Faculty Interview: Dr. Horace Hall, College of Education

Dr. Horace Hall is an associate professor in the College of Education. He teaches courses related to human development, historical issues in education and sociocultural dimensions of schooling. In addition to his work at DePaul, Dr. Hall is co-founder and co-director of the R.E.A.L Youth Program. Dr. Hall was planning to lead a session at Alumni Universitya chance for alumni to get back in the classroom and learn from DePaul’s outstanding faculty. In light of the university’s decision to cancel all university-sponsored events to help fight the spread of COVID-19, Alumni University has unfortunately been canceled. 

However, in late February, we sat down with Dr. Hall to talk more about his proposed Alumni University session and his work in education. Read that interview below:

What do you hope to impart in the course of your Alumni University presentation?

I am hoping to engage in a dialogue with the attendees about the relationship between education and public life. In large part, what I do is try to understand education by looking through the lens of history, the contemporary past and contemporary policy. More specifically, we will analyze education as a form of cultural power, addressing some of the political and ideological effects of education by asking questions like: “Who gets educated? Why do they get educated? Who has the best education? Who doesn’t? And why do certain groups across the socioeconomic spectrum get different forms of education?”

When you discuss policy and the consequences of political positions among a group of diverse people, you almost certainly end up with differences of opinion. How do you manage to come to a constructive conclusion with your students in these instances?

I try to bring a postmodern approach to the classroom: that there is no capital-T “Truth,” that there are multiple truths and multiple realities, and that we’re not always going to be validated by someone in the classroom based on their experiences. But it’s important that we can learn both individually and collectively, and as the facilitator of these conversations, I am very much attuned to the conservative side versus the liberal side and I try to help students understand those realities and draw connections between the two seemingly disparate ideas-—because the connections are there. I think it’s a great way to help rationalize a lot of what can come off as contentious.

In 2000, you founded R.E.A.L, your youth program. What does R.E.A.L. seek to achieve, and how have you been able to incorporate that with what you teach at DePaul? 

R.E.A.L. originated from an experience I had in which I was invited to a CPS school to help their students with their engagement in academics. Initially, we started an entrepreneurial program, but the students did not fully gravitate towards that because some of their issues were more immediate to the school environment in terms of not feeling seen or understood. It took us about a semester to realize that we needed to listen to the students and find out what they wanted from their school and their education experience, because they felt as though their voices and lived experiences were not recognized at school.

From that point on, we tried to facilitate an environment in which students could talk about their needs and concerns, so that we could figure out, “How do we solve the issues that these young people are having?” We had a number of community forums. We did a lot of music that we would then distribute to the community. We would have publications through which students could express themselves, and we did petitions and held rallies to address a lot of the issues that they were experiencing. After that first year, their grades went up. Three-quarters of the students in the program were on the honor roll. After that, we brought the same model to different school across the city, beginning with understanding their needs, issues and concerns, and then building from there with activities, exercises and ways that students could problem-solve or strategize solutions to their own issues and concerns.

In maybe my fifth year with DePaul, I started inviting DePaul students, undergrads and graduate students to be facilitators—particularly those who were future teachers. If their goal was to teach in Chicago Public Schools, it allowed them to experience what it’s like to be in the classroom and to work with the majority Latinx and black students who are on free or reduced lunch or are low income. It helped these future teachers understand how that school space does not necessarily reflect their own cultural orientation. And then we could go back to class at DePaul and have students process and unpack what that means—what each particular situation looked like—and try to understand more.

It seems as though your work with young educators is done on the behalf of their future students, to advocate for them by ensuring that their teachers are prepared to meet them and see them as fully human, despite their differences and cultural disconnects. Is that how you see your work?

Absolutely. Ninety percent of the time, the young lives that they’re going to be teaching aren’t represented in their college classrooms. They exist only in an abstract way during their college education, so those voices are largely absent. But because of the community engagement work that I do with young folks in Chicago Public Schools, I’m able to bring those voices into the classroom or take students out of the college classroom and into those schools so that they can come to know that reality. But if our students cannot, then, yes, I am their advocate.

Are there any common misconceptions that you encounter associated with your work? Is there a gap between what people sometimes perceive your work to be versus what it actually is?

The primary misconception I encounter is the belief that I am a teacher-educator. I teach future teachers, but I’m not a teacher-educator in the sense of teaching the theory of and practice of how to be a school teacher. There are professors at DePaul in the College of Education who are teacher-educators. They know the policy, they know the practice, they know the procedures and they know the methods that teachers need to use to help students to be successful academically. My work is more associated with how future teachers can consider different experiences—whether they relate to race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, certain affiliations, assumptions, beliefs or values. I try to get my students to explore things critically and see the world critically, to ensure that they understand the institutions that have affected education over time.

Dr. Hall and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. during the 21st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast in 2018. (DePaul University / Jamie Moncrief)

Having been with DePaul for 15 years, do you feel as though the mission of the institution aligns with what you seek to achieve in your classes?

It speaks to me completely. There is the idea of “Vincentian personalism” which I wholly gravitate towards. I think it’s important to be able to work collectively with individuals and engage them in their needs, issues and concerns from their perspective rather than through a top-down model. In that sense, the way in which we mobilize and think about the ethics of care, the way we think about liberation, the way we think about some of these services—that is a starting point. The intersections are vibrant in my work and in DePaul’s mission.

The mission that we have here is encouraging of involvement directly in a community, moving between theory and practice and stepping down from the “ivory tower,” if you will. It is encouraging of becoming a participant in that community space and not just dropping peanut butter on the sandwiches and flying away, so to speak. Our mission is interested in actually engaging with the issues and concerns of that community.

When you think about your work, what do you consider your mission as an academic or as an educator? 

Because I mostly work with future educators, the goal for me is to engage students in critical thinking and thinking outside of the box to look beyond the kinds of social constructions that pervade our daily lives, in order to see one another as fully human in all of our multidimensionality. For future teachers who have the intention of going into less privileged spaces, it’s important that they come to know and to realize the lives that exist there and how to help them navigate and negotiate that space with students, their parents, and the community at large. That is a way in which I think we become more fully human—when we can see others.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

To hear more from DePaul faculty, check out our interview with Dr. Barbara Willard from the College of Communication, and stay tuned to bludemonline.com for more faculty interviews, at-home activities and information about virtual alumni programming in the coming days!

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