Episode 1: Dr. Marcos Pizarro
Dr. Marcos Pizarro, Associate Dean of the Lurie College of Education and Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, talks about his work in the field of K-12 education, Ethnic Studies pedagogy, and the future of teaching and learning in the university.
Vincent Del Casino: Welcome to this episode of "The Accidental Geographer". I am the Accidental Geographer, Vincent Del Casino. With me today is Dr. Marcos Pizarro, Associate Dean of the Lurie College of Education and Professor of Chicano studies here at San Jose State University. Today, we will be discussing Dr. Pizarro's interest in the study of schools and schooling and the Latinx experience of those schools, his approach to ethnic studies, teaching, theory, and practice, as well as his core insights into K-12 education today, as well as higher education more broadly in the United States. So, let's get right into it.
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Vincent Del Casino: I wanted to just pick your brain today a little bit about some of the work you've done, some of the directions you're going, and some of the impact. I guess, I want to start with the question of what drew you to education and schooling? It seems like a lot of your work has pushed towards how we think about educational environments and schooling, particularly for Chicanx students. So, maybe walk me through kind of your own intellectual trajectory and how schooling and education became kind of a key object for you.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah, that's a great question. And I've started going back in my head as you're asking the question and then going back, and then going back, and it goes back to my childhood. You know, I grew up my -- dad's Mexican, my mom's Dutch. So, my dad calls me half-breed. And I've always had -- I've always been interested and fascinated by identity because, you can't see me on this podcast, but I'm 6'2" light skinned. People don't perceive me as Mexican, but I grew up identifying as such because my whole family that I knew was all Mexican. And so, I also identify with this community, with these communities of color. And going through school, I was pushed, and I had opportunities, and I did well, but I knew people who were smarter than me who didn't get those same opportunities.
And so, early on, I remember just thinking about educational inequities, and what was happening and why was that happening? And so, it fascinated me. I went to -- I went from public school in Daly City to Stanford undergrad, and I was just like, slapped in the face with that inequity again. Right? And, you know, there was projects that were in East Palo Alto. And for people who know that community, it's like during the time I was there, one of the greatest divides between East Palo Alto and Stanford Palo Alto communities, it was so blatant. It was so just unconscionable. So, I was, you know, thinking about that, and I had gone in as an engineer to Stanford because my dad said that's a good job. And I just said, okay, Dad.
Vincent Del Casino: I was in the same boat. My father's like, get a chemistry degree, then you go work with your uncle. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah. So, we did -- I mean, we didn't know what I was getting into. My dad's a barber, and so he just talked to people all day. And so, he was hearing about engineering, so he kind of like made that suggestion. And I realized I could actually study what I wanted to study, what I was interested in, what kind of like piqued my brain and made me excited. And so, that's how I kind of began exploring. And as I kind of pursued my undergraduate degree, I realized, this is what I'm interested in. This is what I want to do.
Vincent Del Casino: So, from undergrad, what were your next steps?
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Well, my next step in my mind was get a job. And I had been pushed towards graduate school. And so, I had kind of like, done the path, didn't really understand it totally. But I've been pushed to it, and I got accepted. And this is during the late '80s, early '90s. And so, they were trying to diversify, you know, grad schools, and they're throwing money at people. And so, I did find a job, and I did get accepted, and I take that fellowship. And so, it seemed better to go to school and get paid to go to school than to not have a job. And I went to UCLA's Graduate School of Education. And the big moment for me was, I've told this story a lot, but when I was in the student lounge, the Graduate Student Lounge at UCLA for in the College of Ed, and this lady approached me, and she started talking to me and asked me if I wanted to be a teacher. And I said, no, I'm not interested in that, and she just kind of kept on. And, you know, she basically twisted my arm really hard and said, just come see my school.
And so, I drove down the 405 to Inglewood, and, you know, she just Jedi mind tricked me. And within a couple months, I'm teaching sixth grade in Inglewood. And it's, you know, 90%, Latino, 10% African American, working class kids, and it was amazing. You know? And I think part of the thing that turned me on also was the contradiction between what I was experiencing at UCLA in Westwood and what I was experiencing in Oak Street Elementary in Inglewood. And the contrast was, again, striking, and since these dichotomies have been very, you know -- just they've grabbed me. And they forced me to say, hey, you've got to wrestle with this. You got to do something about this.
