“Of The Coming Of James”: A Critical Autoethnography On Teaching Engineering To Black Boys As A Black Man

2018-12-20T19:55:20Z (GMT) by James S. Holly
In W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk there is a story entitled “Of the Coming of John” that features two boys named John, one black from a poor family, the other white from a wealthy family. As the two are away at college each family awaits ‘of the coming of John,’ the title is also a reference to maturity because black John becomes disillusioned with race relations as he is awakened to the injustices that seemed so normal. Like black John, I too went to college far away from my hometown, developed a heightened awareness of society’s racism, and retained a desire to return home to teach youth in my community. And like black John, I want to teach by implementing a pedagogy that promotes equity for black Americans amid inequitable conditions.

The research problem addressed in this study relates to the absence of sociopolitical teaching practices in K-12 engineering education, which I argue is necessary for equitable inclusion of underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities in general, and black males in particular. Black Americans are plagued by racial inequities that transcend all domains of societal living (e.g., economics, education, health, etc.); this lamentable reality is the direct result of historical disenfranchisement of this racial group within the United States. Therefore, engineering must be taught with pertinence to the social, political, and cultural realities of the pupils. This self-study was an investigation into my story of living as a black male and studying engineering, and how my experience (along with my sociological understanding of other black males) shaped the way I taught engineering to black boys. Critical autoethnography was used to articulate the cultural and experiential knowledge that guided my instructional methods. Black Critical Theory, an offshoot of Critical Race Theory, served as one theoretical framework for this study because it centralizes the prevalence of anti-blackness as a lens to understand the experiences of black citizens. African American Male Theory is a complementary framework as it takes a broader ecological perspective to analyze the experiences of black male citizens. Taken together, these frameworks reveal the distinct features of American life negotiated by black males.

Resultantly, my life events led me to merge black racial identity, black politics, and the dynamics surrounding the education of black boys to teach K-12 engineering within a critical race pedagogical framework. I was socialized to be present and authentic among the people I want to lead and serve, hence, my devotion to community-engage scholarship. I grew tired of watching educators give-up on black students or become volatile, therefore, I spent time with the hyper-marginalized to build up the requisite resilience to avoid dysfunctional teaching and a cynical demeanor. I have felt undervalued and left-out in some classroom experiences, so I prioritize connecting with students over presenting content. I’ve witnessed engineering educators ostracize and belittle students unwilling to assimilate to its cultural norms, contrarily, I taught black boys with the goal of making engineering relatable to them, not vice versa.