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.

What Do Equity and Equality Mean in a Pandemic?

By Emily Hodge

The author contributed a related article to The Educational Forum, Volume 85, Issue 1, “Conceptions of Equity in Common Core Policy Messages in a Metropolitan District,” which is currently available for free online here.


Dr. Emily M. Hodge is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at The Pennsylvania State University. Her work uses qualitative methods as well as social-network analysis to understand the changing nature of strategies for educational equity. Recent projects have explored how educational systems, schools, and teachers negotiate the tension between standardization and differentiation in the context of the Common Core State Standards, and the varied strategies state education agencies are using to support standards implementation.

While scrolling on your social-media feeds, you may have seen the side-by-side images of three children behind a fence trying to watch a baseball game with captions about equity and equality. This image represented “equality” as providing the same amount of the same resource to children of three different heights: a box of the same size for each child to stand on, resulting in only two of them being able to see over the fence. In contrast, the figure depicted “equity” as providing each child with a box of a different size, so that each was able to see the baseball game. Many viewed this image as illustrating the limitations of treating groups in the same way, arguing that groups need varying amounts of resources to achieve similar outcomes. Many have also adapted and critiqued this image, as summarized in the link above, arguing that the children’s different heights implied that inequalities were problematically located within the children themselves, signaling a deficit view. Others changed the height of the fence to signal disproportionate degrees of oppression different communities face, or removed the fence entirely to signal liberation.

My recent article in The Educational Forum, “Conceptions of Equity in Common Core Policy Messages in a Metropolitan District,” invoked similar tensions about the nature of equity and equality in children’s educational opportunities. This article is based on a research study of the messages about equity and equality in professional development (PD) that a large, metropolitan district planned for its secondary literacy teachers around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Much of the district PD emphasized a general rationale for the CCSS as a means of improving college readiness, but it sometimes referred to the CCSS as necessitating treating students the same way. For example, a goal of PD session on text complexity was for participants to “understand the importance of providing access to all learners, regardless of ability, to complex texts and rich instruction aligned to them.” Later, the presentation specifically referred to English learners as a group that “districts must take steps to ensure…are exposed to and taught complex texts.” Another prominent idea in PD was that text-dependent questions are more equitable to ask students because they do not draw on varying degrees of background knowledge that students may have on a topic.

Both ideas—using text-dependent questions and complex text with “all learners”—are similar to the conception of “equality” in the image described, providing the same amount of a resource to different groups of students, especially students who may not have typically received that resource.

Similar to the critiques of the equality vs. equity graphic, this definition of the CCSS as improving students’ educational experiences has many limitations. First, are complex text and text-dependent questions a resource, as we might normally consider school funding or a skilled teacher? Second, should we expect greater similarity in outcomes if the primary message in these materials is simply equal treatment, rather than providing additional resources to those who have had fewer resources in the past? Further, neither of these more limited forms of equity directly address the racialized structures and systems of oppression creating differing opportunities in access to every major societal institution in the first place.

Thinking about our current context, certain aspects of “equality,” in the sense of providing the same amount of a resource to all students, seem like the bare minimum, such as making sure that every student has a device and internet access to make learning possible. Other aspects of equity (providing more resources to those who need it) seem important: more funding to schools with greater needs or facilities upgrades prioritizing older school buildings.

The new Biden administration’s approach to reopening schools focuses on providing more financial resources, which should be distributed to provide more money to districts with greater needs. Resource distribution reflects values and priorities, but the critiques of the equality vs. equity image apply here as well. White people in particular need to be careful that we are not making assumptions about the needs and resources within particular communities, or making decisions based on deficit-based views. Further, interlocking systems of oppression reinforce each other, shaping how students and teachers interact with each other in schools and how resources are allocated—making the “fence” between the children and the ballgame higher and stronger, rather than breaking it down. Resource allocation does not solve the problem of the fence, but it is the primary policy tool the federal government has to offer to state and local levels. If this is the case, how else might we remove the fence or make it shorter?

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.

That Uncomfortable Topic of Social Justice

Today’s blogger is Katherine E. L. Norris (West Chester University), whose article “Using the Read-Aloud and Picture Books for Social Justice” appears in the October 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of November.