Vincent Del Casino: You know, it's really interesting you say that. So, when I went into my first teaching experience -- because I taught middle school in New York, and I went to this area called Far Rockaway. It's like five miles from where I grew up. And the way I describe it is when you went over that bridge and went in Far Rockaway, you might as well been on the moon. It was like to look at that level of inequity from really some of the highest income properties to public housing, no jobs is really transformative. I imagine then that this really leads you into some of the larger work you're going to do. So, this is a -- we're coming into the 15th anniversary. You know, I don't know if you put it this way for yourself, Chicanos and Chicanos in school, racial profiling, identity, battles and empowerment, the book that you wrote, I sense that this is kind of a big combination for you of a lot of thinking. Tell me a little bit about that project, what the goals of it were.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah, I mean, I -- so I did my dissertation. And I was trying to understand -- I'll just tell you a little backstory, and you can cut this out if you want, but the first dissertation project idea I had was, I created like these vignettes. And I was basically trying to prove that the teachers that I was working with at Oak Street Elementary were racist. So, I distributed these surveys to my colleagues as kind of a test run. And it was like, you know, this happens, and what do you do? And it was it was basically trying to prove they were racist. And somebody said to me, why are you doing this? I said, I got to check -- I got to show what's going on. I said, we already know this. and it was like, this big, red light moment. And so, I flipped it. I totally flipped it. And I wanted to understand students that are able to thrive despite the circumstances.
And so, that's what I started with the dissertation, and it wasn't great. But it led me to the next project, which is a postdoc project that I started at UCLA and I finished at Washington, and it was trying to understand the relationship between racial identity and school performance for, you know, Chicanx-Latinx students. And it was a fascinating project because I had a postdoc in LA. And so, I was working in East Los Angeles for a year, and then I got my first tenure track job in Washington State. And so, I mirrored that project in Yakima, Washington, which is rural Washington. And so, this is one of the things that was, to me, really important about the book. People haven't really studied education in a rural context period, let alone focusing on Latinx students.
And so, that was fascinating to me to have that opportunity. And it was a ton of work. I mean, I often take on these projects that are just untenable. Like, why am I doing this to myself? So, I'm working at a high school, at a community college, and a university, interviewing -- surveying and interviewing all these young people and then trying to compare the two different contexts and put them all together. It's like -- it took me a, you know, a long time to get through it. But what the book is about is that, yeah, our students are experiencing this racial profiling, and it's not an explicit thing, but it's happening all the time. And it's understood by the students, and they're trying to figure out how to navigate that. And they're coming up with these strategies to navigate. You know, like one story that just pops into my head right now is this young lady who's at the community college in Yakima. And she's saying, yeah, when I was in high school, I never spoke Spanish. I would refuse to speak Spanish because I knew if teachers heard me speaking Spanish, it was going to limit the opportunities that I was going to get for educational -- you know, education, opportunity, and advancement.
And so, that book is fascinating because it looks at that, but it doesn't just stop there. Because what we see with our students is it's not always explicitly racial. You know? For some of our students, they've really felt it along gender lines. There was a racial component, but it was along gender lines more than it was that or class or sexual orientation. And so, what we're looking at is the role of power and being disempowered, and how that shapes your identity and how that's connected to your educational opportunities. And so, it's just a fascinating project and really powerful to me. I loved doing it. I don't know how well the book reads to people because it's trying to do so much.
Vincent Del Casino: Yeah.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: But we, you know, we worked really hard, and there's some beautiful moments in it to me too is I had a student who was at the university with me. And he had been to the high school that I had went to, and he had gone to the community college that I had worked at. So, he was like the perfect person. He wasn't in the study, and he wrote this essay in my class that was like, all about the study. So, I said, can we use this? And he said, yes, and so it's in the book.
Vincent Del Casino: Yeah.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Right? His essay from that class is in the book, and it's telling the story that the rest of the book is telling in some ways. And so, we got to have some fun with that project, and I'm really proud of it.
