2017/12/07 Starting Critical Discourse in the Classroom II
Thank you for attending last week’s event, “Starting Critical Discourse in the Classroom.”
As with all Meetup Follow-up, I begin as Jawanza began with love and thanks:
- Thank you Hattie Lehman and the Carnegie Museum of Art for your tireless efforts to feed us and remind us that this work needs to be intentional, or not at all. Thank you also for sharing this work as part of the Empowered Educators Series — we could not have done it without you.
- Thank you Jawanza for providing us with practical, researched data and for keeping us in the spirit of Ubuntu, “I am because we are.”
- It was truly comforting to see the act of thanks turn into an overview of Jawanza’s life and history.
In Case You Missed It
For those of you new to Remake Learning Meetups, you will find comprehensive documentation of my minutes below my signature in this email. They are raw and will probably contain errors.
After giving thanks, we transitioned to a check-in around the room. “When you were little, did you worry about this stuff, too?”
- We watched a video from the New York Times, “A Conversation with White People on Race” and shared reactions
- Then we moved into the heart of the attached slide deck
Starting Critical Discourse in the Classroom: Tools for White Teachers to Start and Have Successful Conversations About Race
- Just because we are looking at white teachers does not mean that all teachers cannot benefit from these conversations. We understand (at CUE) that this is an area of struggle for white teachers in particular
- 85% of teachers are white teachers, and that is vastly disproportionate for the student base they serve
- We were able to ‘popcorn’ around the room to better understand why attendees were in the room, why they care, and what we are ultimately pursing…
“A More Perfect Union”
- To quote Sunanna Chand, Director of the Remake Learning Network, “Race talk is a work-skill in the 21st century.”
- Note, race talk has specific features and implications, so it will mean something specific in the context of a school (that it might not outside the classroom).
So What is Race Talk in the Classroom?
- At the heart, it should be tool to engage students to improve communication in learning, enhance racial harmony, increase racial literacy, and expand critical consciousness of one’s racial/cultural identity
- We see particular evidence in Howard and Denning Del Rosario’s work. This also brings us back to our core concept, “A More Perfect Union”
- And the benefits can point to the development of positive racial identity; acquire positive racial in-group identifications, and make the work attainable for all groups
Make sure to review the slides and the hand-outs for the full details and practical steps, particularly around discouraging race talk, it’s risks, and the complexities surrounding it.
After the beautiful and detailed presentation, we transitioned to, “the most important art show in America,” 20/20, where we examined works such as
- Abe Lincoln’s First Book, 1944 by Horace Pippin
- Noah Davis, Black Wall Street, 2008
- Titus Kaphar, Jerome IV, 2014
And remember, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, refer back to Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum’s quote, “Focus on your own sphere of influence. You can’t fix everything but some things are within your control.”
As per usual, I kept my computer shut to be present and focus on reflections after we re-grouped at the end.
Remember, you’ll find all the notes after my signature!
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Unedited Meeting Minutes:
We start by giving thanks
We want to acknowledge that energy
Thanks and praise to our ancestors
Thanks to the Museum
At Union Theological Seminary Jawanza studied under 3 renowned educators
- I am who I am because someone loved me- Ubuntu
- Ubuntu: I am because we are
- That’s what it’s all about
When You Were Little, Did You Worry About this Stuff, Too?
Our first step into the presentation is a short video, “A Conversation on Race with White People”
We here from many white talking heads about their feelings about race and racism (in America)
See the Explore NYT video here
Was there anything in that video that resonated with you? (almost all hands go up)
- It reminded me of a speech by Desmond Tutu (SP?) and he said that he felt that the incredible mistake that we’ve made in recent times that after the successes of the mid 1960s, we didn’t have anything like a reconciliation process. Until you do that, you’ll never get that right
- The part where the woman was saying she doesn’t see herself as white, and that it’s not ok to call white people white, but normal to call other races out
- I just kept thinking about being white. I work in an environment that isn’t white, but I’ve never had to think about that. Now I have that responsibility
- Are you saying this moment is the first time you’ve had to think about that?
