(This is the second article in a multi-part series. You can see part one here.)
The new question of the week is:
A number of states have passed or are considering legislation that would ban critical race theory and, in some cases, many types of lessons that teach systemic racism. How should educators respond to these efforts?
In the first part, Ashley McCall, Jennifer Jilot, Lorie Barber and Ishmael Robinson shared their thoughts.
Today, Neema Avashia, Margaret Thornton and Ruth Okoye provide their comments.
“Teach the truth”
Neema Avashia is a grade 8 civics teacher at Boston Public Schools, where she has taught for 18 years. She was voted educator of the year 2013 in the city of Boston:
If I could get all the history and civics educators together in one hall this summer, this is what I beg them:
Tell the young people the truth.
Teach the young people the truth.
Teach a more complex version of the story than the simplistic, linear narrative that has been regurgitated in history textbooks throughout our lifetimes. This narrative brought us to where we are today in America: where half of our country lacks a basic understanding of how systemic racism shapes the experiences of people of color in this country – and has since before its founder. Where an education centered on a diversity of lived experiences is seen as threatening for our children, rather than affirming them.
We are not doing our country or our children a service if we do not speak the truth. Our young people saw what happened on January 6th. Their understanding of Why it happened, why the Confederate flag paraded over the United States Capitol over 150 years after the Civil War, why there is so much dissension in our national discourse, why polarization is at its peak, depends on what whether or not we choose to teach.
It seems this fear that teaching young people the truth makes them hate each other or hate our country. But the reality is, you can’t have a real, genuine, loving relationship with another human being, or your own country for that matter, if it’s not rooted in the truth. As James Baldwin wrote: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, precisely for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize it perpetually. Criticism is not born of hatred; it was born out of deep love, deep optimism and a sincere belief that we can all be better than we are right now if we are just to be honest about how we got to where we are. we are at it today.
I often give my students this metaphor: “You know how, when you don’t want to clean your room, you keep messing up under the bed or in the closet? Eventually the mess gets too big. Eventually the mess comes out of the closet or under the bed, and it’s even worse than before because he’s been allowed to sit and stagnate the entire time. This is what we did in America. We pushed our story under the bed and in the closet and ignored it and let it sit and stagnate, and now the mess is coming out.
It’s time for all of us to clean our rooms. To do the dishes, fold clothes and take out the trash. To pick up what’s on the ground so that we can see the scars, see the wounds that have been done, recognize the damage that has been done and cannot be repaired. Our ability to move forward together relies on our ability to tell the truth about our past, to tackle the implications of that past on our lives now, and to make a fairer and more just path for all who live in our country.
A study of the more nuanced, intersectional, and non-linear version of our history has taught us that all of the progress we have made as a nation is the result of struggle. It has come at a great cost to those who are most willing to make their voices heard and to put their bodies in danger, for justice. I am aware in writing this that I am living in a state where my ability to teach the truth is not punishable by law, as it is quickly becoming in other parts of the country. But the relationship between what is legal and what is fair has been strained at many other times in our history. And each time, justice only came when courageous people defied what is written as law.
In short, the health of our country in the future depends on educators having the courage to speak the truth even in the face of threats. Our young people have the genius, the passion and the desire to make this country more just, just and equitable than it has yet succeeded in being. They need us to have the courage to take this journey with them and provide them with the historical and current context necessary to base their plans on a precise understanding of where we are today and how we got there.
They need us to teach the truth.
“Guarantee academic freedom”
Margaret Thornton is a former high school English teacher and currently postdoctoral fellow at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs, studying how to improve educational inequalities:
I hope to see educators at all levels fending off this new salvo in the culture wars at school. School and district leaders in particular must ensure the academic freedom of educators to speak the truth about our country, the good and the bad. As a popular internet meme noted this summer, we now celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday, but in many schools across the country it is now illegal to teach the history of the holiday because it focuses on the holiday. systemic racism. In Texas, where Juneteenth is from, the governor recently signed a law banning certain educational materials, including Project 1619.
Since most educators themselves have attended American public schools, they may first need to learn about important stories from the past that are too often intentionally overlooked in American public schools. Learning for justice and Zinn’s educational project are two excellent resources for teachers of all disciplines and grade levels to explore lessons of equity, history and justice for their students while filling the gaps in their own education.
Educators must also learn to distinguish these important lessons from Complex Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT is most often taught in law schools, where it originated, or in doctoral programs where students learn the theoretical frameworks of their research. The current swarms of public commentators at school board meetings are largely the result of an AstroTurfing campaign by conservative groups. Pressed to voice their concerns, many commentators from school boards across the country have expressed concerns about anti-racism and other equity initiatives in K-12 schools. Because these initiatives are important for students to feel safe at school, a key condition for student learning, educators should not abandon them based on the demands of a noisy minority.
Ruth Okoye is the Kindergarten to Grade 12 principal at Source for Learning. She has over 30 years of experience as a reading teacher, CTE teacher, literacy coach and ed-tech coach at the district level:
I don’t think it’s wise to ask students to tackle Critical Race Theory (CRT) and I find it difficult to understand some of the approaches used to include it in curricula. One of the most important things educators should remember is that CRT is not a theory – a generally accepted principle – CRT is a perspective or a point of view. In perspective, CRT poses the idea that the inferiority of people of African descent is a founding belief of our society. It’s one way of seeing American society, but it’s not the only one.
As educators, we need to help students develop the skills they need to think critically and draw reasonable conclusions when presented with a person, event, or idea. One approach that has worked for me is to use literature combined with reading comprehension strategies and intellectual standards of critical thinking.. This approach helps students understand that people and events can be viewed from many angles. This encourages them to use logical reasoning when drawing inferences and conclusions about the text and the connections they make with it. When exposed to this teaching method over time, students learn to look critically at things rather than accept things at what appears to be their face value.
For example, reading the book We are not from here by Geoff Rodkey, students discover a character named Marf. As the only student of her kind at school, Marf is isolated and misunderstood. When introduced to Marf, the protagonist, Lan, learns that she is a criminal. Students use the identity iceberg and a character map to study Marf while they read. It requires that they answer questions that ask them to clarify statements about the personality, to explain the relevance of the elements the author has chosen to include, and to determine the extent of Marf’s actions. In this way, students learn to see the character from two angles and to determine for themselves whether it is indeed a criminal.
This type of character study benefits students in several ways. They can read fabulous books and practice their reading skills using popular literature. They improve their critical thinking and learn skills that can be applied to social issues when they are ready. It also removes them from the front lines as adults discover how critical race theory relates to our society.
Thanks to Neema, Margaret and Ruth for their contributions!
Consider contributing a question that will be answered in a future post. You can send me one at [email protected]. When you send it tell me if I can use your real name if it is selected or if you would prefer to remain anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.
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Education Week has published a collection of articles from this blog, along with new material, in eBook form. It’s called Questions and Answers on Classroom Management: Expert Strategies for Teaching..
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