Intentional Excellence

The Pedagogy, Power, and Politics of Excellence in Latina/o Schools and Communities

by Louie F. Rodríguez (Author)
©2016 Textbook XIV, 142 Pages


Are we bold enough to recognize our own excellence in our schools and communities? This question drives Intentional Excellence, an audacious attempt at developing a Pedagogy of Excellence in Latina/o schools and communities as a result of observations, insights, and lessons learned from work with schools and communities across the United States. Louie F. Rodríguez argues that while there is no shortage of excellence in some of the schools and communities that struggle the most, there is a pedagogical void, or an Excellence Paradox, that has disallowed excellence from being used as a potential tool to transform the culture of education. This book offers an additive framework for committed stakeholders and outlines six key observations including the contagious nature of excellence, excellence as a responsibility, the political viability of excellence, the additive possibilities of excellence, the role of excellence as a curricular and pedagogical tool, and the role of excellence in working toward equity and social justice in education. Rodríguez discusses a series of case studies that have used Excellence Campaigns to organize, define, and recognize their own excellence. The book also discusses the possibilities of excellence beyond education and proposes a new role in education to make excellence happen: Excellence Engineers. The book concludes with a theory of action that is necessary for excellence to thrive in the twenty-first century. Our children and communities deserve to see themselves as «models of excellence» and this book proposes a pedagogy to help get us there.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Intentional Excellence
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part I: The Paradox and Pedagogy of Excellence
  • Chapter 1. The “Excellence Paradox” in Our Public Schools
  • Chapter 2. The Promise and Possibilities of Excellence Campaigns
  • Part II: The Power of Excellence: Six Implications for Action
  • Chapter 3. Excellence Is Contagious, Inherently Additive, and Politically Viable
  • Chapter 4. Excellence as a Responsibility, as Curriculum and Pedagogy, and More Evidence of Its Power
  • Part III: Towards Creativity, Action, and Sustainability
  • Chapter 5. Implications for Regional Improvement: Reflections on the Role of Excellence Beyond Education
  • Chapter 6. Time for a New Role: Excellence Engineers
  • Chapter 7. The Pedagogy, Power, and Politics of Excellence in Latina/o Schools and Communities in the 21st Century
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii →PREFACE

Excellence is all around us. If we were to take a historical journey through our communities, institutions, and country, there would be evidence of struggle, strife, and the not-so-glamorous, and even oppressive, moments in our history. Some of these moments linger today and may even be worsening. However, there are also the incredible moments, actions, events, and triumphs that characterize our immediate, regional, national, and global contexts. Some are better than others at highlighting these moments and some have more power than others in deciding which moments get recognition. And while there will always be controversy in terms of what is deemed worthy of recognition, the inevitable reality is that excellence exists all around us.

The Latina/o community in the U.S. shares in this reality. The presence and contributions of Latinas/os in the U.S. goes back centuries, even before the U.S. was the U.S. However, the purpose of my writing this book is neither to attempt to present this history nor to pretend to be an expert in these specific historical matters. I will defer to my colleagues and scholars who are the experts in such fields of study. But, I will state that the Latina/o community in the U.S. comprises a diverse set of differences by history, language, colonization/conquest, phenotype, culture and cultural practices, generation, social class, immigration status, voting patterns, educational attainment levels, ← vii | viii →family practices, religion, and acculturation and assimilation patterns. Again, I will not attempt to provide a comprehensive list of the characteristics, complexities, and diversity within the Latina/o community, but I will say that the population is indeed diverse and complex.