Vincent Del Casino: You know, it's -- the progression you're talking about, you know, as you go from that first question, which kind of, for lack of a better word, it's kind of blunt. It's like direct. It's like -- and you start to -- and the messiness of that world starts to hit you, and all sudden, you start to make more complex all these cross cutting things. And I think the Yakima thing ends up being a really interesting part of the puzzle. Because you're right, one, we don't talk about morality much around schooling, but also the demographic shift in Washington, right, where we get more Latinos living in Washington as this migration happens, that doesn't get talked about very often still to this day. So, I think that's really valuable.
You do start that book, though, with the sentence Chicano-Chicana students live much of their lives in great jeopardy. That's 15 years ago, and here you are now. How do you reflect on that very powerful statement? You know, and you complexify it as that jeopardy, to the point of what you're saying, it's very messy. It comes in and out. You know, you move from this kind of -- towards this, I see later in your work, like the implicit bias, you know, these kind of questions. But if -- just reading that back to you, how do you think about that right now?
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah, I mean, I haven't read that sentence in a long time. So, you're -- I don't even remember that sentence to be honest.
Vincent Del Casino: It opens the intro.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah. Yeah.
Vincent Del Casino: It opens the intro.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: But it's true. I mean, it's true now. It's true now for our students. I'm teaching a class right now, and we're looking at, you know, racial justice models for doing transformative work in disenfranchised communities. And it's -- we've got 25 students in there now, 24 of them are Latinx identified. We've got one Vietnamese student, and he's from East side San Jose, so real cool. But the students are telling stories that reflect what I was doing research on, you know, in the late '90s, early 2000s, that led to the book project. It's really quite terrifying to be honest with you. I think it's in a different light, though. You know, so, I mean, in Yakima things are way -- then and still, to an extent, were way more explicit, right, than they were in East Los Angeles.
And so, I think that the covert nature of what's happening around race and identity and education is more intense now. And I think one way to do this, this is going to be maybe not the most politically correct thing to talk about, but if we look at charter schools that are happening now, it's a real concern. Because there's a lot -- the charter schools often are working in poor communities, communities of color, and they're coming from this mindset of we're going to help these kids, which is awesome, and that's what we want. But there are also a lot of deficit thinking about these communities and seeing them in terms of what they're lacking, what they don't have.
And in focusing on that, it's shaping the nature of the education that these students are provided, and it is still kind of like can be -- it can be a kind of a drill and kill approach. It can be just not providing them the opportunity to understand themselves, to have an assets based approach to education that incorporates their families, their communities, in ways that are transformative. And that's what we do in our work. You know, I mean, I did that, in my last sabbatical at Lincoln High School, you know, teaching a Latino literature course. And we see that it's transformative for our students, but they just don't have exposure to that. And so, I do know, from talking to my students and from spending time in schools, they're in jeopardy.
Vincent Del Casino: Yeah, I would agree with you. I mean, I started in the educational world about the same time as you. And I'd love to think that we've made gains, and I think there are some. But, you know, I lived in Arizona for a long time. I mean, they explicitly went after some of this work. And yet, we all know, like on a day-to-day basis, that sense of belonging, that sense of community is as powerful of a support mechanism for then getting to the next place. So, in this work, one of the things that's evolved for you then is we talked a little bit about this before today, but I'd like to hear some more of your thoughts, is how you've now translated all that learning into some of the things that you've activated here in a higher education environment.
You know, I know you were passionate about the Student Success Movement, the way in which we bring this assets based thinking to the world. You're working on some things now. Tell me a little bit of how this translated over the last decade for you into some of the work you've done here at San Jose and beyond?
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah, I mean, so I've always been thinking about what do we do, you know? And I remember going to a conference, and it was a conference of progressive folks, it was a conference of folks that are committed to looking at the Latinx communities, and just being frustrated. Because you had all these amazing minds together. And I'm like, what are we going to do? Like when we all go back to our homes or our committees, what are we going to do? What can we do Monday, you know? And just not seeing that and asking some of the people there, are you thinking -- are you feeling this too? And there was some people there, so we actually created a group here that we called it originally Maestros. Then we called it Maestras. Now we're calling it Maestrxs just thinking about gender and our community and our language. But that group came with the intent of like, let's take these ideas and let's think about, how do we do work on Monday that is transformative, that is next level, that is engaging for our students?
