Interview – Written – Andree’ Robinson-Neal, Ed.D.

Written Interview

State your name, occupation, and location.

Andree’ Robinson-Neal, writer-educator, San Bernardino CA.

Do you feel that students look for jobs or create jobs upon completion of school?

I believe it depends on the student. Some have jobs waiting for them while others have no clue and look for jobs. Out of that second bunch, some can’t find what they’re looking for and end up creating a job for themselves (and in the best case scenario, for others as well).

Do you believe that epigenetics can influence a style of learning?

I hadn’t thought of it before but yes, at a molecular level, I do. The Bible talks about the curses of the fathers falling on the third and fourth generations to follow, so sure — it makes perfect sense that historical trauma that influenced what and how people learn could affect present-day learning.

What do you know about tribal values?

Some, but not much I would say. Dedication, familial ties, and traditions are what come to mind immediately when I think of tribal values.

What is the point of education?

This one made me smile. I would say there are multiple points of education. Back at the beginning you asked about students finding or creating jobs — one point of education is to provide the lambskin for little Johnny or Sally to step into that VP position that is waiting for them (I think of an undergraduate colleague of mine who did nothing but drink and party his freshman year who said, “I’m only here to get the piece of paper — there’s a job waiting for me at the firm when I’m done). Another point of education is to provide hope — “no one else in my family has made it through (fill in the blank: high school, college, grad school …) and when I do, I’ll be able to help my family.” Another point of education is to provide self-satisfaction — “I have a (fill in the blank (medical degree, engineering degree, doctoral degree …). I worked hard and got it. Not everyone can attain what I have. And the last and most insidious point of education is to fuel the prison complex — I believe there is a pipeline for some of our communities today that lead children not to a better life but a worse one.

Do you feel that school is preparing you for life?

In a way I do. I apply what I have learned on a regular basis. I did school on my terms. There isn’t enough room here for me to tell all the stories of how I made it through, but I will share one from second grade. For the particular assignment, we had to write a sentence and draw a picture on that newsprint paper stuff. My sentence was “The dog liked my face” (we had not yet learned about digraphs, so I didn’t know it should have been spelled “licked”) and my picture, in my opinion, was beautiful and as such the project should have garnered a gold star. In this class, the grading system was a gold star for the best papers that were placed at the top of the row on the wall in the hall, a smiley face for less-than-perfect papers, and nothing for papers with errors. I came in the next day, aglow at the anticipation of seeing my paper at the top. It wasn’t. I argued with my teacher about why it had been incorrectly marked and despite her attempts to show me why it had not gotten a gold star, I wasn’t having it. I stopped talking in class until a parent conference was called. There were of course threats of punishment from my parents, which were the only things that made me talk to this woman again 🙂

What is your definition of life?

Life is a journey through which we are called to love one another and take care of everything that has been entrusted to us. This includes our environment, our families, homes, pets, communities, and so on.

How do you feel about conforming?

Nope. Not a fan. However, I do believe there is a place for consensus-making. We can agree to do some things in the same way, or as a group figure out that a particular rule is good. Like my husband and I are agreed that it’s okay for our dogs to sleep on the bed. Many of our colleagues, friends, family and church members would freak out if a dog was in the house, much less on the bed. We have consensus that dogs on the bed are cool for us. Anyone who doesn’t like it, doesn’t have to live with us 🙂

Do you feel the spirit of the people are ignored in education?

In most traditional educational systems in the US, absolutely. There are things that I, as a black woman who grew up when I did and where I did, have experienced that friends from different places and backgrounds have not or have experienced differently. If what we say doesn’t coincide with what the teacher thinks or believes, we’re “wrong.” Been there, done that. I’ve had students come to me in tears because of such treatment from other faculty.

Do you feel that millions of dollars are being wasted on mainstream education?

I believe that there should be some form of education and I think that there should be a level of standards. However, I think the present system is extremely wasteful. Tenure systems should be re-evaluated so that bad teachers can’t stay forever because of strict enforcement by unions. Students who learn differently should be able to do so without being made to feel that they are “wrong.” Experiences should not be discounted in the course of expository assignments.

How do you feel about censorship in mainstream education?

I struggle with this one. I believe there are things that mainstream education should not be responsible for without permission of parents. For example, when my son was in school, I would have liked to have been involved in how sex ed was presented to him. He has special needs and such a topic would not have been appropriate for him to receive at the typical age/grade when the school system offers it. I don’t see that as censorship but respect for the individual child’s development and his/her family. Should children not be exposed to certain things? In that sense I think censorship is wrong.

How important is critical thinking in education?

Critical thinking is one of the most important aspects of education because we can’t survive outside the classroom without it. That’s a skill people use to live and learning critical thinking skills — as in how to critically assess situations, information, and one’s own knowledge and understanding — is vital.