Center for Urban Education Lecture: How to Grow Roses from Concrete

Issue Date: 
October 3, 2016

Despite the social and economic hardships of his childhood in urban Los Angeles, Jeff Duncan-Andrade still dreamed big: He imagined careers in medicine, law, or business.

Jeff Duncan-Andrade (Photo by Noah Berger)But a surprising discovery in college—that he loved English literature—spurred a change of course. Over time, he was able to merge his love of literature with a passion for teaching children. Today, Duncan-Andrade is an innovative educator—an international leader on urban education, teacher support and development, and effective pedagogy in urban settings. His work challenges and expands notions about what is needed for children in impoverished urban neighborhoods to reach their full potential.

Duncan-Andrade, an associate professor at San Francisco State University, will share his expertise during an event from 4-6 p.m. Oct. 20 at Pitt’s University Club. He teaches in the California university’s Department of Raza Studies, College of Ethnic Studies. (Raza is a Spanish word meaning race or ethnicity.)

Sponsored by Pitt’s Center for Urban Education, the talk is titled “Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete.” It will discuss the material conditions that affect urban youth and how educators can build relationships with children to help them succeed. The presentation is one of the events addressing the Center for Urban Education’s yearlong theme, Connecting Communities and Schools. 

The symposium-style event has three parts—a book discussion with Duncan-Andrade, his keynote lecture, and a reflection-into-action session. The book to be discussed is The Art of Critical Pedagogy: Possibilities for Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools (Peter Lang Publishing, 2008) by Duncan-Andrade and Ernest Morrell. Together, the three events will “focus on learning from the speaker and moving into actionable practices to support students, educators, and community,” said H. Richard Milner, Center for Urban Education director and the Helen Faison Endowed Chair of Urban Education at Pitt. 

Duncan-Andrade adapted the lecture’s name from The Rose That Grew from Concrete, a book of poetry by the late rapper Tupac Shakur that was published in 1999. Duncan-Andrade heads the Roses in Concrete Community School, which he established two years ago in East Oakland. The K-8 school’s website says it is designed to be a pipeline for developing strong teachers who foster the growth of the most underserved students and families. Milner says Duncan-Andrade’s presentation will outline “the type of hope necessary to support students, families, and communities and to help them thrive.”

Duncan-Andrade has a joint appointment in San Francisco State’s Department of Equity, Leadership Studies, and Instructional Technologies in the Graduate College of Education. He also teaches English literature at Fremont High School in East Oakland, where he directs the East Oakland Step to College Program.

During the lecture, Duncan-Andrade said he will emphasize a point supported by decades of research: that urban youth hindered by poverty and other socioeconomic conditions do not lack what it takes to succeed in high school and college. The problem, he contends, is a failing institutional response that blames resilient and hopeful children who actually have the least amount of power to change “a society that is fundamentally inequitable and unequal.”

“The goal of this talk is really to try to get people to understand that young people growing up in poverty, particularly urban youth, are not broken and they don’t need us to fix them,” says Duncan-Andrade. “They need us to understand the material conditions of their lives and create institutional and interpersonal relationships that are responses to the radical inequalities that they experience in their lives.”

“If we don’t get this right,” says Milner, “we will continue to underserve and marginalize our nation’s children—in particular our Black and Brown children, children who live in poverty, children whose first language is not English, and children with disabilities. We will also continue to build a cradle-to-prison pipeline for these children if we don’t pay attention and work to get this right.”

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested,