Teachers College Doctoral Student, Barry Goldenberg, inspires students with Youth Historians Program ☆

If someone had asked Barry Goldenberg five years   ago if he would be in New York City pursuing a       PH.D in History of Education at Teachers College, he would have told him or her no way.

“After undergrad, I didn’t know where I’d be,” said Goldenberg. “I never thought I’d continue my education. I didn’t know if I was going to like NYC, and it’s a big commitment, doing four or five years for a PH.D.”

But New York City is exactly where he ended up. After four years, majoring in History at the University of California Los Angeles, Barry decided to pack up his bags and move to the East Coast. He says that Professor Ernest Morrell, director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) at Teachers College, was a big influence on his decision.

Professor Morrell and Goldenberg met at UCLA. At the time Professor Morrell was teaching a class there called “Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Studies,” a class Goldenberg took “by chance” and one that he said completely inspired him.

“The class really opened my eyes to education inequalities,” Goldenberg said. “I was aware of the inequalities, but never really thought critically about them. Professor Morrell’s class really informed me about the disparity between schools, and how they’re unified. I learned a lot about how issues of race, gender and class affect policy, and how students are treated and resources are allotted.”

Morrell became a mentor to Goldenberg, and when both ended up at Teachers College, Morrell offered him a part-time job at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education and introduced him to Professor Ansley Erickson.

These introductions were the catalyst for a program that Goldenberg started in 2012 called  Youth Historians in Harlem. With the help of a Teachers College Dean’s Grant, Goldenberg was able to work with ten students from nearby Frederick Douglass Academy II, teaching them to “do” history by helping them develop the research skills of a historian. The students would meet twice a week, for two hours after school, and learn how to analyze primary sources, use databases, and create their own projects.

“The purpose of Youth Historians was to engage students, to get them more interested in history,” said Goldenberg. “Thinking like a historian can increase critical thinking, writing, and literacy skills.”

To help aid them in their research, Goldenberg provided each student with folders, journals, flash drives, and a set of books about Harlem. Although he cannot say for sure if their literacy and critical thinking skills have improved, he definitely believes the students are more eager to read and write.

“These students would come to school on a Saturday and do work,” Goldenberg said. “They were eager to read about Harlem, or about their topic. When something was interesting, or relatable to their lives, they were eager to learn. The students felt empowered and proud of what they learned. It’s such a simple concept—understanding youth—but we lose track of it in education so often.”

For 2013, Goldenberg has expanded the duration of the program from 20 weeks to the entire year, and chosen “The History of Education in Harlem” as the overarching theme. In addition, he has expanded the location of the program to include one day a week at Frederick Douglass Academy II and one day a week at Teachers College. He says doing so gives the students more of an opportunity to be part of the Teachers College community and himself more flexibility in what he is able to do with them.

“Since Teachers College is in Harlem, students in the Youth Historians program should have more access to the History of Education program at Teachers College,” said Goldenberg. Students are the lifeblood of this community, and I see this program as a way to breakdown boundaries.”

This year, the students are learning a lot more skills.

“Because we started earlier, and have more time, we have more flexibility,” said Goldenberg. “The students are learning more about primary sources, using computers, researching digital articles and archives, and choosing their own topics. It really is all about the students. These kids are bright enough, and inquisitive enough to choose their own topics. They are consumers of history, but they can be producers of history as well.”

And Goldenberg sees himself as someone who is here to empower students, to help them see the value of their thoughts and abilities.

“Students have curiosities and this program is a chance for them to research and explore those curiosities,” he said. “It’s about teaching them the skills to produce independent work, rather than just throwing out content. It’s not my job to dictate what happens, but to be an ally. It’s about how I can help impart change and provide opportunities to students. We don’t give students enough credit for what they can do. It’s important to affirm the brilliance of these students, and I think this program was able to do that.”