Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to work on the Cornrow Curves project, which applies culturally situated design elements to educational settings (for example, we are using cornrow braids to enhance student understanding of geometry and programming). To increase my own understanding of the ideological framework for Cornrow Curves, I read two texts: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and “Of Marx and Makers” by Ron Eglash. Ideas found in these texts can be combined and actualized in real-life situations, such as the Cornrow Curves project.
The first text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, highlights the importance of liberatory education for students from marginalized backgrounds. Freire points out that oppression dehumanizes both the oppressors and the oppressed, and that liberatory education serves to humanize both. Liberation must come directly from the efforts of the oppressed, as they are the only people that truly understand the nature of their oppression. Education can either uphold the status quo of an oppressive society or act as a liberatory institution for marginalized students. To maintain the status quo, education systems often employ the banking model of education, in which information is deposited by teachers into students and then spat back out in the form of memory-based exams. A truly liberatory education system must use co-intentional education in which teachers and students learn with and from each other, and must avoid the banking model of education.
“Of Marx and Makers” analyzes the flow of value throughout various economic systems. Eglash points out that the pure versions of both capitalism and communism are fundamentally flawed systems. Capitalism fails to include unalienated value, deems labor and nature as unlimited resources, and relies upon constant improvement of primary value extraction methods. Communism talks about unalienated value, but in practice fails to keep value within the producing community. In the USSR, for example, failed to institute and uphold unalienated labor, ecological, and expressive values within their economic system.
Eglash then proposes a new economic model: generative justice. Generative justice is defined as the universal right to generate unalienated value and directly participate in its benefits. Under the idea that society is best served when value is kept within the community that produces it, generative justice aims to keep unalienated labor, ecological, and expressive value in its community of origin.
The Cornrow Curves project aims to use generative justice as the basis for liberatory education in the United States. It is built on the theories of generative justice, culturally relevant computing, and co-intentional education. Students have agency within the classroom and are welcomed as having previous knowledge of cornrow braids. Both teachers and students learn from each other; students learn geometry and programming from their teachers, and teachers connect with their students and learn the cultural relevance of cornrows. Cornrow Curves can act as a self-contained generative system. Shown below is a diagram demonstrating the generative flows of Cornrow Curves.
In the diagram, the RPI researchers initiate the process by creating Cornrow Curves using knowledge obtained from ethnographic fieldwork, culturally relevant computing, and the use of CSnap. The lesson is then used by teachers. Hair stylists that specialize in natural hair styling are brought in to teach cornrow braiding methods and to connect braiding to mathematics. Students learn geometry from the lesson, teach cultural relevance to teachers, adapt the lesson to their needs, and gain agency within the classroom. Teachers and students are connected to the hair stylist, a non-school member of the community; this connection leads to collaboration and a connection with the local community. The community connection leads to more cultural relevance for Cornrow Curves. Cultural and learning value is kept within the community and connections are self-sustaining, so no outside force beyond initiation is needed from RPI researchers.
The current US educational system, like that of most nations, relies on the banking model of education; not only does this fail to enhance student understanding of material, it often alienates marginalized students. Students from marginalized backgrounds can understandably feel excluded in STEM classrooms as they are underrepresented when talking about the accomplishments of great mathematicians, engineers, and scientists. By demonstrating that cornrows are fractal-based and therefore inherently mathematical, the Cornrow Curves project aims to use co-intentional education, cultural relevance, and generative justice to enhance student understanding of geometry and programming as well as enhancing teachers’ understanding of the cultural relevance of cornrows.
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Eglash, R. (2016). Of Marx and Makers: an Historical Perspective on Generative Justice, Revista Teknokultura Vol. 13(1), 245-269.