyrics but this time from Wu- Tang Clan. He used this rap group because each member of the group was a dropout yet they changed the world with their imagination.
Irby believes imagination is the key to keeping our students engaged, but the parents, staff, and everyone involved in the school system must understand the importance of creativity.
“Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me/ Battle-scarred shogun, explosion when my pen hits,” he rapped. “I inspect view through the future see millennium/ Killa Beez sold fifty gold sixty platinum.”