By Beckett Evans, Staff Writer
Dressed in a blue blazer, khakis, and a white collared shirt is Mr. Albert Cook, sat calmly in room #162 on a Friday afternoon. He doesn’t shuffle his feet or shift his hands, instead, he sits with perfect patience and calm. This patience and calm has come from over twenty-seven years of teaching history, his passion, running the mock trial club after school, and having two teenage boys of his own.
Cook has loved history since he was in middle school. “History is an extension of my social aspect,” Cook says. “I love meeting people, and history is like meeting people through time and cross-culturally.”
Majoring in pre- law and history gave him his interest in becoming a history teacher, but his parents gave him his interest in historical discussions and analyzing history from many different points of view.. Cook’s parents moved from their first home for his father’s new job at IBM when he was five and their new town was mostly made up of white suburbs with few other black families. His parents were concerned with his social education in such a white area.
Cook’s parents wanted to give him a sense of his identity and to teach him about how “Black Americans had contributed greatly to US history and the story of justice and freedom.” This heightened his desire to study history and, when he went to school, he found that the information his parents taught him was not only preparation for school but filled in the empty gaps of the US history curriculum. In school, he was only taught about the exploitation of Africans and never about African American excellence.
“It’s unfair to have students have an education but still be ignorant,” Mr. Cook said. “The state exams don’t require any kid to have to seriously think about race and racism and its history.”
This clash between the true history of the United States and what was taught in public school motivated Cook to further his research in college and keep his enthusiasm for the different perspectives and discussions of history not traditionally taught. This, along with his minor in education, led him to becoming a teacher at NPHS in 1997. Fast forward 10 years into his teaching career, Mrs. Clinton, the NPHS principal, requested Mr. Cook to teach a black history class, and without hesitation he said ‘yes!’
When asked if he ever had struggled with close minded people in his classes, Mr. Cook said that he had, but his upbringing with what his parents had taught him helped him to deal with those situations. In fact, in his Black History course, Mr. Cook immediately addresses this ignorance so, by the time he reaches the heart of the course, the ignorant statements students might have made have already been prevented and dispelled.
Cook explains that he “enjoys watching students coming to a head with their beliefs around race.” He never just shuts down their ideas – if a student is struggling with something, Cook invites them to think critically – they’ll eventually find the answer themselves since teachers have a responsibility to not express their own political views. Cook utilizes every “opportunity to help students cultivate a sense of the world that’s rooted in historical information not rooted in opinions.” By directing students to critically think rather than just giving his opinions, he encourages them to think through history.
Cook’s impact has spread beyond the NPHS community and into the greater Hudson Valley, speaking at BLM marches and giving a detailing of his black history class on the Kingston radio show. Mr. Cook is always pleased when he meets someone he doesn’t know who has been positively impacted by his course since this shows that his work is truly making an impact on the community.
When asked about what life lesson he wished he could tell his younger self, Mr. Cook said to“be patient.” As a young history teacher, he struggled with learning how and what exactly to teach during his time in class since, despite the teachers needing to follow curriculum, there is room for stylistic freedom. Mr. Cook loves where his career is now. “Becoming anything isn’t easy, it takes time. This is why having patience is so important.”