Over the last six months, issues of race have been in the spotlight. Turning on the television inevitably leads to hearing stories about racial injustices and civil rights protests. In fact, over the last few years, stories of racial tension, immigration, and LGBTQ concerns have received extra media attention as we grapple with policies and practices that impact our diverse population. And children are not immune to the daily news stories and social media posts.

In many classrooms, common practice when it comes to diversity and justice has been avoidance.

With diversity, equity, and inclusion thrust into the spotlight because of the obvious inequities made more visible by the pandemic, racial injustices, and worldwide protests, educators have a renewed opportunity to begin to support students as they attempt to navigate these new realities.

Some teachers aren’t sure how to begin the conversations and how to handle sometimes uncomfortable topics of justice and fairness as they relate to race, immigration, poverty, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Teachers must start early to introduce students to the ideas of equity and justice, and to begin to give students the tools they need to work together to appreciate and value one another both inside and outside of the classroom.

Most school days are packed with content, and teachers often struggle to cover all the required curricula, so the thought of adding something else into the school day may seem overwhelming. Many teachers already use storytime or the read-aloud in their daily schedules. Why not take this opportunity to incorporate picture books that support teaching social justice and equity in the classroom?

Picture books are a great way to cover diverse concepts and experiences in a way that young children can understand. The use of picture books during the read-aloud allows teachers to introduce topics to students and guide them as they attempt to understand the importance of equity and justice.

By using the read-aloud and picture books to teach social justice, teachers can guide their students’ understanding through questioning and clarification.

The read-aloud gives students a chance to appreciate and understand cultures and lifestyles that differ from their own. Cultural appreciation and understanding serve as a place to start in breaking down barriers and eliminating stereotypes for both teachers and their students. For teachers who feel too overwhelmed to handle diverse topics, the use of the high-quality picture books during the read-aloud time is one way to begin to navigate conversations with students in a nonthreatening way.

Teaching Literacy From The CORE

Ms. Beckee walked into her very first classroom eager to teach her students to love reading and writing.

She strongly believed literacy is transformational for student success.

Ms. Beckee knew she had a big job ahead of her, though. The school where she worked had had low test scores in reading for the past several years, most of her students were labeled as “at-risk,” and she would have a limited classroom library. What Ms. Beckee wasn’t expecting, however, was the difficulty she would face in reaching students who came from backgrounds unlike her own. She began to ask herself, “How do I reclaim and sustain transformational literacy practices so that my students are successful, lifelong lovers of reading and writing?”

Situations like the one Ms. Beckee faced are quite common.

With the increasingly diverse makeup of students, pressures of standardized testing, and lack of funding, teachers often feel overwhelmed with the task of transforming their students into strong readers and writers.

Although this task does take time, mystery doesn’t have to surround it, and fear doesn’t have to drive it. Being a strong literacy teacher requires a lot of skill and a lot of heart (Freire, 2000). But it’s easy to lose heart when testing, pressure, and fear take over.

What I offer here is an invitation to examine your core and ground your knowledge and skills of teaching literacy in your heart.

The Framework

What I refer to as the CORE of your pedagogy are the four concepts to consider when reclaiming and sustaining transformational literacy practices. They are as follows:

C – Cultivate sociological mindfulness.

O – Operate from a critical social justice mindset.

R – Reframe learning as equity and excellence.

E – Exercise self-care.

These concepts are not linear, but looping in nature. This means that you don’t need to perfect one before you can move on to the next. Think of each concept as interrelated, both independent of and dependent on one another.

Cultivate sociological mindfulness.

Being sociologically mindful calls for awareness of the present, how the present has been affected by the past, and how the decisions you make now could affect the future (Schwalbe, 2017). This means paying attention and posing critical questions: What do you know; what do you think you know; and what don’t you know about your students? Ask yourself:

  • What are the experiences this student brings into the classroom every day?
  • How does my understanding of these experiences affect how I teach?
  • Why do the experiences of others matter?

Operate from a critical social justice mindset.

