July 13, 2007
“What the students say they want is a teacher who cares.” –Jamal A. Cooks, Ph.D.
Thirty-five-year-old Dr. Jamal Cooks teaches teachers how to teach. He helps future high school educators learn how to connect with and educate youth. As a professor at San Francisco State University’s Department of Secondary Education, he is renown for his candid opinions on education and inspired tips for aspiring teachers.
Perhaps more remarkable is the quest he began shortly after graduating from high school to make a difference in the world of public education. To really make an impact, he knew he’d have to both be in the classroom as an educator and sit in the boardrooms with those in positions of influence.
After attending Cal Berkeley and University of Michigan, he taught middle school and earned a Ph.D., and is currently a nearly-tenured professor at SFSU instructing the next generation of teachers. Additionally, he has that most important seat–on the editorial board of major textbook company Houghton Mifflin. Cooks now helps decide what is and is not cool to put in a student’s textbook. Who’d ever think a hip-hop kid from East Oakland could do that? Cooks did.
Teachers frequently encounter him on panels with titles like “The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature In High School.” But the dude is also hella down to earth. He was in some pretty successful “true-school” era hip-hop recording groups and currently coaches high school track at Oakland’s Skyline High School, a frequent California State Track Meet qualifier. Meet the man who made it his passion to change the public education game, one class at a time.
WireTap: What does it mean to you to be a literacy advocate?
Dr. Jamal Cooks:
First of all, I like that title–“literacy advocate”–I don’t think I’ve been called that before! For one, people don’t talk about literacy in broad terms; they talk about the basics: reading, writing and speech. They don’t talk about literacy in terms of what it means to students, the value it has to students, and how we as adults and teachers can use it to teach kids. As a literacy advocate, I’m promoting student voice, respect for students and where they come from, and making a plea to educators, “Hey, let’s look at what students can do.”
Almost every article on education you read is talking about the achievement gap, the reasons why students of color can’t achieve. Well, let’s look at what they do have. We’re always looking at what they don’t have.