- Yes, I think so. I’ve never been treated as if I’m white, and I haven’t thought about it before (paraphrasing)
- In all humility, I am glad we are sharing this moment together
- In contrast to my sister over here, since about the time I was 5 I was aware I am black… child, student, professional. Every time I stepped out my door, I felt aware of that
- I was struck by the age of the people in the video. What was going through my head was… My family, my husband is middle eastern, pretty dark. Two of our biological children are dark, and our adopted child is also dark. They laugh at me, “What do you know white girl?” I notice a better capacity to have a conversation about race. I’m not certain if that’s because of their age, our (context), or what?
- And how we feel racialized seems evident in all our comments, right?
Starting Critical Discourse in the Classroom: Tools for White Teachers to Start and Have Successful Conversations About Race
Welcome to all of you that are here, today
Just because we are looking at White Teachers does not mean that all teachers cannot benefit from these conversations. We understand (at CUE) that this is an area of struggle for white teachers in particular
85% of teachers are white teachers, and that is vastly disproportionate for the student base they serve
Jawanza, “And I want you to note, I am one of you; I am a teacher (from several fields of learning), and I come from a family of teachers. They were also part of the freedom schools of the south in the 60s and 70s.”
- Youth Development Professionals
- Community Activists
- Religious Community
- Organizational Directors/Staff
- Curious-minded folks (this gets a laugh)
- Artists (this gets another laugh)
Why are We Here?
I think I’m here to try to facilitate more productive conversations about race, and more generally about the topics they are learning so I can be more effective. Also to see where we can meet
It’s my role to hire teachers, so to be able to provide them tools (a predominately white female staff serving black and brown children)
To help our educators better their practice to better serve students
The episcopal diocese encourages us to explore means to have conversations to bridge race relations in the church
I’m a teacher and an artist, I just came back to PGH from Baltimore. There is so much difference between the two cities; I wanted to come and hear from you, see the vibe. I want to learn what I can do as a teacher and as an artist to address this.
We’re talking to a lot of educators across the country and a lot of the white teachers are so afraid to talk about race, and so many of the black educators are so tired of carrying the burden of talking about race.
Why Do We Care?
Caring is probably one of the most important parts of education
Teaching is a caregiving profession. We don’t talk about it that way, but I can talk more about that.
What are we ultimately pursuing?
Education as social justice — this could be a means to an end, but it could be a means to itself
I’m here on behalf of the residents I work with and to possibly key into some of the ways I am missing the boat, and to help them transition back into communities . Internally, we are working with 90% african american people, but they transition out to predominantly white community
- Glocal — think global act local
I’m not currently working, but I was working as a college level statistics and science teacher. And My struggle was to convince adult learners that they could, in fact, learn math. I want to live in a world where people don’t think they can or cannot learn something because of their race.
A More Perfect Union
Once we get into the galleries, you will recognize this theme, and I think that’s what this work is about. We’re trying to perfect this space of living together. Respecting each other, caring for each other, coexisting.
He shows Abe Lincoln’s First Book, 1944 by Horace Pippin. You probably can’t see it well on the screen, but it’s a young Abe Lincoln in the attic, and all he has is candlelight, reaching for a book. This draws a connection to knowledge, and the context is that he’s operating in a space and time that is not convenient. BUT, it’s the pursuit and hunger, yearning for this knowledge in the wee hours of the night, despite the environment/odds around him.
What is Race Talk?
Academically and in practice, discussions about race are defined as “race talk;” points to the complex meanings surrounding the concept of race
Note, race talk has specific features and implications, so it will mean something specific in the context of a school (that it might not outside the classroom).
“Race Talk is a Workskill in the 21st Century”
This is a quote from the new Director of the Remake Learning Network.
Core Concepts for Critical Discourse on Race
Please see the detailed worksheets that have been handed out to everyone. These are purposefully not filled in, so that you can do this with your students, colleagues, and on your own.
Note: There is a website with a link that will allow you to find working definitions
Comment: “This makes me think of the work of (Littisha Bates at U Cincinnati) — racism without racist.” Passive v intentional action
If we call out Identity as a term, this is particularly relevant in the works of art in the 2020 galleries, so please keep that in mind and spend some time with them.