And we -- so we've been putting in work on that for almost twenty years, that group, since I've been here at San Jose State, basically. And that's been really productive and powerful, and that project evolved over time. And we could talk a little bit about that, but it leads me to think about, okay, I've learned a bunch of stuff. We created this model. We've been implementing this model. Now, how do we bring that into our classrooms here at San Jose State, into local schools, you know? And so, the Latino lit thing that I talked about in Lincoln High School, and now it's in San Jose Unified and a few different schools, was really exciting. Because it was an opportunity to say, let's take all this stuff and let's see what it looks like with high school juniors and seniors.
And so, we have this assets based approach. We're doing student centered engagement. We're doing, you know, curriculum that reflects the students. We're doing -- we have all these different pieces from our model. And we're building on kind of a transformative Chicanx studies ethic of like we're going to use these constructs of like cariño and confianza. You know, the transition is caring and trust. It's not a direct translation, but we're going to use those principles and show that this engages students, but it also takes them to the next level in terms of their critical thinking skills, their ability to do college-level work.
And so, that's what we're seeing in this -- in the high school is they're ready for college. They're already -- they're ready to go. So, they're -- by the time they're graduating, they're like, why am I waiting for this, you know? It's really exciting.
Vincent Del Casino: No, I found that myself, you know, when I got very fresh, I was teaching math and all sudden, I'm like, actually, these kids are ready for much deeper conceptual work that we're willing to throw at them. So, I -- you hint to this, but I think it's really interesting, the work you've done on Chicanx studies methods. Right? Because, as you know, and I come from a kind of critical theory background, and the challenge within all that is we still end up going back to Marx and Foucault and Butler. Subaltern studies sort of challenge that a bit. But how do you think about Chicanx studies methods in relation to these other sets of activities? Because there's a fundamental shift that you're trying to produce, and it's a good one. And I think it's important for people to kind of understand what it what it looks like to you.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah. And this is complicated. You know, it's like it gets kind of philosophical, because -- you know, and I started thinking about this in the late '90s and doing work on it, you know, through the early 2000s. But what we're talking about is different ways of knowing. Right? So, we're talking about -- it's an epistemological question. Right? What are the different ways of knowing they exists in these different communities? And some of our native scholars have really helped me think about this because what they talk about is that there's different ways of being that exists in the world. And we don't recognize that and think about that.
In the United States were taught to think about knowledge as this thing, right, 1 plus 1 equals 2, 2 plus 2 equals 4. I'm going to teach you that. You're going to know it. Now you have knowledge. And we think about it in this very kind of like removed way, but it doesn't live that way. Right? Knowledge comes from the way in which people live, which is often connected to land. So, if you look at indigenous communities, whether that's in Mexico, in the United States, any place, their ways of being are shaped by how they interact with the world, and it shapes their knowledge. Right? You can see that in language and words that -- and things like that. You know, Native communities often are they're very verb heavy. Right? And so, that's because it's a relational culture. It's about the relationship between things. Right? That's transformative. Right? You know?
Vincent Del Casino: Because it's a -- it is a fundamental epistemological shift.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yes. And so, what my goal is, is to help people recognize that because when they think about Chicanx studied, oftentimes they're thinking about, you're trying to make brown people feel good about themselves. Right? And hopefully, that happens, too. But that's--
Vincent Del Casino: There is nothing wrong with making people feel good about themselves.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah. It's not about that though. It's about understanding the world in which we live and what happens when we center these communities and their ways of knowing. And that becomes the lens through which we understand the world. It gives us opportunity to change the world. Right? And we know that that's just like -- I mean, we need that in engineering. Right?
Like you see problems, and you can think of a different way to solve those problems. And, you know, I mean, I read the spare parts book, that's our book for the semester. And there's a couple of notes in there in the book, where the author talks about the fact that the reason these kids were able to solve these problems is because they came from communities where their families had to solve problems without money. But kind of seat of your pants, like let's understand the problem, and then let's figure out what are multiple solutions for solving that. And that's really interesting, and what they show in that book is that if you center that, you're going to learn things.
And the argument is I think the MIT kids learn things from these kids in Phoenix who are working-class high schoolers, undocumented because they had a different way of understanding the world. You know? So, that's what I'm interested in, and t's really complicated, and it's hard to get people there. But I think that's the -- you know, and it changes the discussion around affirmative action, for example. Affirmative action isn't about letting unqualified people into the university. It's about diversifying the way in which we think about what is qualified. Right? And these kids who come from undocumented -- the kids that I work with, that come from, you know, Greenville, and from Salinas, and who work in the fields, and they come here to San Jose State, they have a different way of seeing and understanding the world, and it makes the other students better.
