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Seeking Solutions Not Suspensions with Dr. David Stovall

February 14, 2014

Seeking Solutions Not Suspensions with Dr. David Stovall

Students Mehki Taylor, Samira Mohamoud, Eva Shellabarger and Fatuma Abdi (featured here with Dr. David Stovall) spent the day at the Solutions in Action Student Summit hosted by the MN Minority Education Partnership and other community allies at the North Minneapolis YMCA.

Dr. David Stovall, our keynote speaker, is a professor of African American and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He is a national leader on developing culturally-relevant education and engaging students as leaders in education transformation. Dr. Stovall walked enthusiastically into the room and said to the students, “I bet you didn’t expect a professor to look like this!” As a young African American man, Dr. Stovall said he’d get “into trouble with his homies constantly” until he had a teacher who cared about him finally say, “Let’s just put it out in the street. Adults don’t have your best interests in mind. We’re here to prove them wrong!”

He told the students that in Illinois, he’s fighting laws that are so severe that 15-17 year olds caught with heroin can be charged with attempted murder because heroin can be considered lethal. He said that creating an “eighth hour” for students to learn is a matter of “life and death.” Because of the violence on the streets, no one knows when they leave “eighth hour” if they will make it back again.

Yet students, Dr. Stovall said, have always been at the heart of transformative social change. “There’s a difference between school and education,” he said. He pointed out that school has to do with order and compliance, while education is more about change and learning. “How,” he asked, “do we upset the set-up?” He encouraged the students to read “The Mis-education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson so that they can understand how our school system has been “designed to remind people of their worthlessness.” He told the students that one hundred years from now, the local testing companies will still own a lifetime contract to give students tests in Minnesota.

Dr. Stovall said that discipline is not just about following rules. It’s about taking care of ourselves. He was taught by his own teacher to “discipline yourself so that no one else has to.” He told the students that he still gets into trouble because he is challenging the school system and that sometimes he’s “uninvited” because folks might consider him to be too controversial. He said that if we’re not experiencing discomfort, we’re not really engaging in the true work. But, he said, “It’s time to get down. It’s our turn to have a business,” telling them it’s more important than ever that they engage in the true education of leading the fight for positive change.

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