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Across the Atlantic

November 5, 2008

“New York’s public schools urgently need more black male teachers,” says BMCC education professor Jean-Yves Plaisir. A long-time advocate for an expanded male presence in the teaching profession, Plaisir oversees the Teachers as Leaders program at BMCC, an initiative aimed at bringing more African-American men into the teaching pipeline at the elementary, early childhood and secondary education levels.

“Black males currently represent only .04 percent of the total teaching population in the New York City Public School system,” says Plaisir. “It’s critical that the situation be changed.”

Sojourn in Germany
Earlier this year, Plaisir and a contingent of BMCC participants in Teachers as Leaders, flew to Berlin, where they met with local educators, visited schools and gained insights into German educational policies, issues and methodologies. Their chief interest was Germany’s efforts to promote academic success among special needs and immigrant children.

“Looking back on the experience, I believe the most valuable benefit I took away was an awareness that, whatever its flaws, the U.S. system is probably one of the world’s best in terms of educating our young,” says Anthony Heyward, a second-year education major. Prior to Brown vs. the Board of Education, he notes—the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision that invalidated the concept of “separate but equal” educational facilities based on race—segregated school systems were common across the U.S.

Coming to terms
“White students and those of color were taught in radically different—and unequal—ways,” Heyward says. “And as recently as 100 years ago, it was illegal for African-Americans to go to school at all in many places.” Just as the United States has since made significant progress, “it’s important to understand Germany’s struggle to provide equal educational opportunities to all their students. It’s something the country will have to handle on its own terms, just as we have in the U.S.”

Says Plaisir, the trio of BMCC students exhibited “exceptional diplomacy and represented BMCC in a stellar manner” throughout their time in Germany, “and asked incisive questions that impressed the seasoned educators and decision-makers with whom they met.” The students came away from the experience “with a greater sense of empowerment, as well as an even stronger motivation to begin their teaching careers and make a real difference in the lives of disadvantaged children and provide meaningful role models for them.” The visit, Plaisir says, “was a transformative experience for us.”

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