Critical Race Theory in the Classroom

By Christine E. Sleeter

Dr. Sleeter is professor emerita at California State University, where she was a founding faculty member. A prolific author, her work centers on multicultural education, ethnic studies, and teacher education. She is a member of Kappa Delta Pi’s Laureate Chapter.

I have watched in amazement as state legislatures have rushed to ban the teaching of critical race theory, or any curriculum that is based on it. To date, bills have been advanced in seven states banning the teaching of critical race theory in schools, and in one of these states—Idaho—the bill has been signed into law. Although such bills have not been advanced in my state of California, attacks on ethnic studies increasingly call out critical race theory. Critics claim that it is a divisive ideology that teaches hate, indoctrinates students with hate toward white people, and injects race into what should be a colorblind curriculum.

I come to this controversy as a white scholar of race and curriculum who has used critical race theory as an analytical tool in some of my academic work, and spent decades teaching predominantly white audiences about race and racism. I view attempts to censor critical race theory as an uninformed reaction to fear, a reaction that over the long run will be more harmful than helpful to the nation’s ability to grapple with its legacy of racism.

Critics of critical race theory (as well as critics of various forms of anti-racist education) often base their concern on the belief that talking about race is what produces racism, and that if we all try to be colorblind, racism will go away. This belief contradicts findings of the numerous research studies I have reviewed for the National Education Association on the impact of ethnic studies courses on students (including white students). Studies find fairly consistently that students (especially white students) begin with shallow conceptions of what racism is and how racism works, but by the end of a course that focuses on structural racism, have generally more positive racial attitudes than they began with. In other words, rather than fomenting racial hatred, coursework that examines structural racism generally improves cross-racial understanding.

The words “critical” and “race,” especially when put together, seem to operate as red flags that scare people. So let us briefly examine what critical race theory actually is. It is a stretch to call it an ideology. Merriam and Webster define ideology as “the integrated assertions, theories, and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program” and “a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture.” Critical race theory can be understood more accurately as a body of analytical tools for examining how race and racism work, premised on the assumptions that race is a social construct rather than a biological fact, and that racism is deeply ingrained in U.S. society. Critical race theory emerged from legal scholars of color who wanted to understand why civil rights legislation and litigation that purported to eradicate racism did not achieve these goals. In other words, following the Civil Rights movement, people of color have still experienced ongoing racial discrimination. Why? That is the central question the analytical tools of critical race theory seek to understand.

For example, one analytical tool is taking seriously people of color’s experiences with racism, based on the assumption that white people experience race differently from people of color, but that most public theorizing about race has been done by white people. (The unfounded theory that talking about race produces racism is one such theory.) Another analytical tool, interest convergence, holds that people act on their own self-interest. Interest convergence asks how racial remedies that seem fair to white people actually advance white self-interests.

If this brief explanation doesn’t sound like critical race theory as you have heard it discussed publicly, you’ve probably heard it discussed by people who do not understand it and extrapolate what they think combining the words “critical” and “race” must mean. If I don’t recognize critical race theory as I hear it characterized in the news and on the floor of state legislatures, that is because the bogey man people have invented out of fear doesn’t bear much resemblance to the academic theory I have studied and used.

I think the deeper question legislators are wrestling with is this: Should elementary and secondary age young people study race and racism in U.S. society, particularly as framed through the intellectual work of scholars of color? Does such curriculum teach hate?

It is important to realize that there is a huge difference between understanding, critiquing, and working to change white supremacy, versus hating white people. White supremacy is an institutionalized system that uses power to prioritize the needs and well-being of white people over of people of color, based on the assumption that white people are superior. White individuals do not have to uphold white supremacy, and many do not. In fact, challenging white supremacy and building inclusive institutions requires the involvement of white people! If we want to eradicate this nation’s legacy of racism, we must learn to confront racism directly, and to see it as a systemic issue and not only an issue of individual prejudice. Teaching young people about racism is not indoctrination, but rather means teaching viewpoints and providing factual data related to racism that they otherwise are not likely exposed to. Young people need to make up their own minds about how to think about race, and the better informed they are, the more thoughtfully they will do so. Rather than banning the analytical and pedagogical tools that enable this work, we would get much farther if we supported the preparation of teachers to teach race in the classroom.

Bringing the 21st Century to an Academy in Ghana

By Brittney Caldwell

Brittney Caldwell is a high school social studies teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently pursuing her EdD in Curriculum and Education. Brittney has spent her career advocating for teachers and students. Brittney is passionate about Social Studies being taught through culturally relevant, inclusive, and authentic strategies. She spends her summers traveling and observing school cultures in various countries. Her ultimate goal is to develop a program that allows her to bring other teachers along. She is currently serving KDP on the national level as a member of the Knowledge Development Advisory Council. 

