Faculty Spotlight : David I. Backer
Preparing teachers to enter diverse classrooms with an understanding of how their students’ culture affects their learning is what David I. Backer does as a visiting professor specializing in Social Foundations in Education. Backer, a native of Danbury (CT), was hired in the Department of Curriculum and Foundations to teach Social Foundations of Education (EDB 301) and Social Issues and Education (EDB 604).
Through course offerings and programs offered in the Department, such as MUST (Master of Urban Secondary Teaching), the faculty have shown a special commitment to training teachers to work in urban schools. One of the major issues teachers face in urban districts is “punitive high-stakes testing,” Backer said. “I think urban classroom teachers face a misplaced onus of responsibility for the larger social forces which prevent success on those tests, such as income inequality, poverty, and racism. This is acutely true for urban school districts like Cleveland.”
He explained that the unequal distribution of resources along class and racial lines causes financial hardships that prevent families in urban districts from providing the right kind of support for children to succeed in school. “Teachers then shoulder the weight of this wider social injustice when their salaries, benefits, and job security are threatened when students perform poorly on standardized tests. These low scores are due to social forces of distribution, not the quality of teaching. Teachers are basically punished for the social ills caused by the decisions of elected officials and businesspeople,” Backer said.
Rural and suburban districts also have their unique share of concerns, Backer added. For the former, the issue is focused on the lack of support of public schools by local, state and national representatives. “Rural districts whose constituents elect conservative and neoliberal leaders suffer the consequences of privatizing schools, austerity in school infrastructure, and diminishing collective bargaining rights for teachers and staff,” he said. As rural parents vote for their favored politicians, Backer points out, those politicians then go and make it more difficult for those same parents’ children to receive a truly public education.
Privilege is an important issue for suburban school districts, Backer added. Since suburban areas tend to be wealthier on average, they are not afflicted with such social ills as low-quality healthcare, police brutality, lack of high-quality food, housing crises, gang violence, drug abuse, and environmental degradation in the way the poor in urban and rural districts are, according to Backer. “Schools can be loci for learning about these inequalities, places where students who do not experience social ills--and have the connections to pursue careers which work to eradicate them--could examine those social realities. Available resources can blind those who enjoy them however, making this educational project difficult to undertake,” he said.
Backer earned his doctorate in the Philosophy of Education from Columbia University, Teachers College in New York City. He has worked as an adjunct professor there and at Barnard College and Guttman Community College, both located in New York City. He also has taught bioethics at Columbia Secondary School in New York City and in the English Department of Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington D.C. Backer also was an instructor and the chair of the Theory and Knowledge Department at the American School, which is a high school in Quito, Ecuador. “As a high school teacher, I focused on creating assignments for students to develop a sense of wonder, critique, and expression. As a professor at the college level, I find myself focusing more on engaging with students in order to activate and enhance those senses,” he said.
In addition to teaching, Backer is currently working on several papers which address the relationship between educational communication and social change. “My area of focus is discussion: how to facilitate discussion and its significance for society within and beyond classrooms. I am particularly interested in the political differences between discussion and recitation. In a recitation, which is extremely common, teachers and facilitators follow up all questions or comments. They ask a question, hear the response, and then speak again--and repeat. In discussion on the other hand there is an equal and various sequence where all participants follow up questions or comments neither more nor less than anyone else, even the teacher,” Backer explained. In his research, he is troubled by a trend where teachers announce that there will be a discussion and proceed to facilitate a recitation, which he said limits the freedom, equality, and participation in classrooms, as well as decreases student questions and the orders of thinking achievable during class time.
Backer said his time at CSU has been positive, “I have had a wonderful welcome here at CSU, and I would like to thank the College of Education, particularly Marius Boboc and my colleagues at the Curriculum and Foundations Department, who have been extremely warm and helpful.” Boboc is the chairman of Curriculum and Foundations.
5 things about David I. Backer
What is your favorite activity away from CSU? - Biking and reading fiction
What is your favorite movie? - “The Fifth Element”
Who is your favorite musician? - Pete Seeger
Where is your favorite place to travel? - Latin America
What do you like about Cleveland? - The sense of possibility