Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D.

Faculty | San Francisco

"The young educators I teach are embracing their responsibility and potential to change things in ways I couldn’t imagine."

Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade, associate professor of Latina/o Studies and Race and Resistance at San Francisco State University, believes far too many young people aren’t getting the education they deserve. So he started a new kind of school.

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When visitors walked into one of the Oakland high-school classrooms where Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D., taught for nearly two decades, they'd often look around and wonder aloud, "Where's the teacher?"

"There was a lot of action and movement," remembers Dr. Duncan-Andrade, now an associate professor of Latina/Latino Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. "Kids were in groups working on project-based stuff, debating and interacting. And I was right there with them. It was an environment that was really alive."

This is the kind of education, he says, "by which you teach kids that they can transform things. They not only learn to think for themselves, they learn they can define new limits for themselves."

While that's a typical experience for schoolchildren in wealthy neighborhoods, Duncan-Andrade says, it's far from the case in classrooms filled with "dark-skinned bodies, immigrants and children living in poverty."

There, he says, the emphasis is too often on "order, control, compliance and accepting your station in life. What's pounded into these kids is that to do well in school you don't challenge, you don't question, you don't get too excited and demonstrate your passion for learning by jumping out of your seat.

"If you’re a good student, you contain yourself." 

"I think it's reasonable that we could expect a life saturated with choice and opportunity for all children." — Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade

Nurturing Roses

Duncan-Andrade's answer to a culture of compliance was to create a wholly different kind of classroom: the Roses in Concrete Community School he cofounded in 2015 and where he's now board chair.

Named after a Tupac Shakur poem, the kindergarten-to-eighth-grade East Oakland school offers a new model for urban education, one focused on racial and social justice where the curriculum includes art, music and performing arts, STEM and dual language, all within an ethnic studies framework. 

"Every subject we teach is a conduit for developing human beings with strong moral compasses, civic responsibility and a sense of justice," says Duncan-Andrade. 

Instruction in social justice starts early. A lesson for kindergarteners about where food comes from led to a discussion of how farm workers are often exploited. Fast-forward a few weeks and the 5-year-olds were handing out flyers they'd made about abusive labor practices in front of a neighborhood Safeway and meeting with the managers to insist that the store stop purchasing fruit from companies that use unjust labor practices.


"The Thing I Was Born to Do"

Duncan-Andrade joined the faculty of San Francisco State in 2004 while still teaching and coaching in Oakland public schools. "I chose San Francisco State because it heavily values teaching," he says. "To be in an environment where the thing I feel I was born to do is valued is affirming."

He felt an affinity with the university in other ways, too. "There were these amazing pockets that were educating [college] students in ways I'd always envisioned," he says. "The university has the only college of ethnic studies in the United States. And the education that's offered is inquiry-based, which means it's not built on the assumption of all-knowing professors." 

Lighting a Spark for Change

When Duncan-Andrade teaches his class on educational equity—which examines race, class and school inequality in the U.S.—he knows some students will become inspired enough to go on to become teachers themselves.

“These young educators are embracing their responsibility to change things and their potential…in ways that I couldn’t imagine,” says the father of 5-year-old twin boys.

“We’re talking about hundreds of San Francisco State graduates who are now teachers and are changing the education system from the classroom up.”

 

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