Dr. Givens’ talk on the Fugitive Life of Black Teaching

Dr. Givens’ talk on the Fugitive Life of Black Teaching

Emma Salomon, Staff Writer

On Feb. 15, Dr. Jarvis Givens gave a presentation to the Macalester community where he discussed the concept of fugitive pedagogy and its history in the U.S over zoom.

The event was put on as a part of Black History Month by the Department of Multicultural Life (DML) and facilitated by Hana Dinku, director of diversity education, leadership and inclusion, as well as Gabby Whitehurst ’23 from the student organization Black Liberation Affairs Committee (BLAC).

Dinku explained why the DML chose this speaker and topic.

“Given the ongoing legislative campaign to restrict critical race theory and essentially the teaching of history, we thought this year we’d focus our energy for this Black History Month on celebrating Black teachers,” Dinku said. 

“Our program tonight is a sort of love letter to all Black educators carrying forward this tradition. We see you, we appreciate you, and we love you and we’re excited to celebrate this Black History Month with you all.” Dinku said.

Givens is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a faculty affiliate in the department of African & African American Studies at Harvard University. He studies the history of American education, African American education and the relationship between race and power in these systems.

Givens based his talk on his latest book, Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching. Published in 2021, it focused on the tradition of African Americans subversively challenging systems of racial domination in schools through teachers, textbooks and students. 

To frame the presentation, Givens first described the term ‘fugitive pedagogy’.

“Fugitive pedagogy consists of African Americans’ physical and intellectual acts that explicitly challenged anti-Black protocols of educational domination, and these were actions that often took place in a discrete or partially concealed fashion,” Givens said.

Givens explained the need for Black educators to use this tactic. 

“The dominant story of the nation’s past had long vilified, devalued and disrespected Black people, thereby justifying their persecution in various forms, including enslavement, disenfranchisement and imprisonment,” Givens said.

Givens first talked about the power teachers had in this system in using alternative sources of knowledge that did not promote racist views of Black people. These sources typically were textbooks, such as those written by Carter G. Woodson. Woodson is known as “the father of Black history”. Givens emphasized Woodson’s works as a public educator which influenced his writings. 

Later, Givens also highlighted how Black students were affected by these teachings and used their education from their teachers to uplift themselves and participate in the Civil Rights Movement. 

“Fugitive pedagogy in the classroom was a dress rehearsal,” Givens said. “Students’ participation in the subversive politics in Black education anticipated and prefigured their active involvement in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.”

In the question portion of the talk, students and faculty raised questions about fugitive pedagogy’s uses today and how it differs from critical race theory.

Givens was hesitant to conflate the censorship of teaching about race in the United States today with what educators were doing during the Jim Crow era, but he did say that Black educators continue to experience similar surveillance and censorship, only with less extreme manners and consequences. 

“It’s very uncomfortable seeing the similarities, but it’s absolutely necessary for teachers to understand that what they are up against is a part of a much longer tradition,” Givens said. 

Additionally, Givens unpacked the differences between critical race theory and fugitive pedagogy.

“Critical race theory has given us a frame and tools to study laws and legislation that reproduce inequities and anti-Blackness in particular,” Givens said. “What I’m writing about is talking about this ground-up narrative of grassroots efforts, freedom struggle [and] Black teachers creating institutions and creating structures … to advocate on their behalf and to support them in navigating structures of anti-Blackness in the context of schools.” 

Givens hopes that this book, as well as the framework he sets up with fugitive pedagogy, will give contemporary educators and policymakers context and inspiration to use the teachings of Black educators in their decisions and actions today. 

“The roots of racial domination which fed the United States education system since its creation continues to have lived consequences,” Givens said. “We must sharpen our view of America’s educational past, must reckon how it acts upon us and through us today.”

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