David Stovall, professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and high school teacher, took the mic and gave a stirring talk about pedagogy itself. Pedagogy is not just a theory of teaching, but also a method of inquiry on the very practice of teaching and the comparative value of instructional design models.
David gave an example from his own classroom. Speaking specifically of his high school students, David shared a question that he proposes to them: “What does a pedagogical practice look like using a racial justice frame?” The question is meant to get the students to address the underlying barriers to knowledge acquisition. In this instance, students are prompted to identify and examine structural racism, colonialism, isolationism, and marginalization. David acknowledged that he also gains valuable insight from the process, learning from his students even as he teaches. This is the heart of a pedagogical practice: it is liberating knowledge acquisition from the rigid model of instructor/student, compelling both sides to deepen inquiry and thereby strengthening the quality of understanding.
Through the pedagogical principle, David explained, redevelopers remain constantly aware that they are also part of the community they seek to serve, a driver and a beneficiary of the project. Instead of the singular question “How do I make my project work?,” the inquiry is multifaceted and the questions become: “Who has been excluded and under what terms? What is the redress for what has been taken? How do we reclaim agency?” From this deep, constant process of checking-in, a new framework emerges: “How do we make our project work?”
As David summarized it: “In Ethical Redevelopment, it is not for you to become a better colonizer.”
Following this academic discussion about pedagogy, Sam Darrigrand provided an example of direct application. Darrigrand, Workforce Development Manager at Rebuild Foundation, defined the program he manages as a business model with a community purpose: what can be learned while being on payroll? The program employs individuals who were formerly incarcerated and who are often deemed “unemployable.” Sam described meeting people where they’re at, finding opportunities for soft-skill development, and unpacking moments of conflict to see what’s behind them. The Workforce Development Program is being incorporated into a number of upcoming projects led by Theaster Gates, including Kenwood Gardens where participants will acquire skills in construction, landscaping, design, and related trades.
For the night’s final presentation, artist Carol Zou spoke about the project Trans.lation and her role as its project manager in the Vickery Meadows neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. Trans.lation began as a monthly series of pop-up markets by artist Rick Lowe and the Nasher Museum of Art in a mixed neighborhood of immigrants and refugees from 120 countries as well as American minorities. Today, the project is an arts and cultural platform used for resident-led councils, resident-taught workshops, professional development, and pop-up exhibitions, and asks “How do we build cross-cultural learning platforms in order to develop community capacity and leadership?”
The project employs art as a cross-culture translation mechanism, but over time it has, by necessity, had to evolve to meet the “ordinary” needs of its community. Carol shared some of these needs, such as how the offering of Arabic language class becomes far more complex when participants are facing barriers like inconvenient or broken transportation systems. Carol also expanded on how teaching often becomes an opportunity for learning in Trans.lation, such as when the organizers of a general American Sign Language class discovered from participants that their language-learning concerns were specifically tied to helping them study for their citizenship exams.
Carol emphasized the importance of language justice, and holding space for everyone’s preferred mode of communication. As Trans.lation has grown, Carol has had to realign expectations for the project's outcomes, and has established success measures that are neither sexy nor grand, but are authentically centered on the experiences and knowledge of the people in Trans.lation’s communities.
This idea of relinquishing power to a community and facilitating self-determination is a theme that reverberated through the night and in past Sessions.