Here’s one thing I know for sure, we are some call and response people. Step into any church, dance hall or park and you will see how our children use call and response to get everyone in formation!
A part of being a critically conscious educator is to see things differently. We must decolonize our minds and recognize the history and rituals that our students embody everyday of their lives but which schools try to beat out of them.
One way to decolonize our mind is to center rituals in our classrooms. Now look we already have rituals. Our schools are ritualized daily in a way that does not feed our souls.
If you’re like many schools across NYC, your kids may have to go through metal detectors. That’s a ritual. They get on line, they wait, they take off their belts, open up their jackets and bags. They might have to take off their shoes, they get wanded, padded down, all the while being barked at by security officers that look like them but have no compassion for them.
They head to their classrooms and if they’re late, they’re being barked at again by deans and teachers telling them to get out of the hallway. They make it to class and the board is filled with notes. It’s time to get their pen and paper out and begin their day. In every class the routine is the same. They get a reprieve at lunch and if they’re a boy who is athletically inclined, a reprieve during gym. And when the bell to signal the day rings, they flood into the hallways to hear the deans and security now barking at them to get out. At my school they would yell, you don’t have to go home but you gotta get out of here.
And that was school….at least High School.
I wanted my classroom to be different, to have a different rhythm and a different routine. I wanted my classroom to be steeped in ritual but in rituals that were based on love, acceptance, responsibility, community and FUN!
Mine was a project based classroom. This meant that in every class period, the majority of the students time was spent working cooperatively without me getting in their way. They loved this set up, and I loved this set up. However, this set up meant that there had to be a way to get their attention during their work period that didn’t involve me yelling at them. Because being yelled at, no matter the reason did not sit well with my students.
So at the beginning of each semester my students and I would come up with a phrase that I would say and a phrase they would respond with in order for me to get everyone’s attention.
My most favorite call and response phrase ever created was this.
I would say, “Fried Chicken” They would say, “with Macaroni and Cheese”
Don’t hate. Lol
That’s what they came up with and I would always allow them to come up with the attention grabbing call and response.
Here were the rules:
When I said Fried Chicken. They’d say Macaroni and Cheese. I had no more than 2 minutes to say or explain whatever I needed. I could only interrupt 3 times during their work session, so I had to choose wisely. And any student could call the class to attention to ask a question by using the same phrase.
As I became a more conscious teacher and one who wanted to steep my practices more in African and indigenous experiences I discovered the West African call and response phrasing of Agó and Amé.
Agó and Amé, comes from the Twi language of West Africa. Any member of the community may use ago if she or he needs to get the attention of the group. Agó roughly translates to “listen up” while Amé roughly translates to “We’re listening.” I would also add into it Asé which roughly translates to “We/I am in agreement.”
In many of our schools we have created…or rather what has been pushed on us as best practices, are these non verbal, non disruptive cues. Teachers and students are throwing up fingers and signs quietly in order to maintain control, decorum and order.
But a Culturally Responsive educator of the African Diaspora knows that we are some call and response people, we are musical people, we are griots and that making sound, moving, dancing, singing, stepping, affirming with our voice and body is what brings us together.
As Chris Emdin details in his book, “For white folks who teach in the hood and the rest of yall too” there are rules to our call and response and verbal and physical expressions of affirmation. You can see those rules exercised every weekend in the church, dance hall and park.
It’s time we utilize them in our classrooms and schools.
Oh, one last thing. You don’t have to use Agó and Amé. You don’t have to use Fried Chicken and Mac and Cheese. Let your students decide! Give them the choices and let their innovation and acknowledgment of history decide!
As always CREAD,
Deep thinkers only!