I do not write this post as an expert. Nor as someone who knows more than others. Where there are areas that I feel I know some things, this is not one of them. And yet, how many of us, and by us, I mean white educators, are trying to do better in our classrooms when it comes to creating an awareness of the world we live in. Trying to be better educated so that my students can become better educated when it comes to social justice, equity, racism and a host of other systematic oppressions happening to many in our nation. So this post has been percolating as I have been on my own journey to know more, to teach more, to learn and to stand up. To be a part of the solution rather than just a part of the problem. So please read this post as a starting point. Please take these ideas and do something bigger, do something more, because that is what I am doing. This is a just a beginning to change, a small step on a long journey.
So what I have done to get further on a journey of enlightenment and activism?
I have listened.
Because of my own inherent privilege. Because of the color of my skin. Because of where I live, my financial situation, and the fact that I have the ability to walk away from things that other people cannot, my job is not to speak right now, (although I guess you could say this blog post is speaking in some ways), but instead to listen. To listen to those who know. To listen to those whose voices have been silenced. To listen to everything that is shared.
I have learned.
The job of others is not to educate me when I have questions. I have a computer. I have the time. I have a vast social network of really brilliant people who share thoughts, articles, book, speakers, and anything else that might help educate others and so the least I can do is pay attention to what is shared. To read what is out there. To realize and to remember that there is so much to learn. To remember that while this may feel like an educational quest of sorts for me, that for others this isn’t a choice of exploration but instead life. That this is not about MY journey toward a better place of understanding but instead about the bigger journey of others.
I have found experts.
I am so grateful to all of the people who are out there for us to learn from. Communities like Educolor, We Need Diverse Books, and Reading While White push my thinking and lead me down a rabbit hole of reflection and pursuit of more. Fiercely intelligent women and men like Val Brown, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Cornelious Minor, Rafranz Davis, Shaun King, Debbie Reese and Rusul Alrubail push my thinking and lead me to others who I can learn from. Find your own people to follow. Find those that will push your thinking. An event I excited about is the #CleartheAir chat happening on April 4th or the free EdCollab Spring Gathering happening on April 8th. The reason I come back to the people I mentioned before is because they make me think about all the things I need to work on, not because they placate me and tell me I am doing a great job being an ally. It is not the job of them to educate me, it is my job to be educated. So join the conversations but listen first.
Don’t walk away from hard conversations. Don’t block people who point out your mistakes. Don’t react in anger. Learn something. Read the uncomfortable. Realize your own shortcomings. You will be embarrassed at your own ignorance, you will get upset, you will feel like you are right and others are wrong. Just stop. Reflect. Then learn something. This is bigger than me. This is bigger than us.
Critically evaluate your curriculum.
I work for a district that gives us an immense amount of freedom to create relevant learning experiences. I am grateful for that. That also means that we can tear apart the curriculum we teach. So examine what you are teaching, how you are teaching and look for hidden biases. Look for your own assumptions. If you are teaching history, which I think we all do in some way, whose history are you teaching? Who is being represented as normal in your classroom? Who is the status quo? No curriculum should get a free pass because it is a tradition or because it is not that bad. Start with tomorrow’s lesson and take it day by day; what is the story being told, how are people represented?
Create a chance to learn.
I think our students deserve to have a chance to formulate opinions about the world we live in. My job is not to shape the opinions of my students, but instead to offer them a chance to create opinions. Even in polarized communities, and perhaps particularly in those, we should be looking at bringing in the hard conversations that are happening around us. So, find a way to weave the stories out there. If you have to teach compare and contrast; why not compare and contrast opposing media sources? If you have to teach how to annotate, why not annotate articles that have to do with the travel ban? Think of the ways you can bring in current and relevant topics so that students can be educated on them and shape their own view. Otherwise, our silence speaks volumes.
Bring others in.
There are many reasons I love Skype or other technology but one of the biggest is how it allows me to bring other people into our classrooms to speak to the students. Right now our world seems driven by fear of “others” and so utilizing technology we have an opportunity to bring those “others” into our rooms. If students live in a predominantly one-faceted community, speak to experts that do not share their same experience. If students have biases, bring in people who break those stereotypes. While it is not the job of others to educate us, create opportunities for your students to interact with classrooms that do not mirror their own experience through globally collaborative projects like The Global Read Aloud or any of the ones found here. We cannot stay afraid when we are educated.
Critically evaluate your classroom library.
Just like your curriculum establishes the norm so do the very books kids read. It is not enough to have diverse books if they only feature books that show one or two experiences of others. It is not enough to have books that only highlight certain aspects of a culture. I wrote about how I assessed my own classroom library here, but it is bigger than that. Buy #OwnVoices books, speak up for better diversity in publishing. Spend your money supporting authors and illustrators who are typically underrepresented and then share those books with your students and others. Amplify and continually push your own thinking on what makes a quality book. Be critical as you read books yourself and ask what message they tell kids.
I am now contradicting myself because I just said to stop speaking, but there is an area where we need to speak up right away; the critical underrepresentation of POC as speakers, authors, leaders, and even teachers. If you are at a conference where the line up is all white; ask questions, raise a ruckus. Look at authors getting deals, being represented, being featured – who is getting the attention? Same thing goes for in your own district; is there a plan for attracting POC to teach in it? Is there any sense of urgency? If not, create one. Our schools, our conferences, our learning opportunities should reflect the diverse society we live in, not the whitewashed one that is currently portrayed. So use the platform that has naturally been handed to you as a white person and use it for good.
There is so much more to be done. There are so many things I still have to learn. There are so many mistakes I will still make as I try to grow myself, lord knows, the road is long ahead. But I hope that these few things I have shared here can offer you a place to start, some people to follow, some things to read. I urge you to go on this journey; our students deserve it and so do our own children.
3 thoughts on “Small Steps to Become a Better Advocate for Social Change”
Wow! I’d like to thank you for speaking your mind. I appreciate your point of view and what you are trying to do for your students. I am a teacher of color, even if it is not clearly visible to many. I also teach in the city I grew up in. I have actually taught my own cousins. I often notice that POC and members of the LGBT community are under-represented in education. However, being from Southern California, I do see more and more POC and LGBT persons in higher positions in my district.
Unfortunately, it is not enough. Our textbooks try to be representative of the diversity in our classrooms but fall short in the area of history(as you noted). We need to make sure that we, as the educators, know the various points of view in history. We cannot be one-sided in our teaching. For our students to “shape their own view” we really do need to bring what affects them, into the classroom.
I will say that in my community there is a real fear running through many of our students. The new administration has already affected some of them very personally. Allowing them to have a safe place to share their fears and know someone (besides their family) cares, really does make a difference. After all, they are still just children who are coming to school each day to learn.
We should be open to learning as much as we can about what is going on, not just in our communities, but in the world.
Once again, thank you for making a concerted effort to advocate for social change.