Educators, begin the school year strong with pedagogical strategies that counter larger systems of oppression.
Join MAPSO Freedom School and other educators for a Charlottesville Teach-In, your critical professional development and back-to-school anti-racist survival guide. After large group discussion on the social/historical context of the terror in Charlottesville, breakout sessions will focus on responsible teaching in a violent culture, the intersections of race and standardized testing, addressing systems of oppression in subjects like math and science, language and false narratives, and the role of white educators in both upholding and dismantling systems of oppression.
This is the event that I attended on Saturday, September 9, 2017. It started with a keynote from Dr. Leslie Wilson. He had a couple of statements that really made me ponder. The first one was that in 2045 the census bureau predicts that the United States “becomes a majority minority”. What does that mean for us as a country politically, racially, educationally, and all the other allys that I am missing? Will the shoe finally be on the other foot? Where will the power and money be shifted? Will we have to wait that long for us to finally acknowledge our sordid past?
The next point he raised was that the statues in Charlottesville were dedicated to traitors to our country who lost the war. What other country are traitors celebrated with streets and statues lionizing them? Could you imagine a Hitler Avenue (thanks Dr. Bree) in Germany or Stalin Drive in Italy? It’s that simple. There is no discussion or argument that can erase that fact.
One of Dr. Wilson’s other fantastic illuminations is that we have to teach our children that America is not the perfect country that we pretend it is. He didn’t end there though. His full statement was, “America has never been perfect we are working toward perfection. Our students will lead us there.” That is powerful. We have to acknowledge our past but still aim for the American dream of becoming the land of the free and the brave. I too believe that our students can lead us there.
The next speakers were named Dr. Rhea Almeida and Diana Melendez. They both worked for the the The Institute of Family Services. Their talk was the kind that I really dig. They had a clip from the movie Watching Even the Rain. After the clip was shown we had the most interesting dialogue based on this image.
The amazing part was that the audience was filled with such a bastion of social justice knowledge that the discussion was rolling deep. It’s truly astounding when a group of brilliant people (myself excluded) can riff about something. It was a shame the time was so short because the dialogue could have continued for an hour easily.
The dialogue centered around the characters and what their hierarchy of power, privilege, and oppression was. It was interesting how point of view has a lot to do with privilege. There were a couple of people who thought one character was Latino while others thought he was white. That interpretation of race changes where the character would be placed on the prism. How often in life does that happen with people? We assume a person is one thing when they identify as another. How does that change where society places them on the pyramid?
After the two speaking slots, we went to a breakout session. The session I chose was about anti racism in elementary (primary) schools. Dr. Bree did an excellent job of having us interact with each other, getting out of our seats, and creating a safe space to speak.
The major takeaway that I was really able to reflect on was that at this juncture we need to camouflage culturally responsive teaching into our lessons. Any system has its rules and norms. School is no different. One of the rules we need to follow is that we must teach the standards that we are certified in. Some feel the standards need to go but that is a discussion for a different day. When we take the king’s gold (get paid) we sing the king’s song (follow the rules). With that being said every subject has a standard where social justice can be infused with it.
Here are 8 quick examples of how you can be “covered” or “justify” to your administration and guardians why you are teaching culturally responsive or anti racist material in your class. Every one of them is a New Jersey standards that should be mastered by 4th/5th grade.
Social Studies: Equality and fairness. Jim Crow discussion here we go!
Math: Fractions. 3/5 compromise would fit in perfectly here.
Social Studies: Historical Text. Say no more.
Science: Natural Resources. Humans are natural resources. Discussion on slavery and not being compensated for your labor.
Technology: Learners of other cultures. Engage with people and their cultures who don’t look and act like your students.
Art: Compare and Contrast. Find work from People of Color and various time periods. Great way to show the value they have added instead of highlighting the plight or deficit of PoC.
Language: Culturally authentic materials. IT’S TELLING YOU BRING IN VARIOUS VOICES!
Physed/Health: Basic human need. Discrimination! Mic drop. I’m out
The point of those examples was to show that in order to be a culturally responsive teacher we don’t have to go outside our area of expertise. The standards are there supporting us! We just have to embrace them.
Dr. Wilson brought up the point that waiting until college to teach our students the real history of the United States is wrong. I believe we need to start discussing skin color, religion, gender, disabilities, and any other identifiable factor with our students starting in kindergarten. Read this to verify the following facts:
Infants begin to notice and respond to skin color cues ( around 6 months old)
1-2 year olds are curious about physical characteristics of self and others (skin color, hair texture, gender anatomy); May “match” people based on physical characteristics.
3-4 year olds Identify and match people according to “racial” physical characteristics and groups, but often confused about complexities of group categories (e.g., “” How can two
children with dark brown skin be in different groups, e.g., African American and
5-6 year olds Show evidence of societal messages affecting how they feel about their self and /or group identity, i.e., evidence of beginnings of internalized superiority (IS) or
May select to play only with children close to their gender and racial/cultural
identities, but may also reject members of their own racial/cultural group (e.g.
darker skinned African American children, Spanish-speaking Latino children)
May use prejudicial insults and name-calling to show anger or aggression, knowing
that these terms hurt.
Do those facts make you think we need to wait to talk about visually identifying characteristics? Dr. Bree hammered it home when she said we teach our preschoolers to sort by colors and then turn around and say our kids don’t see color.
I would like to thank Mapso and specifically Okaikor for creating a day that can change students lives. The time for talking is over. We now need to take what we are learning and put it to good use.