What is Dempology?
While the title may seem narcissistic (I feel you), it was actually coined by some of my past community collaborators when trying to encapsulate my “unique” approach to issues. Personally, I am not sure if my approach is so unique- I am not an ideologue-I don’t believe all or even most things are black or white. The world is muddy. Knowledge can be found in the most unexpected people and situations. All children are capable of success.
So many folks have influenced my thinking: WEB DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, Angela Davis, Jonathan Kozol, Edward Said, Maria Montessori, Pedro Noguera, William Julius Wilson, Lisa Delpit, my MOTHER…just to name a few. I like to think of “Dempology” as a combination of the virtues I hold most dear: Education, Empowerment and Action.
Most of my work is around children and by necessity the community that serves as the incubator, teacher, supporter or discourager of these children. It is my philosophy that our children are a reflection of the society and culture we have built up around them. They are all that is good, bad and ugly in US. Their failures are our failures. Therefore, I don’t shake my head in self-righteous disapproval when they engage in undesirable behaviors, but instead seek out the environmental influences, policy constraints, economic incentives and value systems they are mimicking. Layered with our often inappropriate and ill-informed responses to their developmentally appropriate behaviors due to the biological, cognitive and physiological realities existent in children – being a voice for young people can appear to be a losing battle. This is not to dismiss internal motivations, but those motivations are deeply influenced by external stimuli. It is an interplay that can’t be ignored.
Simple Example A:
In PromiseRainbow Academy (names have been changed), the Principal of the school is in the school parking lot every morning to open the door of every car in her line and assist students into the school. When it rains, she has an umbrella that she holds over the students as they walk in the school, in the winter, she has on earmuffs and high boots-but she is out there without fail. She wishes the parents a good day and closes the door behind the child. The first thing children and their parents see when they start the morning in this school is the smiling face of the school leadership; She is engaged with the rest of the staff, escorting the children and setting the tone for the day.
In SameSh#%DifferentDay Academy, the Principal is nowhere to be found at the start of school and often shuffles in near noon. Students are greeted not by smiling staff, but by metal detectors and armed security personnel. Instead of “Good Morning”, it is “Open up your bag”. Parents don’t see the school leadership until their child is in trouble and they are called to the office to pick up their child. There is a tangible line between staff and administration and no visible example of how to positively engage parents.
This is a very simple illustration of how the 30 minutes before the start of school, sets up the whole school climate, culture and the eventual interactions between all parties involved. Which school would you rather your child attend? Where do you believe they will be more willing to seek out help? Where will they receive it? Where will parents feel more comfortable visiting? Which staff will be more collaborative?
Maria Montessori speaks of the power of the “prepared environment”. It is the idea that when you create the optimal conditions for learning, children will seek to engage and teach themselves. This thoughtful external preparation stokes an internalized mechanism in children to seek knowledge.
We, the adults who run this thing, are often not thoughtful at all. Instead of considering how we can set up our children for success, we pleasure in tripping them up in failure then punishing the results. As many an unfortunate educator has said, “My check clears every two weeks whether you learn or not”. I hope that this blog encourages intellectual discourse, internal analysis and environmental critique.
Yours in love and justice,