As a public-school teacher at a Title I school in inner-city Atlanta, I am accustomed to complaining about the resources that I do not have.

I have complained to my administration and academic coaches about the lack of software that would assist me in raising test scores, or the old textbooks that were not updated with content required in the standards/objectives. I look at my old-fashioned desk with disdain sometimes, when I compare my classroom to the 21st-century learning environments that I see on Pinterest and Instagram. I even had the nerve to get upset that my county was not yet 1:1, and we had to share a Chromebook cart with my entire department if the computer lab was booked for the day.

As a teacher, I could sometimes only focus on the resources that I was lacking. Poor American public-school teacher, spending her own money on classroom supplies and only being handed the bare minimum. This attitude completely changed once I visited Press On Academy in Accra, Ghana.

I did not arrive in Accra with the intention of coming across this local community school. My boyfriend’s aunt had passed away abruptly, and we flew to Accra. We made plans to stay for the month and, since I was working remotely, it was not a problem. I passed Press On Academy several times. I finally decided to try my luck and visit the school in hopes of a tour. Being a U.S. history teacher to a 99 percent African American school population, I was genuinely curious and wanted to speak with the local social-studies teachers about African history.

Ghanaian public schools are overcrowded, severely underfunded, and full of poverty-stricken students. The economy in Ghana has created a very wide gap between the rich and the poor, leaving a small middle-class population. Most middle-class families cannot afford private schools, but do not wish to send their students to public schools. Press On Academy is technically a private school, but the tuition and resources are much lower because the parents consist of middle-class workers (welders, maids, and merchants) who pay tuition with hard-earned money. The school does not receive money from the government, and solely relies on tuition to pay for all school expenses, including teacher salaries.

The headmaster of Press On Academy opened the school up to me immediately, welcoming me and offering me a tour. He was excited to hear that I was a teacher from America. Visiting the grounds was hard for me and I had to hold back tears.

The children were sharing used workbooks. Several of the desks in the classrooms had nails sticking out or were barely holding together. The teacher’s chair was falling apart as well. They were using chalkboards. There was no air conditioning. There were no textbooks, computers, or even anchor charts on the wall. There was no pencil sharpener.

I hid my feelings well, continuing to smile back at everyone who was smiling at me. The students were so happy and friendly. The teachers were very welcoming. The teachers urged students to go up to the chalkboard and show me the work that they had been learning. First graders were doing three-digit multiplication problems and breaking down fractions! Many of the students were very advanced and excited about learning. The teachers had taught the students so many skills with so few supplies. They were ahead of my own first grader, Brason. My heart automatically called me to help.

I spent the next month, December 2020, in Ghana crowdfunding for Press On Academy. I ultimately raised $4,500 and built a computer lab for the school. I took a vacant room in the corner of the building and dedicated my time to perfecting it. The room needed new flooring, electrical outlets, windows installation, door installation and a paint job. I was able to afford four computers and a projector, computer tables and group tables for students to use when viewing the projector. I also dedicated funds to repainting two classrooms and replacing their chalkboards with dry-erase boards. The children were so grateful and excited when the room was revealed. It was the best feeling in the world.

The teachers were very thankful as well. We all spoke about how teaching is really universal. We all face the same issues on different scales. They have fewer behavioral issues than I, but could relate to distractions in the classroom and lack of resources. In Ghana, teachers are expected to live below middle class and be content. Anyone choosing to be a teacher is dedicating their life to struggle and accepting the Lord’s blessing in return. The headmaster described it as “hand to mouth” living, and told me that teachers would never be able to own a home in Ghana. It was neither realistic nor expected.

I recorded the entire visit and renovation process for my Instagram, Caldwell’s Classroom. Teachers all over the world watched and supported me as I invested my time and energy into helping Press On Academy. Many of them donated to my crowdfunding, and in exchange I sent handwritten letters from the students. So many teachers asked how they could help or be a part of the process. Because of this, I planned a trip for July 2021 to return to Press On Academy and continue raising funds. My goal is to assist them in reaching full completion of the school and connect them to our global education network.

The school is rich in pedagogy and the teachers are talented. They have so much talent, and practices that they could share with the world, but need help connecting and entering 21st-century learning. I am continuing to raise funds for the school and sending supplies as donations are received. I and a group of five teachers, two of them Kappa Delta Pi members as well, are visiting Ghana for a week in July. I am hoping to make this an annual trip and increase participation every year.