A critical social justice mindset for literacy “is an evolving process where teachers and students always consider cultural relevancy, employ critical literacy, and work for social justice as they relate to the word and the world” (Stachowiak, 2016). Ask yourself:

  • Whose voice is included in this read-aloud? In this decision making? In this literacy lesson?
  • Do the books I have in my classroom library reflect the diversity of the world, without harmful stereotypes and biases?
  • How can the lessons I teach continue to affect my students when they leave my classroom?

Reframe learning as equity and excellence.

Equity is about giving people what they need to be successful. When we reframe our literacy practices with this in mind, we shift to a true focus on individual student excellence. Excellence is about creating transformational spaces for learners to recognize humanity, engage in critical dialogue with their peers, and reflect. Ask yourself:

  • What does this student need to be successful? Who could I ask for support?
  • Does every student have access to information that would benefit them the most?
  • Are the resources I give my students equitable?

Exercise self-care.

As teachers, it is in our nature to take care of others and, in doing so, it’s easy for us to forget about taking care of ourselves. But self-care is an incredibly important and necessary part of being a great teacher. Make sure to put a self-care activity on your calendar weekly—and commit to it. Some examples of self-care include:

  • going to your favorite kickboxing class at the gym (kick that stress out!);
  • engaging in a sitting, walking, or eating meditation; and
  • practicing self-compassion: Forgive yourself, take sick leave when you’re sick, set boundaries.

Putting CORE Into Action

Teaching literacy from the CORE begins with making a commitment to critically reflect on the abovementioned questions. This self and classroom inventory will pave the way to transformational and sustainable literacy practices!

Dr. StachowiakDr. Stachowiak is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and a literacy consultant with The Educator Collaborative. Her interests are in literacy curriculum, equity literacy, and gender issues in education.

Recommended Websites

Recommended Readings

  • Culturally Affirming Literacy Practices for Urban Elementary Students, edited by Lakia M. Scott & Barbara Purdum-Cassidy
  • Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word, by Linda Christensen

References

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Schwalbe, M. (2017). The sociologically examined life: Pieces of the conversation (5th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Stachowiak, D. M. (2016). A framework for critical social justice literacy in urban elementary schools. In L. M. Scott & B. Purdum-Cassidy (Eds.), Culturally affirming literacy practices for urban elementary students (pp. 13–26). Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.

Fighting back from the Global South: Education reform, teacher’s rights, and social media resistance in Mexico

Today’s blogger is David Ramírez Plascencia, a professor and researcher at the University of Guadalajara–SUV, whose recently published article “Education Reform, Teacher Resistance, and Social Media Activism in Mexico, 2013–2016” appears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, he relates how Mexican teachers use information technologies to engage in the fight against new regulations that affect their labor rights.

In recent decades, education systems in developed and poor countries have been impacted by neoliberalism tendencies that emphasis cost-benefit factors to the detriment of social access and equity. Public education in Mexico has not been an exception. In 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto ordered the establishment of an educational reform. Teachers unions claimed the reform’s lack of legitimacy because they were never consulted; and since 2013, there have been several offline and online protests.

In general terms, most of the dissatisfaction concerning this reform centers on the fact that it tends to blame teachers for Mexico’s low-quality levels of education and standing among countries internationally. In addition, the amendment fails to offer appropriate instruments to improve education quality and applies a standard evaluation system that puts teachers under the microscope without consideration of important economic, administrative, infrastructural, and cultural differences among local education systems.

In this work, I focus not only on describing social media activism in education, both pro- and anti-reform, but I also consider how these virtual spaces have strengthened as an alternative media for teachers to fight back against governmental policies.

Meme example. An indigenous lady with a kerchief and the phrase in Spanish “We all are Oaxaca.” This slogan supports teachers’ actions in that state. This visual element is used frequently online to protest Mexico’s education reform.

My article stands mainly on two concepts. The first is “digital discourse,” which encompasses all sequences of interconnected ideas that span across digital media—audio, video, or even “meme” (see illustration). All these media consolidate to create dissidence with which to combat government actions. In other words, they are “weapons of the weak,” which is the second concept, referring to a particular form of resistance in which the oppressed use alternative and hidden strategies, aside from military hostility, to confront authority (J. C. Scott, 1987). What is remarkable in this context is how Mexican teachers use a dissident strategy of diverse multimedia elements as weapons against the educational reform.