Also, the idea of Equity v Equality. Commentary, “I believe this is especially important in the classroom”
- “You’re going to love the slide coming up”
And if we look at Racialized Violence + Structural Racism, please refer to Noah Davis, Black Wall Street, 2008 and Titus Kaphar, Jerome IV, 2014
- Black Wall Street: 1921 a community was considered to be the wealthiest black community to not only survive but to thrive. In a complicated and even false accusation of a racial incident, the white neighbors (through jealousy, etc), they took this as an opportunity to destroy homes, arrest thousands, and even kill residents. There was no justice served.
- Jawanza: Even when humans fail, there are survivors that are still seeking justice in the US
- Jerome IV also talks about racialized violence in different ways (not enough time to spend on the lecture here)
Equality v Equity
This is a very famous meme, too
I call this out in the notes since this is a consistent sticking point among workshops about race talk.
What is Race Talk in the Classroom?
For the definition, see the slide
At the heart, it should be tool to engage students to improve communication in learning, enhance racial harmony, increase racial literacy, and expand critical consciousness of one’s racial/cultural identity
We see particular evidence in Howard and Denning Del Rosario’s work. This also brings us back to our core concept, “A More Perfect Union”
And the benefits can point to the development of positive racial identity; acquire positive racial in-group identifications, and make the work attainable for all groups
Six Ways Race Talk is Discouraged
Diverting the conversation
Diluting or dismissing
Institutive restrictive rules
Tabling the convo
Discomfort of grappling with ideas that require students (and teachers) to confront their own personal values and beliefs
And leaders (eg Teachers) are tasked with supporting individuals in engaging risk
- We need the confidence to do this
And researchers have found when leaders invite … fallibility, people are more likely to speak up and/or engage in difficult conversations
- No one expects you to be all knowing
- This leads to psychological safety: Reducing the need for self-protection, or feelings of fear and anxiety
- This work is for our students, but for ourselves as well
Please note: The importance here is not the absence of risk, but the absence of psychological distress
The Good News
Based on survey results at CUE that has “yes, no, and not sure,” the majority of teachers believe that race plays a role in the education of students (483/488 believe this). Only 6% said no
So, race is real.
Again, over 400 teachers (90%) believe that race is important to discuss in the classroom with their students. That’s good news
Overwhelming majority (in the 90 percentile) teachers should talk about racial discrimination with their students. We still need to understand those that say no, but this gives us reason for hope.
And the Bad News?
When asked if they felt prepared, only 200/480 say yes. This is only 30% of those that said the work is important
- We hope that’s why we have events like this
- “And it’s not only the individual teachers fault”
I believe my teacher training prepared me to discuss race in the classroom? It fall even further; over 50% drop
Complexities and Complications of Race Talk
“An unenlightened person cannot enlighten others. All he or she can do is spread ignorance and misinformation.”
- Jawanza is quick to recognize the tone in this statement, but explains it’s intention, “If you don’t know, you can’t spread the information you don’t know.”
- And you have to “Start Where You Are” (see Rich Milners book)
Comment: This isn’t just urban schools, but falls on the responsibility to suburban and rural areas as well.
- Take the work out beyond immediate borders
Let us not forget that misinformation, ignorance, and a perpetuation of fears associated with race talk may be the results.
See also, Milner’s article, “Race, Talk, Opportunity Gaps, and Curriculum Shifts in (Teacher) Education.”
It comes back to the ecological nature of their learning
The development and lived experiences are key
See Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book, “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”
We talk about the fears that prevent us (as teachers) to start these conversations
For fear immobilizes and traps us.
- The loss of privilege
- Physical harm
And white folks in particular? There are four layers of intersecting fears
- Appearing racist
- Realizing their racism
- (SEE SHEETS)
And if we make a mistake?
- Tatum says that in nearly 20 years, she has made many mistakes, and a sincere apology often is enough to (move on). If we wait for perfection, we will never start.
And please consider the concept of white people as victims of racism, too. Clearly not in the same way as the global majority, but as humanity.
This also points to a huge loss of productivity. Racism stifles our growth and development. It isolates us.
So while the consequences are also damaging, they are different for whites
- White may learn not to notice.
Feeling overwhelmed by the Task?
“Focus on your own sphere of influence. You can’t fix everything but some things are within your control.” -Tatum
You’ll Also Find Many Guidelines in the Worksheets to Hold Race-Talk and the Five “Don’t Do’s”
Five Tips for Teaching with Works of Art
Ask open-ended questions
Layer the Information