Vincent Del Casino: Right. And I think what's interesting about this is we don't tend to teach, even in university, from this multiple, epistemological sense of frames. Because that's where white privilege, you know, and unpacking it falls down for white folk because they don't actually even understand or engage or delve into that epistemology that frames the way in which they move through the world. Which is why the values are not like, let's get all the Latinx or Chicanx students to do this. It's more like, how do we embed these kinds of ways of thinking across curriculum, so it challenges everybody to shift their worlds?
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: And that's why I think ethnic studies is so important. Right? Like, for me, like having a vibrant African American studies program, a vibrant Native American studies program, at any university, you know, a vibrant Asian American studies, Filipino studies program at any university is critical, regardless of the numbers. You know? Like, we don't have a huge Native American population in California. But we do have a population. We do have a discipline there that would benefit everybody.
Vincent Del Casino: Well, and we're on their land.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah.
Vincent Del Casino: We remain on their land.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Absolutely.
Vincent Del Casino: I could probably go down this rabbit hole for about two years. But I want to shift a little bit in part to some of the recent work you've done as well. And it all parallels there. There's clearly a thread here of your trajectory, but your recent work on racial battle fatigue, and the -- and this is a really -- this -- it jives, right, with the conversation we've just been having, but what does that concept mean? You know, and how are you using it and applying it at school to understand kind of the -- now you're shifting the experience from the students and learners to the teachers, right, the people who are trying to do the work that you're talking about? And we're asking them to go into these communities and do this work.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah, I mean, it's a fascinating concept. And when I first kind of like heard that concept, it just clicked for me. And what I find is when I present that concept, to, you know, people of color, to teachers of color, it clicks, like right away with them. They understand it, right, and the construct obviously, is -- you know, people have talked about battle fatigue for soldiers. And the idea is when you're always in the middle of this conflict, right, in the middle of this war, when you're in battle, you're -- it heightens everything for you, and it has really significant impacts on you emotionally, spiritually, physically. You know?
And so, they've, you know, they've done the research on this, and that's fascinating. And so, William Smith is like kind of the guy who really pushes this field forward. And what he's saying is, yes, this happens around race. And what we see is we see -- and when I start to talk about it, you know, I mean, I did -- I mentioned this -- god, it was in Long Beach. Long Beach last week, I mentioned this construct of racial battle fatigue because there's a bunch of like young, about-to-be teachers, you know, in this. And I say, how many people have felt this before? You know, and pretty much all the people of color raised their hand. Right?
They understood that being racialized has an impact on me. It affects how I see myself. It affects how I feel emotionally walking into spaces. It affects me physically in terms of the drain that it takes on me. And so, in doing our research, it's not to say, woe is us, but just as to recognize this is part of the toll that race and racism and white supremacy play in our daily society today for teachers of color, who are just trying to do good work. They're just trying to be great teachers for their students, and they're dealing with all these different things.
So, for example, the -- we've had -- we've worked with hundreds of teachers all over the country from all kinds of different communities, urban, rural, suburban, and they talk about the fact that they are really successful in their classes. They have insights. They build those over -- you know, I was talking with Martha yesterday, who's a 21-year teacher. That teacher teaches elementary school. She's amazing, really, really strong. But you come to your school leader, and you say, hey, I can offer this. I can help with this. And they kind of just shun you. Right? They move on, and they highlight, and they told stories of this, a brand new like second-year teacher who maybe went to a, you know, hoity-toity school, right, as a white person. And that person becomes the leader of whatever the next move is that's happening at the school. The impact that has with these teachers, it makes them not want to be in the job, right, despite the work that they're doing. So, what we're trying to do in our work is highlight this.
So, we were talking earlier about this epistemological thing, like one of our pieces is around this idea that teachers bring this sense of, we're calling it relational accountability. Like they have a sense of, it's like a higher purpose. Right? It's a calling. They walk into these communities, and they feel accountable to the students, to the parents, to the communities, to the history, the intergenerational history. This means they walk in with that sense of like responsibility and commitment that is transformative. It leads into being kind of like the cornerstone for their schools, and we need to see that. You know?