We teachers have to take care of each other, and I will be very careful not to complain as often as I do. As a teacher in America, I already have privilege that I am not always aware of. Many teachers worldwide are making do with much less and are perfectly successful.

If you feel compelled to donate or send supplies, please visit www.brittneycaldwell.com or follow my Instagram, @CaldwellsClassroom. Here is the link to my GoFundMe.

The Pandemic Has Shown Us What Must Change


Today’s blogger is Dr. Megan P. Brock, a Lecturer and Academic Coach in the Division of Academic Enhancement at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.

The pandemic has changed our lives forever. And I am glad about it.

I remember my last day of “normal.” We were having a faculty meeting in our building, which overlooks the quad where students, faculty, and staff are often seen meeting for a little sunlight, with lunch, frisbee throwing, and more. The sun shines over the football stadium and into the room. A cracked window in the spring and summer offers a light breeze and a good waft of pollen. If the walls could talk, they would tell tales of rich discourse on supplemental success initiatives, supporting our emerging scholars. They would share the moments when we agreed to simply disagree, and tell of so many poorly delivered jokes.

On this day, the director of our unit shared updates on the protocol for maintaining sanitary standards—a bit odd for a faculty meeting. However, the coronavirus had successfully taken over the headlines and made its way onto our agenda. Hand-sanitizer dispensers appeared at multiple points on every level of our building. A colleague emphasized the severity of the coronavirus disease—they’d been personally witnessing a family member’s battle.

We left the conference room having no idea what would occur over the weekend. We were mandated to quarantine in our homes under the assumption that restrictions would be temporary and we’d be back to “normal” by summer. However, after months of empty tissue aisles, rumors of Lysol re-stocks, hit-or-miss homemade meals, coaching students (and their parents) through remote learning, a civil insurrection, and more, the global pandemic persists.

I liken this experience to a sifting of humanity.

Now, as a baker (pre-pandemic, when flour was readily available and everyone wasn’t at home making sourdough), I sift my flour to remove lumps and catch unwanted debris (such as husks or seeds). The debris that remains in the sieve gets thrown out; it hinders the baking process and compromises the final product. Sifted flour helps me to get more accurate measurements so that I have consistent, tender cakes and biscuits.

As the pandemic sifts the nation, great things remain. Dedicated educators, passionate first responders, and brilliant scholars are just a few of those for whom we’ve developed a deeper appreciation. But systemic barriers remain as the debris in America is sifted and separated by this pandemic; barriers that have plagued educators for too many generations remain inhibitors of effective teaching.

Food insecurity, a major barrier for young learners in high-poverty areas, prompted the buses to continue running, with boxed lunches replacing the students in the seats. Inequalities in technology led major companies to offer low-cost internet service, while many students had to complete coursework in the parking lots of closed restaurants with free Wi-Fi. Students who are victims of abuse were suddenly required to spend more time in toxic homes. Standardized measures could not ethically capture any learning at any level.

For years, teachers have advocated for education reform. They witness the child who sleeps in class because they go along on the nightshift with a parent who can’t afford childcare. They witness children saving lunches to share with their siblings for dinner. During recess, they help students complete the online homework they can’t do at home due to a lack of internet access. They love on the quiet, battered child and get them to safety, security, stability. They tutor students for free to help them advance to the next grade. Teachers have first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing the children who will become the leaders of tomorrow.

Some parts of society have been stunned by these new revelations of the domestic and economic challenges that today’s youth face, but the educators’ experience has been validated.

Now, change can happen. Change must happen—or, I argue, we will have to acknowledge that we are complicit in allowing these systemic inequalities, and willfully extinguishing the spark that is the potential of underserved students of America.

When we can return to that conference room for the first post-pandemic, in-person faculty meeting, we will likely still be cautious and sit far apart. We’ll welcome the breeze from open windows for ventilation and scent of blooming flowers around the building that we missed. There will be post-pandemic jokes (and they may still be bad).

However, we will be forever changed, knowing what the sieves caught. But we can bring the debris to the table, identify it, and begin having real conversations about practical solutions.

We can go from societal sift to societal shift.

The “Othered” Experiences of Minoritized Students in Three Countries

Today’s blogger is Dr. Christopher J. Cormier (Stanford University), who was the lead author on the article “Black Teachers’ Affirmations on the Social–Emotional and Mental-Health Needs of Learners: A Transnational Examination” (co-authored by Drs. Mildred Boveda, Funké Aladejebi, and Alice Gathoni), which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of February.