In the end, the purpose of my contribution to this issue of The Educational Forum is to emphasize how cases like the teachers unions’ use of social media to support protests in Mexico provide substantial examples that might be replicated. This kind of media encourages movements and communities to have a voice to advocate for their demands, in spite of the government-controlled traditional media like the press or television. However, what is important to recall is that in order to improve education in Mexico, it is important to promote social assets like equality and justice, not only inside the government, and to modernize teachers’ unions as well, to open elections to a clear and democratic process, and to set strong transparent policies regarding usage of members’ dues. We must remember that providing quality education is a challenging task that can be addressed only with the collaborative efforts of all.

I hope you enjoy reading about this issue!

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

Educators Play an Important Role in Teaching Tolerance

On November 16, 1995, UNESCO’s 50th anniversary, Member States adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. Among other things, the Declaration affirms that tolerance is neither indulgence nor indifference. Instead, it is respect and appreciation for the rich tapestry of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression, and our ways of being human. Tolerance recognizes the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. People are naturally diverse. Only tolerance can ensure the survival of diverse communities in every region of the world.

Along with outright injustice and violence, discrimination, prejudices, and bigotry are common forms of intolerance. Education for tolerance should aim at countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and should help young people develop capacities for independent judgment, ethical reasoning, and critical thinking.

The diversity of our world’s many cultures, ethnicities, religions, and languages is not a pretext for conflict, but instead is a treasure that enriches everyone. Every day, let’s build new bridges of tolerance, trust, and understanding.

Fighting Intolerance Requires Education
Laws are necessary but not sufficient for countering intolerance in individual attitudes. Intolerance is often rooted in ignorance and fear: fear of the unknown, of the other, other cultures, nations, and religions. Intolerance also is closely linked to an exaggerated sense of self-worth and pride, whether personal, political, national, or religious. These notions are taught and learned at an early age. Therefore, greater emphasis needs to be placed on education. Greater efforts need to be made to teach children about tolerance, neutrality, human rights, and other ways of life. Encourage children at home and in school to be open-minded and curious. Education is a life-long experience and does not begin or end in school. Endeavors to build tolerance through education will not succeed unless they reach all age groups, and take place everywhere: at home, in school, in the workplace, in law-enforcement and legal training, and not least in entertainment and on the information highways.

Tolerance Education in Schools
A number of school officials recognize the need to teach tolerance and promote appropriate curricula. What students learn in the classroom needs to be reinforced in other aspects of their lives, which requires parent involvement. Students may confront their parents about their bias toward people unlike themselves. We still need to discover effective strategies for teaching students how to peacefully confront their peers, family, and friends. Learning should also focus on the values, attitudes, and behaviors which enable individuals to learn to live together in a world characterized by diversity and pluralism. Today, educators have reaffirmed John Dewey’s ideas with a sense of urgency for the interventions required for schools to address social injustices and to promote values of democracy and tolerance (read Hollingshead, B., Crump, C., Eddy, R., & Rowe, D. (2009). Rachel’s challenge: A moral compass for character education. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 45(3), 111-115.).

Do we need to organize tolerance workshops to educate parents as well? If yes, what specific topics should be addressed?

Components of the Tolerance Education
Teaching tolerance to young children is important for continuing further educational programs and reinforcing the message over time. To that end, educators have developed age-appropriate materials. For instance, a curriculum might include the exploration of meaningful texts, classroom exercises from newsletters, and newspaper sections directed toward younger audiences. Additional methods might include short theatrical productions and role-playing exercises. Instilling critical thinking skills, creating role-playing, and cooperative learning have proven effective teaching tools. Teachers need to be clear about how and why we make the choices we do, about whose stories matter and why, and about the values we use to make those judgments. What classroom activities do you plan to teach students about tolerance?

Summary
Educating students about other cultures, ethnicities, religions, and genders helps them understand people different from themselves. Students’ ability to recognize and understand diversity leads to greater tolerance. It will also will help them to attain a high level of performance in schools, the workplace, and eventually their career. If you have any great experience or success story from your classroom, please share it with KDP.

