TC’s Inaugural Shirley Chisholm Award Winner: Yasmin Morales-Alexander, whose regard for cultural knowledge begins with her father
As a little girl growing up in the Bronx, Yasmin Morales-Alexander (Ed.D. ’16) often accompanied her father, Victor, to his job as a janitor at Lehman College. While he mopped floors and collected garbage, she’d look at atlases and encyclopedias in the college library. If she behaved well, she and her father would go out for a treat after he finished his shift.
“The kicker to a great day in the library was that if I let my father get his work done he’d take me to White Castle,” says Morales-Alexander, who earned her doctorate in Curriculum & Teaching with a focus on Multicultural & Urban Education and is now Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Lehman College.
Now Morales-Alexander is reaping some rewards of a different order. In May, she became the inaugural recipient of Teachers College’s Shirley Chisholm Dissertation Award, named for the late TC alumna who was the first African-American woman to serve in Congress and the first black candidate to seek a major party’s nomination for the presidency. TC’s Chisholm Award recognizes recent doctoral graduates whose work has advanced the aims of democracy by promoting racial and gender equality through a deeper understanding of people of color.
“Anyone from any background or ethnicity can be a good teacher if and when they are able to recognize and understand themselves as ‘sociocultural beings,’ learn their craft, care about their students and hold them to high standards.”
In her TC dissertation, Morales-Alexander set out to dispel the myth that Latino parents don’t value their children’s education. In repeated visits and interviews with eight Mexican immigrant families in New York City with children in a local Head Start Program, she found that the parents were indeed “wholly engaged” in their children’s development and education, helping them primarily by communicating knowledge rooted in Mexican culture.
“The problem is that their cultural knowledge is not validated across a wide spectrum of American society,” she says. “They weren’t doing anything different than any other parents, but what they do and how they raise their children is not considered the norm in America.”
Studies of how and why parents from all cultures engage with their children’s development can better inform practice and research in early childhood education, Morales-Alexander says. In the early childhood classes she teaches at Lehman, she stresses the importance of understanding all students’ backgrounds – and particularly in New York City, with its increasingly diverse student population.
“I won the Chisholm Award for studying how Latino families engage in their children’s development and education and that’s exactly what my father did for me – he was invested in my development and success as a person.”
“Your ethnicity and nationality, your age and your background – in essence, your culture – influences who you are, how you think, and how you teach,” Morales-Alexander says. “But anyone from any background or ethnicity can be a good teacher if and when they are able to recognize and understand themselves as ‘sociocultural beings,’ learn their craft, care about their students and hold them to high standards. Teachers must first engage in their own critical thinking about their role in their students’ lives beyond the context of the classroom – a necessary step in upholding the tenets of multiculturalism.”
Earlier this year, Morales-Alexander also received the Lehman College Urban Transformative Education Award for promoting justice, equity and caring in urban schools. She was thrilled – but even happier when the college also honored her father for his contributions as a lifelong employee and committed parent.
“I won the Chisholm Award for studying how Latino families engage in their children’s development and education and that’s exactly what my father did for me – he was invested in my development and success as a person,” she says. “I’m a black Puerto Rican female from a working class family with the odds seemingly stacked against me, yet I graduated from an Ivy League school. I’m living proof that Latino families are very much committed to their children’s well-being and education.” – Robert Florida
Published Tuesday, Jun 13, 2017