What can also be said is that the Latina/o community is often united by language similarities, racial/ethnic identity markers, residential patterns, and educational experiences, particularly along the lines of economic status. By and large, demographers have shown that while there are exceptions, low-income communities are often a draw for Latinas/os from multiple backgrounds. For example, Boston has a strong blend of Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban residents. New York City has a strong Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, and Central American presence. South Florida has a strong Cuban, Central American, and South American population. And throughout the Southwest, where once was a Mexican-dominant Latina/o population, there are now significant numbers of Central Americans and others. Chicago also has a strong Puerto Rican and Mexican presence. Beyond these metropolitan regions, Latinas/os are simply everywhere, from Idaho to Tennessee to Maine. In many of these communities, there is a often a rich presence of Latina/o subgroups, diverse by economic status, educational attainment levels, and general opportunity structures available. According to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, many public schools in the largest, most impoverished cities in the U.S. are not only segregated but have become hyper-segregated, even on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. These contextual realities directly impact the quality of education Latina/o children are subjected to in our public institutions. Such experiences are likely to unite the Latina/o community, either physically, in terms of geography, or symbolically, in terms of a collective experience of struggle, as we have seen in the past with the East Los Angeles student blowouts. Nonetheless, Latinas/os often find themselves in similar regions, communities, and schools, specifically. Thus, when I refer to the Latina/o population, I am referring specifically to this community; those who are united by community; economic levels; language; and hopes, aspirations, and dreams for their children and communities.

In any district across the U.S., especially in large cities and other areas where Latinas/os reside, policymakers, leaders, educators, and other community stakeholders, have historically struggled to equitably serve the Latina/o population. Deliberate racial segregation resulted in key court cases such as Lopez v. Seccombe (1944) and Mendez v. Westminster (1947) in Southern ← viii | ix →California. There have also been a host of other court cases related to funding, immigration status, and language rights, which have directly addressed the plight of Latinas/os in the U.S., especially in Texas and throughout the Southwest. Today’s demographic and research trends continue to show that Latinas/os as a whole are overrepresented in negative categories such as educational attainment levels, homeownership, wealth, employment, and health. In historically challenged areas such as the Inland Empire region of Southern California, among others, there are often generations of poverty, educational failure, and political underrepresentation, which affect the quality of life for Latinas/os specifically and for the community generally.

Despite the challenges, there are amazing things happening every day. Children and families demonstrate incredible strength in overcoming daily challenges such as getting to school and work. Educators, counselors, parent advocacy groups, social workers, non-profit workers, and committed public officials work tirelessly to provide access and opportunities to those who have been historically excluded; many have stories upon stories of success to prove it. Yet, I wonder how many of us know these models of excellence exist. While individuals demonstrating success may receive some kind of recognition, excellence is often treated like a private matter. Some models of excellence choose to avoid any kind of recognition because they do the work because of a calling, not for recognition purposes. However, I argue in this book that this is precisely part of the problem—what I call an Excellence Paradox. We have become so accustomed to sidestepping excellence that the challenges facing our schools and communities often overpower the great things that happen every day in these same schools and communities. While many of us are striving for excellence and can point to it when it is happening, we often fail at explicitly using excellence as an organizing vehicle to unite our teachers across classrooms, parents with schools, districts with communities, and institutions with other institutions. I argue in this book that we need to develop a cultural movement driven by a commitment to excellence, so much so that it transforms our practices, policies, institutional cultures, and communities.

Our community has many models of excellence. There are the pioneers, such as Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. There is José Hernández, the first astronaut to send a Spanish-language tweet from the moon to the earth. There are people such as Rita Moreno, the first Latina to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Edward Roybal and Kika de La Garza, two Latinos elected to the U.S. Congress. There are endless models of excellence, such as pioneering scientists, athletes, scholars, and leaders. ← ix | x →There are historical figures who have led communities in efforts for voting and land rights, educational equity, women’s rights, and more. The list goes on and on. There are also models of excellence who are not Latina/o, but who have fought for improving the quality of life for individuals and communities, which also requires recognition. And while there are countless examples of Latina/o excellence, our school curriculum at the K-12 and higher-education levels still struggles to ensure that our children and communities know who these people are.


XIV, 142
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (June)
social justice school organisation education program k-12 school system
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIV, 142 pp.

Biographical notes

Louie F. Rodríguez (Author)

Louie F. Rodríguez is an associate professor of educational leadership at California State University, San Bernardino. His work focuses on equity issues in urban schools and communities and examines and explores what works, particularly from the perspective of students’ voices. He completed his masters and doctorate degrees at Harvard University.


Title: Intentional Excellence
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164 pages