Last week’s NCTE 2017 Conference was amazing. Being with colleagues and peers, engaging in conversations, and listening to thinking leaders in our field energized, provoked and inspired me. I’m honored to be included in the various tribes represented as a part of that organization.
Samantha Padilla, Sharron Segue and I shared the work that we’ve each engaged in to raise our own (and hopefully others’) awareness of the need for culturally responsive teaching. We were asked by some of the participants who attended our session to post resources and I’m excited to share here on this site important bits from the session. (Some of the most powerful parts of the session include students from our campus talking about their own identities. Those videos are not available at this time since we don’t have the proper permission to post on the web. We hope to be able to post soon and when we do, we’ll share here.)
For many years, I was painfully aware in my own classroom and now I see in so many classrooms that I visit the need for educators to raise the level of awareness and use our position of power to affect change when it comes to making education freely available to all kids. I know that in theory public education is free to all, but in practice many of our students are still held back by a perverted system that is fully operational.
The responsibility (and privilege) of affecting lasting change is ours.
What can we do? Where to begin?
In 2013, Fordham University student Kiyun Kim asked friends at the University’s Lincoln Center campus to “write down an instance of racial microaggression they had faced.”
Nieto and McDonough speak about unpacking one’s own microaggression offenses. That begins, I believe, with recognizing the problem of white privilege.
“White privilege is an institutional (rather than personal) set of benefits granted to those of us who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions. One of the primary privileges is that of having greater access to power and resources than people of color do; in other words, purely on the basis of our skin color doors are open to us that are not open to other people.” (Kendall, 2002)
In Work Clothes and Leisure Suits, Harry Brod shared this about privilege: “We need to be clear that there is no such thing as giving up one’s privilege to be ‘outside’ the system. One is always in the system. The only question is whether one is part of the system in a way that challenges or strengthens the status quo. Privilege is not something I take and which therefore have the option of not taking. It is something that society gives me, and unless I change the institutions which give it to me, they will continue to give it, and I will continue to have it, however noble and equalitarian my intentions.”
If we have even the tiniest hope of changing the institution, the first critical issues that must be addressed are curriculum and changing the educator mindset from individualism to collectivism.
Kids should see contributions, events, people from their own cultural and ethnic backgrounds reflected in the curriculum. A fifth grade teacher I visit often makes it a priority to choose text selections that mirror the lives of his diverse learning community. Over the past few weeks kids in Mr. D’s class have read:
Collectivism vs. Individualism
“The cultural dimensions index was created by cultural psychologist, Geert Hofstede. Countries are evaluated on a 100-point scale in seven dimensions. One dimension is the level of individualism within a society. At the high end of the scale are extremely individualist cultures (self-oriented, individual effort favored in business and learning, competition over cooperation) while a lower number signals a more collectivist culture (group orientation, relationships essential to business and learning and cooperation over competition.)” from Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain; Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond.
Teachers and others who work daily with students must be aware of the prevailing attitude of individualism. Many cultures thrive on the idea of community and collectivism and respond more positively in environments where members work together rather than in competition against others. Facilitating a culture of community and setting up systems where students work together often in the learning “studio” promotes academic as well as personal well being.
We are one people.
I believe the more often we can confirm that by our attitude and behavior in our role as educators, the more we can impact the systems and institutions that have for too long perpetuated the privilege of some to the detriment of many.
We are one people.