Vincent Del Casino: In the paper, and I don't want to do this too much, but I want to quote you because I think it's important. Because there's real policy and outreach and work implication. So, you talk about -- and as Miss Shakura [phonetic], and I think that's how you pronounce the name, "Described example after example of everyday racism experienced over six years. Her cheerful demeanor shifted. Toward the end of the narrative, she shared with a heavy heart that she was leaving her school and the students she loved because she could not take the disrespect anymore." You talk about I think it's Mr. Byani [phonetic], had a very similar experience toward the end of this.
And so, the implications of, we ask so much of these people that go into these communities, and then we -- and through this process that you start to unearth, you know, they can't do it anymore. They fundamentally have to walk off the battlefield, and so this has real policy implications. It has real implications for the practices of education training programs, as well, you know, higher ed schools and things like that.
So, what are some of the kind of implications of this as we try to, you know, address some of this? It -- to me, when I read through that work, it's more than cultural competency education, which is, understand the cultures. You're talking again about a fundamental rejiggering of almost the brain chemistry about the relationalities that are so important for and understanding privilege. And how to work through that privilege in a way that empowers because it shouldn't be on everyone else for me to work through. You don't have to work through my privilege for me, but that's often what's happening here.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah, this is a tough question. This is a question I don't have a good answer for.
Vincent Del Casino: That's okay. I think that's what says, why we're a university. Right? This is what we do.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: I mean, I think for our work, one of the things that we try to do is we try to identify these issues and make sure people understand them, that they have the constructs to go with the experiences that they've had so that we know that that's revelatory. Right? So, a construct like imposter syndrome. Like I talk about that a lot because most of the people haven't had the language that -- the construct that goes with their experience. And once they have it, it takes away that sense of isolation.
So, this idea of racial battle fatigue, it's helpful to have that construct out in the world and for teachers to know it. Because all of a sudden, they feel like, it's not me. This is an institutional or a societal issue. Then the other thing that we try to do is we bring people together. So, we have an institute for teachers of color that we do every summer, and we bring people together. And so, they have a space where they not only have the construct, but they have the community. And we try to work with them to develop these action plans that they can bring into their world that address the issues that they face but also push them to that next level that they want to be at. What we're trying to do and what we hope to do, and this is in the new job in the College of Ed, is how can we make colleges of education be the place where this begins? How can we center the experiences of teachers of color -- I mean, we still have an issue with, you know, two-thirds to three-fourths of our teachers are white in a state where the demographics of the students are almost the exact reverse of that.
And it's not to say that white teachers can't be effective in those communities, but we want to make sure that white teachers have the opportunity to learn from these students, you know, and we haven't framed it in that way. But they have the opportunity to see, wait.
So, we talked about these epistemological issues, right, to think about there's different ways of being and ways of knowing that exists in these communities. And that's one of the arguments that I make using this this model from Shawn Wilson that we talked about in that article is he's saying, like if you want to go -- he's talking to researchers. He said if you want to go into any community, before you do any research at all, you should understand the ways of being, the ways of knowing, and the ethics. You know, he uses philosophical terms. Right?
Vincent Del Casino: Right.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Epistemology, ontology, and axiology, you should understand those things before you go into a community. I always say the same thing, and I said this to the teachers at Long Beach, you're going to walk into a school and you're going to teach, you need to understand the ways of being in this community. And it's not that there's one uniform way of being because it's complicated. Right? We have diverse communities. We have, you know, intergenerational communities. But we want to understand, what are the ways of being in these communities? What are the ways of knowing, and what are the ethics in these communities? You know, and that's really powerful and transformative. And I often talk about the fact that these communities really center this kind of like relational commitment. You know, and so in the Latino community is this idea of educación. Right?
Vincent Del Casino: Which translates as?