Educators play an important role in teaching tolerance. High-quality educators demonstrate neutrality and objectivity, and remain unbiased. They teach their students to truly embrace every human being’s individuality”

Srecko Mavrek is a teacher at KAPPA International High School and adjunct lecturer at CUNY’s Hostos Community College in New York City. He is a Kappa Delta Pi NGO representative to the United Nations.

 

What’s the Role of Education in a Democracy?

The political candidates vying for local, state, and national positions have included education as a plank in their platforms.

To energize and curry favor with the voters, these politicians have focused on hot-button issues, such as standardized testing, the Common Core, and the affordability of college. Without question, these topics deserve our attention.

But, are we limiting ourselves? Are there other issues that we should include in our current conversation about education?

I encourage all educators to read the latest themed edition of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. (Click here to access full issue.)

The authors expand the current political debate about the role of education in a democracy to include issues such as community schools, undocumented students, and food insecurities. Let me pique your curiosity by sharing highlights from three articles in this edition.

Stacey Campo in the article titled “Nurturing Democratic Education in Community Schools: The Role of Leadership,” builds on her work as the director of a community school in the Bronx, New York, to explain how schools are ideal places to teach students about democracy. She contends that when schools and communities partner and inform one another’s work, students benefit intellectually, physically, and socially.

Rachel Chapman and Michael Olguin in the article titled “Teaching Democracy Without Borders,” detail an ethnographic research study that examined the use of humor and critical pedagogy in teaching undocumented youth in an alternative high school in Tucson, Arizona. These researchers found that schools can help students to learn how to challenge negative policies and practices, and create a more just society.

René Roselle and Chelsea Connery in the article titled “Food Justice: Access, Equity, and Sustainability for Healthy Students and Communities,” explain the food justice movement in Hartford, Connecticut. The authors claim that the health of a democracy depends upon the health of its citizens. Today’s young people need access to healthy foods.

The ideas of John Dewey, the great educational philosopher and KDP Laureate, serve as a foundation for two of these articles. Dewey (1916, as cited in Roselle and Connery) believed that a primary purpose of a school was to improve democracy. Dewey (1987, as cited in Campo) also believed that a school, by giving students opportunities to examine their differences in a nurturing environment, prepares them to become productive citizens in a democracy.

As you listen to the candidates’ campaign speeches, note the presence or absence of community schools, undocumented students, and food insecurities.

If you can, ask the candidates to clarify their positions in these areas.

As we move forward, let’s include these issues in our ongoing conversations about the purpose of a school in a democracy.

nbondDr. Nathan Bond is a full professor at Texas State University and the chair of KDP’s Public Policy Committee. Dr. Bond served nationally as KDP President from 2010 to 2012, and he has served locally as KDP Faculty Counselor at his university for the past 16 years. He and Sam Perry co-authored the article titled Voting as a Form of Professionalism: Five Steps to Take Now, which appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of the New Teacher Advocate.

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Research from The Educational Forum: School Leadership, Dual Language, and Social Justice

DeMatthews_photoToday’s blogger is Dr. David DeMatthews, Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership and Foundations Department at The University of Texas at El Paso. He writes here to describe research recently published in an article (coauthored by Dr. Elena Izquierdo) in The Educational Forum.

Emergent bilingual children in U.S. public schools are one of the fastest growing student groups and make up almost 10% of total enrollment.Many Latina/o emergent bilinguals underperform academically when compared with their native English–speaking peers.

False narratives describe the success of past generations’ immigrant groups learning English through full immersion, but research has consistently indicated that dual language education improves cognitive and academic functioning and closes the academic achievement gap. Researchers have also found that dual language promotes healthy multigenerational, multicultural, and multilingual communities.

While some states like Arizona, California, and Massachusetts have outlawed dual language for emergent bilinguals, many districts and schools with growing proportions of Latina/o emergent bilingual students are turning to dual to increase student achievement and foster a school and community culture that values diversity and inclusion.

Although the benefits of dual language are undeniable, school leaders and teachers often confront serious challenges when attempting to develop and implement dual language.

Few teachers or principals learn about language acquisition, bilingualism, or biliteracy in their preparation programs. In our article, “School Leadership and Dual Language: A Social Justice Approach,” we highlight the important role of school leadership in promoting and implementing dual language education.