The “othered” experiences of Black students in schools extend beyond the United States. A common misconception is that the racialized experiences these students face is a phenomenon experienced only by Black Americans, and not only in schools but also in the ethos of the societies in which they reside. However, although challenges Black students face in schools can, and often do, vary depending on the cultural context, the reality is the same. That is, these students face systemic barriers to their academic achievement, which often stifle their ability to be fully functioning members of our classes and schools. Thus, given that students spend most of their waking hours in school, the challenges they face in school can, and will, bleed over into their home lives and interactions with other members of society.

For the article that appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to work with three colleagues who are also friends and great collaborators on this topic. Each brings experience as a teacher and researcher to the piece. In this transnational narrative (avoiding a U.S.-centric approach), readers will notice that Black teachers often are expected to “fix” the issues of the students who share their racial or ethnic identity; however, we suggest strategies that all teachers can use for all students, regardless of whether they share the same backgrounds.

We believe that one major challenge in schools is that certain teachers are expected to “deal” with certain students because of a shared lineage. What I, even as a co-author, found fascinating is how that manifested differently in different countries—particularly in Kenya. During a late-night Zoom call with my colleague in Kenya, I was fascinated by all the things she related about the challenges Black students face in Kenya. A major takeaway for practitioners is that shared racial or ethnic identity does not necessarily equate to shared experiences, values, or even respect.

Co-author Dr. Alice Gathoni eloquently describes how being Black in Kenya has many layers. A major challenge in Kenya is being considered a minority if you are not a part of the dominant tribe in the region. Furthermore, the same hostile treatment that students wrestle with as “outsiders within” if they are not members of the dominant tribe is mirrored in Canadian and U.S. schools. By exploring Kenyan schools, we hope that practitioners, including school leadership, recognize that just having a Black teacher for Black students does not solve issues of inequity or address the social–emotional and mental-health needs of these students.

We focus on three dominant practices as we describe the nature of the ways in which Black teachers use their shared racial identity to support Black students’ social–emotional needs in each country represented in our article. We believe these are useful to practitioners as well as the scholarly community, especially to support the unique needs of students. The practices include (a) consider insider–outsider knowledges and within-group differences, (b) nurture individualized care and cultural sensitivity, and (c) understand the value of school–community relationships.

These strategies are often used by Black teachers, but do not require a Black teacher to use them to be effective for supporting the needs of not only Black students, but all students in schools. We are hopeful this piece will open dialogue about how all teachers—not just Black teachers—can support all students and, beyond the dialogue, lead to systemic change. We suggest using our article in professional development meetings and ongoing conversations regarding everyone’s responsibility to support students and not to rely on one group because that group mirrors its students’ cultural or gendered makeup.

Culturally Responsive Family Engagement During Remote Instruction

Today’s blogger is Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero, a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. She works as an Early Childhood Instructional Coordinator for the Department of Early Childhood Education in NYC. Ms. Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero is an advocate for family engagement in schools.

The Covid-19 Pandemic brought a new experience for educators, leaders, and our school systems. Most importantly, it ignited a change in the communication strategies we utilize to support families. Now educators use electronic communication as more than an additional form of family outreach: it is a source of teaching.

How can this outreach extend itself further to multilingual families? Moreover, how can it support families through a culturally responsive mindset?

Depending on your student population and resources, children experience online learning on an extensive learning curve. This goes the same for their families. Educators have to survey families to discover what works best for them.

First, consider the outreach your school or teaching team sends to families. Are the communications written or offered in the families’ home language? Go deeper! Is the family literate in this home language? My grandparents were illiterate, yet spoke Spanish fluently. By considering the way you survey and communicate with families, you are extending engagement in a culturally responsive manner. Provide voice recordings within communications through QR Codes and utilize technology on Google Translate to support families.

Secondly, discuss with families their time frames and the support synchronous or asynchronous lessons provide. Synchronous lessons provide first-hand support in the interaction between students and the teaching team. Asynchronous lessons provide activities and time frames outside of a scheduled session. Both types of learning support and affect families differently. By surveying families, educators make note of their working schedules, family structure, and even support the schedule created at home by the family.

Keep in mind that families with essential workers and multiple children can have trouble meeting a certain time frame, especially if there’s only one electronic device at home. Ask families how comfortable they are with technology and then support them. Do they know how to access Google Classroom? If not, you can send families how-to videos in their home language by searching for them online.

Furthermore, utilize the families’ funds of knowledge. Is there a family member that can play an instrument, create videos, or even share a personal story related to class’s current unit or theme? As educators, we often try to find new resources and create new materials. Families are assets right in front of you! Encourage family communication by creating a parent group or establishing classroom roles. Set up a heritage partnership between families on a school-wide level. Heritage partnerships allow families of the same cultural community to share resources, ask questions, and receive answers in their home-language. It builds a partnership based on trust.