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: It's not education. It's spelled almost the same, but it's not education. It's to be a good person in the world. Right? And it's a complicated concept, and you're going to have different terms, different ways of thinking about it. But generally, what our families want is you have to be a good person. You have to walk with integrity, and you have to show respect to other people. You know? So, we always talk about this, and I did this at Long Beach. I said, you know, if y'all walked into a gathering like this, and it was a family gathering, what would your job be as soon as you walked into the room? And everybody always knows the answer to it, and so that's what's interesting. Right? Everybody always know what the answer is. The answer is, I have to greet everybody, saludar a todos. Right? I have to greet every single person in the room. And so, then I asked, so what do you do when you leave? Right? Got to say goodbye to everybody. You know, and I joke about that. Right? Because it's annoying. You know? For a little kid, it's annoying. It's, you know, frustrating. You know, you've got somebody who's got bad breath, and you got somebody who's drank a little too much, and you got to say goodbye to everybody. But what our parents are teaching us is that everybody deserves respect. Right? And what I'm doing in doing that is I'm affirming the integrity of you as a person. Right?
And that's a beautiful thing. Schools should be banking on that. Schools of education should be thinking about that construct as one in which we can build communities of teachers that understand these students in their families and build on their assets, rather than--
Vincent Del Casino: Leverage that.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah. Rather than thinking, I'm going to go in here, and I'm going to save these communities and these students, which is that charter school model--
Vincent Del Casino: Yeah.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Try to say that softer, we're going to work with these communities, learn from these communities, learn together, and build on those assets. Because that one construct, that idea of educación, and our parents wanting us to have that respect and integrity, and like we don't do that. It sounds -- in my class, right now, I tell all my students, greet everybody by name when you arrive, and say goodbye to everybody by name before you leave. They're like, what? Come on. Right? I'm just trying to remind them of where they came from, but also, that's a community builder. Right?
And so, what I know that happens from that is that my students see each other on campus and greet each other on campus. And some of them have said, I had you in class all last semester, never knew your name and never talked to you. Right? But now I can ask that person a question about class, and my grades are going to be better because of that. You know? That's the -- so I'm kind of all over the place here. But if there is a thread here and I think those are the practical implications of what this looks like, and that's the hard thing. Right? for us as faculty, we want to teach a thing. You know, we want to teach an idea to a student. And we're doing that, but we're also showing them what it looks like. And that's the next level is I'm going to show you what it looks like, so that when you're a teacher in a classroom, it comes natural.
Vincent Del Casino: Well, and I don't think you -- you're -- I mean, I think what you're suggesting here is very powerful, which is one, you know, again, rejiggering your brain to reimagine the framework in which you look at the world. But the second thing, and I've thought about this a lot, the first time it hit me was when I traveled abroad. And I realized, when you're not the majority, you see yourself in a different way. It's a powerful moment, and you have to be comfortable with the discomfort. You're not going to know it all. You don't understand it all.
And I think sometimes in educational environments, particularly in higher ed, we walk in. We've done all this work. We're only 2% of the population, people with PhDs. We got there, and we feel like we're supposed to have authority and walk in as a -- and we missed that moment sometimes to do the things you're talking about, to pause. And I and this hit me a long time ago. I wrote a book -- a textbook, and I was like, man, this thing goes on forever, and I can't even teach this whole thing. And it's kind of like, I felt like they needed all this content. And what I realized, actually needed three or four key things, and that's what they were going to remember and take away.
How do I embed that? How do I -- and that's what the messaging, you know, I sent out. I said, like stop, pause, say something to somebody, and I got a message back. I have 200 students. I go, but nothing you're teaching about chemistry or biology or geography is as important as stopping for a moment and going, hey, that first exam didn't go so well for you. You want to spend five minutes. Right? Those kind of relationships, they're not -- they're the kinds of things we need to build in here to address kind of what you say, you know, in a lot of your work about racism neutral work and some of the other things. Right?
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah. And so, you made me think of one idea that I always think about for people who are in STEM and feel like, I don't know if I can do that stuff you're doing. You know? And you can just do one simple assignment that I think is always important and interesting to me is like, what's your math story? Or what's your science story? Right? I mean, that's fascinating because if I hear that, and I learn that, it helps me think about how am I going to approach this content? If I really understand that this student always struggled with science until it was that one chemistry teacher junior year of high school, who said, you've got a scientific brain. You just haven't been able to use it yet. You know? If I can build on that. I think that's transformative for my students.
Vincent Del Casino: No, I would agree. And, you know, I think more people should talk about their first gen experience. I bet we have a lot more first gen faculty than people even talk about that. How did I get through school? And, again, I think people see that as sometimes a drift from their mission of doing that content, and I think it parallels. Well, I really appreciate this conversation, and I thank you for the time. I -- you know, what's exciting for me coming here is I see that the faculty, the staff, the students see this campus as an extension of and in relation to and the learning that goes on with the communities. And I think that remains really important.