Readers of this blog may be familiar with some of the effective leadership and teacher practices that support inclusive and bilingual classrooms. For example, dual language often requires effective co-teaching and co-planning, which means principals must provide teachers with opportunities to collaborate, while teachers must have the prerequisite professional skills to engage in collaborative and inquiry-based activities.

However, developing and implementing dual language education is not simply about technical or professional skills.

We argue that school leaders and teachers must take a social justice approach to creating dual language education. All stakeholders should be involved and have meaningful input into decisions that affect how resources and learning experiences are distributed across a school and how student and family cultural and linguistic backgrounds are valued in curricula.

In our article, we present five steps to facilitate a thought process of how to move a school from a segregated pullout English immersion program to dual language education:

  • Lay foundations by valuing all stakeholders.
  • Explore perspectives to engage key stakeholders.
  • Assess the context and plan the program.
  • Recruit and build capacity.
  • Monitor, evaluate, and renew the program.

Although in practice each of these five steps must be continuous and occur simultaneously, we believe they provide a broad framework for how school and teacher leaders can think about dual language education, create a culture of collaboration, and foster an inclusive environment in which all stakeholders share in decisions, trust and support one another, and remain reflective and willing to grow.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. DeMatthews and Dr. Izquierdo’s article free with the education community through July 31, 2016. Read the full article here.

Research from The Educational Forum: Navigating Disability and LGBTQ Identities in the Classroom

Today’s bloggerMiller is Ryan A. Miller, Ph.D., Director, Office for Inclusion and Equity at The University of Texas at Austin. He writes here to describe research published in an article in the current special issue of The Educational Forum on Sexuality, Gender, Identity, and Education.

Picture these scenarios from the perspective of a teacher:

  • Before you take attendance, a student shares with you that she is transgender, and that the name and gender marker on your roster incorrectly identifies her as male.
  • In classroom discussion, students use language that portrays disability and LGBTQ identities as inherently negative—referring to ideas with which they disagree as “crazy,” “gay,” or “lame.”
  • A student without a disability complains about the “unfairness” of not receiving the accommodations that a student with a disability receives.

Perhaps you are already familiar with one or more of these situations. For a student with a disability, or a student who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ), these scenarios can be fraught with challenges. For students who live at the intersections of these identities, these potential difficulties can be amplified, and students will rely on their instructors to set the tone for an inclusive classroom climate.

My article in The Educational Forum chronicles the university classroom experiences of 25 LGBTQ students with disabilities and reveals that students carefully considered whether and how to disclose their identities to peers and instructors, become vocal advocates in class, and react to microaggressions they experienced. In many cases, an instructor made a difference—either positively (by setting a tone of inclusion, introducing diverse curricular materials, and intervening when bias occurred) or negatively (by questioning a student’s identity, refusing to provide disability-related accommodations, or permitting biased language).

Educators at all levels wield a significant amount of influence on the experience of students in their classrooms. Students who experience a hostile school climate, or derision from peers and other teachers, may find in you and your classroom a space in which they become a bit more comfortable with themselves, who they are, and who they will become. Given this influence, it becomes essential that educators understand how they can create and maintain a classroom climate that intentionally engages social justice issues, including but not limited to disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Instructors aiming to create an inclusive classroom climate might consider the following:

  • Reflect on your own formative experience and possible biases related to disability, gender, and sexuality—and how these biases may inform your teaching.
  • Learn about current terminology and concepts in disability and LGBTQ communities. Be open to learning new language.
  • Signal to students on day one that your classroom is an inclusive one by discussing relevant campus/classroom policies and including them in a syllabus or posted document.
  • Include representations of diverse identities in curricular and classroom materials, and acknowledge the many contributions of underrepresented groups.
  • Incorporate universal design concepts in your classes by varying your instructional materials and forms of student assessment to allow for the use of different strengths and skillsets.
  • Encourage the engagement of all students with diversity, rather than relying upon one or two students to educate the rest of the class or use their personal experiences as teaching moments.
  • Intervene when biased language or discrimination occurs in your classroom.
  • Strategize with colleagues on how to create a more inclusive classroom and campus climate.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Miller’s article free with the education community through November 30, 2015. Read the full article here

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