Lastly, connect families with community-wide resources that will offer guidance and support. Certain libraries and educational organizations are providing virtual tutoring, language services, how-to videos, and partnering with heritage groups to offer language translations. By taking the initiative to support families through a culturally responsive mindset, we convey the message that our families are a priority. We recognize their hard work and look to support them at their level of need.

Reference:

Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Family Engagement in the Time of COVID-19 and Remote Learning, and Always. New York University Steinhardt, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Link: https://kappadeltapiblog.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/6213a-culturallyresponsivefamilyengagement.pdf

#homeschooling: Problems with Synchronous Learning in COVID-19

Today’s blogger is Wendy Levin, MA, CCC-SLP, a Speech-Language Pathologist in Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, Colorado. She currently co-teaches a special needs preschool classroom and has recent past experience in PK-8 public schools.

If you are an educator, you are keenly aware of the inequities of the educational system.

Not all families have the privilege to be able to take time from work to help their child learn. Not all families have access to speedy internet for those teleconference calls. Not all families have the mental space to worry about both their changed financial status and how to help their child learn school material.

Not all families.

How many school districts have forced both teachers and parents to organize and schedule themselves so they can have “class” at a certain time every day? How many of you teachers and specialists have had students lose attention and wander away from the teleconference calls or simply not call in to begin with?

Everyone loses. That’s the reason #imexhausted and #homeschooling have skyrocketed in their usage during the pandemic.

So why don’t we just choose a more equitable method? Because it’s not what we’re used to?

News flash! This whole pandemic is a situation that no one is used to. Let’s give ourselves and our families space while also providing the same instruction.

What is “synchronous learning”?

“Synchronous learning” simply means that all students and teachers are present at the same time on the same platform. They must schedule a time and a platform to meet and they all must be there at the same time.

This is impossible for too many families. Expecting a student or family to be online at a certain time every day is often too much to ask. I argue that we must rely heavily on parents for synchronous learning for PK-8 in order to gain student attention, keep them in front of a computer, help with login and technical aspects, and help with general attendance. This pulls parents and guardians away from the time that they need to work or handle family matters. They have no control in their schedule or their child’s learning in this model.

If there is “synchronous learning,” then is there such thing as “asynchronous learning”?

Absolutely. There are many ways to do asynchronous learning. You simply have to make sure a student has options. You have to make your activities and lessons available so the students and families can access them at any time. This allows parents to work with their children when it is efficacious for them. How much more equitable could that be?

Here are some ways to provide asynchronous, equitable education:

  • Create private or unlisted YouTube videos of yourself teaching the lesson. Provide students with the links.
  • Use your Class Dojo, SeeSaw, Google Classroom, or Blackboard to post videos or assignments
  • Provide a wide variety of office hours that work with your schedule, so students and parents can drop in at any time to ask questions if they need to.
  • Work with your specialists to provide any special education techniques needed for the lesson prior to releasing a lesson. Change your lessons accordingly.
  • Create discussion boards so students can continue to collaborate and discuss
  • Don’t punish a student for not completing work on time. Let them turn it in when they can.

Remember, every single family, including your own, is struggling during this pandemic, but we will all get out of this together.

You can still provide quality and equitable education.

Secondary Traumatic Stress: What Happens When Teachers Are Compassionate

Today’s blogger is Jessica N. Essary (Cazenovia College), who co-authored the article “Secondary Traumatic Stress Among Educators,” which appears in the July 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of October.

Comments students have shared with their teachers:

  • My cousin died of a drug overdose.
  • The fire destroyed my house.
  • My pregnant aunt was murdered by her boyfriend.
  • My brother cries every night. He has Hand-Schüller Christian disease. So, I hit my cat.
  • I saw my Mommy dead. She killed herself.
  • Some guys took me to McDonald’s, but I did not know they were in a gang. They bought my lunch. Then they told me to kill the cop. They promised me daily lunch and a car. I did not do it. So, they beat me up and left me in the Everglades.
  • I broke my leg in a car accident.

Teachers are often among the first individuals who children confide in—especially if they like their teacher. Even if teachers were robotically focused on academics only (hypothetically ignoring social, emotional, and physical development), they could not ignore the impact of stress on a child, because it likely permeates the child’s academic experience. And when students experience ongoing episodes or a singular traumatic event, a teacher can experience secondary stress, also known as secondary traumatic stress disorder or compassion fatigue.

I firmly believe that children deserve compassionate teachers because compassion is also treatment for stress. Yet, the burnout that stems from secondary stress symptoms can cause us to lose our most compassionate educators. We simply cannot fail these children and their teachers because of societal ignorance of secondary traumatic stress.

