Inspired Ideas
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Inspired Ideas

In a Time Like This: Lessons from the Racial Equity Institute

By Dr. Lanette Trowery, PhD, Senior Director of Learning Research and Strategy, and Jhade Pilgrim, Academic Designer at McGraw Hill

  • Race was constructed in this country back in 1640, when the first case of unequal sentencing based on race occurred. Three indentured servants were captured and sentenced after trying to escape, but only the Black servant, John Punch, received a lifetime of servitude as his punishment.
  • Race and racism were codified through the 19th and 20th centuries by continued policies, laws, and rules, such as Jim Crow, that were designed specifically to create a sense of inferiority amongst non-white races and led to a systemic set of advantages for those who were identified as “white” by American society.
  • Through the early 20th century, white people were given opportunities to improve, learn, and financially advance their place in society — The New Deal, most college and university admissions, the GI Bill, FHA — while other races were denied these opportunities. This furthered the system of advantage whites had over other races in this country.
  • As the Civil Rights Movement worked to dismantle both codified and implicit forms of racism in the country, programs were developed that focused on ”correcting” the behaviors and habits of people using those programs. Many of these programs do not provide much in the way of financial or advancement opportunities. More importantly, these programs did not address ways to ameliorate the systemic racism in our institutions.

But if we diagnose the problem of racial inequity as being something wrong with the people who are adversely impacted, then we will spend our efforts and resources trying to “fix” them in some way.

Like epidemiologist Leonard Sym, in the “Bad Sugar” episode of the documentary series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? states, “If we took everyone at risk of disease and cured them…it would do virtually nothing to solve our problem because new people would continue to enter the at-risk population at an unaffected rate forever”. If we want to really address the problem of racial inequity, we need to understand what is causing the problem. To what extent are we examining our lakes and their culture, structures, policies and the practices — what would it look like to do a “lake analysis?”

By developing critical inquiry skills

Develop critical inquiry as a way of learning– inquiry as a process of gathering, analyzing, and evaluating information from multiple perspectives to confront taken-for-granted understandings. Critical inquiry can and should be used in all areas, subjects, content areas — helping students learn to consider, critique, and break apart things that are thought of as given or “just the way things are.”

By using critical inquiry skills

Empower students to question the systems around them through the content they are learning. In order to consider and understand the ways in which systemic biases impact policies, rules, and structures, students will need to use critical inquiry skills to uncover such biases.

By emphasizing collaboration and connectedness

Use programs and products that rely deeply on the ideas of collaboration and connectedness where students have opportunities to reach out in their own communities and beyond to problem solve, create, and engage with others in the broader society.

Tasks and activities that connect students’ lives with the lives of other students and communities around the country (and world) can help students become culturally conversant and culturally aware.

These kinds of learning experiences help students develop a more nuanced global viewpoint and gain a better socio-political understanding of the perspectives and ideals of others.

By supporting and uplifting teachers

Teachers are a big part of this methodology — they need the support, guidance, and courage to take on this type of teaching and connect it to global citizenship and social justice concerns. Providing teacher professional learning, in safe spaces where teachers can grapple with sensitive and thorny issues, would support them in their efforts to actively understand and champion critical and social analysis for all students.

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