And, you know, it's exciting for me to think about, you know, how we do that sort of work. I guess there's one last kind of question, you know, how do you see yourself engaging the different kind of community spaces, you know, the schools, and so forth to continue these sorts of conversations? Some of its formal through training, but what are some of the other mechanisms that we have at hand that even other people around here might not necessarily see but might want to be able to get a hold of like?
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah, I mean, so I'm in this new job, and I'm kind of like figuring out the job, and what are the moving parts to it, and how do we do it. But I do think one piece is being able to have conversations with faculty about these kinds of issues and just a face to face like, let's sit down and let's talk about this work. I think that is important to me, just that that kind of relational opportunity to build a relationship and to build a relationship of hopefully of trust and of a shared commitment. And we might not agree on everything, but we're going to move towards that. And I think it's also about finding people who are out there who are just doing amazing work. You know?
So, we've got a -- for the Maestrxs group that I'm coordinating, we have a special session that's coming up. And we're actually going to host it here at the central on campus. But it's a teacher, Mike Tinoco, who's at [inaudible] high school just down the street. And he's been teaching and grinding for years now. I think he's in his eighth year, ninth year as a teacher. He's phenomenal. He's amazing. And he's a -- he is -- like, if -- he could be a professor for sure, you know, doctoral program, all that stuff. He didn't want to do that. But he's developed -- he learned about this form -- this Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication. And he's been involved in trainings around Kinney and Martin Luther King's non-violence, you know, Kinney and non-violence, and he's melded the two together. And he's created kind of a philosophy that applies to high school in practice. And he's developed these principles, and he implements those principles and teaches them to his kids. And it's a fundamental part of his teaching, and he's an English teacher. Right?
So, his -- he's just trying to teach English to 10th graders, I think, is his focus. And he is doing amazing work with these young people who come from circumstances which people would, again, deficit frame, but the kids are in it. They're all about it. They're excited, and they're doing great work.
And last year was just like such a important moment because Chris was in my class, who I had met, like three years prior just sitting in on Mike's class at YB. And Chris is an amazing student, just a beautiful young man. And I could see he learned a ton from Mike, and he's bringing that here to San Jose State and teaching us. And so, I want more of that. I want to find all the Mike Tinocos out there, and I want to be able to work with them and learn from them and hype them. You know, and say, San Jose State's a place where we value that. Like we're going to make sure that's the center. Like sure we had Diane Guerrero here last week. So, maybe -- you know, "Orange is the New Black", she's a movie star, like totally cool. But let's give as much hype to somebody like Mike because this is why we do -- this is why I do what I do.
Vincent Del Casino: I think that's really powerful, and I think the thing that you hit on that I've learned over time, I had to learn it, was that there is as much learning that comes this way from our students.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah.
Vincent Del Casino: They have so much to bring to our environment. And we have to -- we have to rejigger the way we think about that in order to really appreciate all that learning they bring for us, you know, that helps us reimagine how we do this better, you know, and connect with the communities.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: They're incredible. They're absolutely incredible. I'm always just amazed and blown away. I'm doing this thing this semester where I had students -- you know, they're doing these readings. And so, I'm trying to figure out, like how do I get them to talk about the readings without having to write an essay or something that's killing it? So, I said, do an Instagram post on these readings, and you have to have a caption though, but it's Instagram caption. It's not like a book length or whatever, right? Unbelievable.
Like really, they identified ways of thinking about constructs that were in these readings around race, racial inequality, and building racial literacy that were really sharp. And then they had these little captions, and they're creating dialogue with people back home, with people here on campus. And really, they're just amazing. It's just such a phenomenal place to work. Our students always are like pushing me. That's why I'm not supposed to teach right now. Right? I'm an AD. I'm not supposed to be teaching right now, but I can't get away from it.
Vincent Del Casino: I'm going to teach next year. I can't wait. I can't wait to get back in the classroom. All right, well, we could probably go on for -- I know I could go on with you and suck up the rest of your day. But I really appreciate the time. This is really fabulous conversations. So, thank you so much.
Dr. Marcos Pizarro: Yeah, thanks.
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