Teachers in some communities are likely more at-risk of experiencing secondary stress, but the rate of trauma among children suggests that the majority of teachers will have exposure to traumatized children during their career. Based on my anecdotal evidence, I suspect that most teachers experience some form of secondary stress symptoms (many creating negative physical ailments/responses) approximately once every month, or more! Yet, there is a dearth of related literature, and we are just scratching the surface of this often hidden, ongoing, worldwide issue. Unfortunately, teachers may suffer from secondary stress disorder without metacognitively understanding the intricacies of their plight.

I have yet to speak with a teacher who could not relate to secondary traumatic stress symptoms due to their exposure to childhood trauma. However, many of these teachers were unaware of secondary traumatic stress disorder before our conversation. I can understand why the topic of secondary stress among educators has a dearth of related research. Have you ever heard some researchers refer to research as me-search? Sure, many research investigations begin with our practical exposure to the topic. Yet, with a topic like secondary stress, a personal investigation may be too psychologically daunting. For many years I believed that it would have been a lot easier, emotionally, to study something else. Yet, I always believed that solutions might exist for teachers, and that encouraged me to persist. Perhaps a lot of educational researchers have felt this way. After studying this issue for more than a decade, I can attest that it has brought me considerable awareness and compassion satisfaction. Why was I never taught about secondary stress in my teacher preparation program?

Yes, a crater of missing knowledge exists in our field of education. After experiencing secondary stress countless times throughout my teaching career, my conscience care for teachers and children could not ignore this enormous vicissitude. After conducting my own investigation, I was even more aware of the interdisciplinary relevance. Therefore, I found it vital to invite authorial colleagues to join me; so, I contacted two experts whom I highly respect, as they are likely among the most consummate readers in their fields of expertise. My professorial psychologist friend, Dr. Lydia Barza, has an extensive background on compassion fatigue, beginning with her preparatory work in counseling. My professorial cognitive scientist friend, Dr. Roy Thurston, has a multitude of brain-based impacts of stress readily available for discussion. Our article in the July issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record is the product of our collaborative research.

The more I speak with teachers, the more I am convinced that secondary stress expertise is critical in our field. Before you read the details, I should note that this topic is not just doom-and-gloom. Fortunately, there is a silver lining here. There are plenty of practical steps that administrators and educators can take to transform secondary stress into compassion satisfaction. Teaching is interpersonal, and harnessing compassion satisfaction is a powerful skill for everyone involved with children.

In summary, this topic, arguably, should be presented in every teacher education program and popularized in the media for greater awareness. Also, we need to collaborate with, as well as provide professional development opportunities for, social workers, school administrators, policy makers, cognitive scientists, and school counselors to help educators attain compassion satisfaction as they work with ongoing secondary stress. In addition, now, more than ever, we need governments to empower teachers by providing them with access to resources to help their colleagues on the “front lines” and the children they serve as they experience Covid-related stress.  Finally, we must empower teachers by providing them access to recommended government agencies and nonprofit services for children. These agencies should be mandated to provide timely follow-up on the services they can offer teachers, students, and their families. Working together, we can ease the burden of trauma on our students and their teachers.

The Future is STEM: Why We Need to Engage Girls Early

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in STEM will have higher than average projected growth in the next ten years but only a small fraction of girls and women are likely to pursue degrees in STEM.

Despite many initiatives and efforts, women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields.

In Cracking the Code, a report on STEM education for girls and women put forth by UNESCO, Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General states: “Only 17 women have won a Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, or medicine since Marie Curie in 1903, compared to 572 men. Today, only 28% of all of the world’s researchers are women. Such huge disparities, such deep inequality, do not happen by chance.”

The reasons behind why girls and women are underrepresented in STEM fields are complex (see Dr. Yvonne Skipper’s recent KDP blog post).

Microsoft recently funded a research project that indicated that a variety of reasons exist why.  For instance, it was found that girls tend to lose interest in STEM subjects around middle school (Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., Kang, H., & O’Neill, T., 2013). Identity and stereotypes related to membership in STEM fields can have a dampening effect on motivation to pursue STEM for many girls (Shapiro, J. R., & Williams, A. M., 2012). Confidence also plays a big role in motivation and orientation towards STEM fields (Heaverlo, C. (2011). STEM development: A study of 6th-12th grade girls’ interest and confidence in mathematics and science.)

Gladly, research into this critical issue has also demonstrated some proven strategies that work:

  • Teacher and parent influences and role modeling help: studies show encouragement from parents and teachers can have a profound effect on STEM engagement among girls and increases motivation for entering into the field (Rabenberg, T. A., 2013).
  • After-school programs and science clubs: Research also indicates that schools and communities need to invest in and provide space and opportunity for girls to engage in STEM.  (Tyler-Wood, T., Ellison, A., Lim, O., & Periathiruvadi, S., 2012 and Vingilis-Jaremko, L., 2010)
  • Inquiry-based STEM curriculum plays a role: Transforming STEM curriculum from learning and memorizing to doing has, time and time again, shown to elicit interest from all students in STEM: (Burns, H.D. & Staus, N, 2016)

Women make up 49.6% of the world population.

It’s crucial that, as STEM careers and industries grow, women continue to be a strong part of the progression.

The best practices for involving women comes early in their lives through schools, teachers, parents, and communities.

Dr. Mubina Schroeder

Dr. Mubina Schroeder is an Associate Professor at Molloy College, where she co-directs the Cognition and Learning Lab.  She is a Kappa Delta Pi United Nations Professional Representative and serves on the Board of Directors for the United Nations NGO/DPI.

References

Burns, H. D., Lesseig, K., & Staus, N. (2016, October). Girls’ interest in STEM. In 2016 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE.

Tyler-Wood, T., Ellison, A., Lim, O., & Periathiruvadi, S. (2012). Bringing up girls in science (BUGS): The effectiveness of an afterschool environmental science program for increasing female students’ interest in science careers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21(1), 46-55.

Vingilis-Jaremko, L. (2010). How Science Clubs Can Support Girls’ Interest in Science. LEARNing Landscapes, 3(2), 155-160.

Rabenberg, T. A. (2013). Middle school girls’ STEM education: Using teacher influences, parent encouragement, peer influences, and self efficacy to predict confidence and interest in math and science

Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., Kang, H., & O’Neill, T. (2013). Desiring a career in STEM‐related fields: How middle school girls articulate and negotiate identities‐in‐practice in science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50(10), 1143-1179.

Shapiro, J. R., & Williams, A. M. (2012). The role of stereotype threats in undermining girls’ and women’s performance and interest in STEM fields. Sex Roles, 66(3-4), 175-183.

Rabenberg, T. A. (2013). Middle school girls’ STEM education: Using teacher influences, parent encouragement, peer influences, and self efficacy to predict confidence and interest in math and science (Doctoral dissertation, Drake University).

Steinke, J. (2017). Adolescent girls’ STEM identity formation and media images of STEM professionals: Considering the influence of contextual cues. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 716.

A Survey of All Knowledge

Today’s blogger is Daniel Tanner, Board Chair of the Daniel Tanner Foundation. He reflects here on the writings of Frank Lester Ward, the subject of an article recently published in The Educational Forum.

In early 1961, while attending the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Los Angeles, the announcement was made that the book The Transformation of the School by Lawrence Cremin had just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history.

Unfortunately, the publisher’s representative at the conference had no copies for sale at the meetings. I soon obtained a copy after I returned home and found that once I opened the pages I could not put it down.

Beautifully written, yet richly documented, the book told the story of the life and passing of the movement for progressive education that was part of the larger social movement of progressivism in America from 1876 to 1957.

In Transformation I found only passing mention on how, early on in John Dewey’s tenure at the University of Chicago, a colleague there, Albion Small, called Dewey’s attention to a book by Lester Frank Ward that had been massively ignored and virtually forgotten.

Had it not been for Small, according to Cremin, “a whole generation of educators might well have missed his work.” Ward’s ideas on education, as outlined by Cremin, were profound and fascinating to my mind, but all too brief with no mention of how Dewey drew upon Ward’s ideas. And so I obtained from interlibrary loan a copy of Ward’s massive and musty two-volume work published in 1883, Dynamic Sociology or Applied Social Science.

Tracing every source I could find on Ward’s life and work, I found that Dynamic Sociology sold very poorly, fewer than 500 copies in 10 years. The two volumes ended with a concluding chapter of almost 100 dense pages under the title Education. The footnote on the first page of the chapter explained that it was “an abridgement of a far more extended treatise actually written ten years earlier” (1873).

Cremin’s Transformation begins with the year 1876, marking the opening of the progressive movement in American education. In the final chapter of Ward’s magnum opus, Ward presented his vision of the three universal curriculums to meet the needed democratic prospect for the 20th century. Ward admitted that no one knew the shape or form that would be taken by the three universal curriculums, but he presented in detail the guiding principles for the new curriculum synthesis that was left for John Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916).

The lives of Ward and Dewey could not have been more different: Dewey, from a long line of Vermont heritage and security, and Ward from the American heartland and early years of laborious work and struggle. Largely self-educated, Ward managed to obtain degrees to qualify for careers in law and medicine, but his passion was in natural science.

Dewey’s opportunity for higher education was smoothly available in his chosen field of philosophy. Whereas Dewey did not discard the remnants of religious sentiment until his earliest adult years, Ward was an iconoclast, and examined deeply the comparative origins and influences of science and religion in society. Both men were greatly influenced by Darwin’s findings and ideas.

Ward held that through the evolution of the human brain, humanity was empowered to direct the progression of civilization. Ward and later Dewey contended that the course of human progress was to be shaped by scientific method or “the method of intelligence,” released through universal educational opportunity to meet the democratic educational prospect.

After working as a paleontologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, Ward’s writings eventually drew recognition to the extent that he became recognized as the founder of the field of sociology, although one could say it was the entire broad field of social science, as indicated in the title of Ward’s masterwork. At age 65, Ward was invited to join the faculty of Brown University. He was truly an orchestral man, so it seemed fitting that students at Brown flocked to his course, A Survey of All Knowledge. At his passing in 1913 at the age of 72, Ward’s copious collection of notebooks and records were burned by his wife.

Daniel Tanner is Professor Emeritus in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. He is author of Crusade for Democracy: Progressive Education at the Crossroads (SUNY Press, 2015), and coauthor (with Laurel Tanner) of History of the School Curriculum (Macmillan, 1990) and Curriculum Development: Theory Into Practice (4th ed., Pearson, 2007). 

Learning in the Sandbox: Early Childhood at its Best

When my son Michael was little, he attended Playhouse, a progressive cooperative preschool.

There he was the most engaged when he was able to create an activity on his own.

One spring day, Michael brought a small plastic white leopard to school. During outdoor playground time, he developed a game where over and over again he would bury the leopard and then find it and dig it up. On his third round of “bury and excavate,” the leopard seemed to disappear. Michael grew more and more frustrated, especially when it was announced that it was time to go back into the classroom.

Authentic learning is messy, and it may involve expanded time for play, investigation, and reflection.

Rather than dismiss his concern, the teachers sat down with Michael and tried to understand his feelings and come up with a potential solution. Instead of digging around randomly in the sandbox, they asked him to think about what an archaeologist might do in this case. They shared that archaeologists often excavate to find things and that perhaps they could use a grid method to make the process easier. They turned a very difficult situation into a teachable moment, and they helped Michael to redirect his focus away from being frustrated to concentrating on making a grid out of the sandbox. The process was tedious, but the reward was enormous. Michael appreciated that his concerns were taken seriously and that the teachers were listening to him. It didn’t hurt that he found the leopard, too!

In early childhood classrooms, learning looks different than it does in elementary schools. The teachers understand that child-centered curriculum and instruction require an atmosphere where adults and children need to know one another well and develop trust.

An emergent curriculum reflects the values of caring and social change, encourages children to think critically about the world in which they live, and talk back to it. Teachers strive to create a classroom community that is a safe space where students not only can show support for one another, but also question and disrupt the norms of society and imagine a community that accepts others. This is a space where all children and teachers are valued and can speak freely, listen actively, dream, invent, and imagine.

Teachers understand that no two children are alike and therefore are open to the idea that the ways they approach a problem will differ. When students’ curiosity becomes the driving force of the curriculum, then the role of the teacher becomes one of coach, who provides materials, asks provocative questions, and encourages children to make decisions about their own learning.

Authentic learning is messy, and it may involve expanded time for play, investigation, and reflection. Ultimately, in a child-centered classroom, anything and everything has the potential to be explored.

Although we are aware of the importance and value of constructivist early childhood classrooms for all children, as Gallo-Fox and Cuccuini-Harmon point out in their article “The Non-Tested Years: Policy’s Impact on Early Childhood Curriculum,” standards and accountability policies continue to create tensions between early childhood and elementary curriculum, imposing teacher-directive approaches that focus on academic and test preparation, and significantly impact the voice and role of early childhood educators.

With an increased focus on academics, this shift has also increased the number of children at risk for failure due to poverty, race, or disability because their classroom behaviors do not align with school expectations. Gallo-Fox and Cuccuini-Harmon provide an insightful window into the constraints of policy on early childhood instruction and also the possibility of supporting rich learning environments that foster the success of all young learners.


Dr. Monica Taylor

Today’s blogger is Monica Taylor, a Professor at Montclair State University, Academic Editor of The Educational Forum, and author of Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families With Little Children (Garn Press, 2017). She comments on the recently published article “The Non-Tested Years: Policy’s Impact on Early Childhood Curriculum,” which appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through December 31, 2018.