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Why We Need Anti-Bias, Culturally Relevant Teaching Now More Than Ever
On Tuesday, November 8th America elected Donald J. Trump, a man who pushed the racist theory that President Obama was born in Kenya, called Mexican immigrants “rapists and drug dealers”, falsely insisted that Muslim citizens were complicit in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, made countless sexist comments about women, and made nods to anti-Semitism throughout his campaign.
So, what do teachers do when we consider this incredibly abbreviated list of the hateful rhetoric of President-elect Trump and his supporters? We already know that bias-based incidents and bullying were increasing before the election. Since the election, the news is overflowing with hate crimes and bias-based incidents taking place everywhere from elementary schools to college campuses.
Where do we begin the fight against this flood of hate? Click To TweetAs always, with ourselves and our classrooms.
Moving Beyond "White Boys with Dogs"
It is clear that now, more than ever, is the time to ensure our classrooms and curricula are built on culturally relevant and anti-bias teaching. The majority of the teaching force is white and female. Many teachers gravitate towards methods and texts that mirror our own schooling experiences. So, for example, the books that we loved as kids become our read alouds.
The problem these teaching methods don't match our increasingly diverse student population. It won’t work to subject our students to an endless parade of books about white boys with dogs.
If you’re new to culturally relevant pedagogy, and like me you're averse to education jargon, it’s okay. At its heart, Gloria Ladson-Billings put forth the idea of culturally relevant pedagogy so that teachers would connect their classrooms to the lives of their students. Teachers often do this instinctively. We use Minecraft or WWE analogies to get kids interested in a math or reading lesson.
What makes culturally relevant pedagogy powerful is that it goes beyond the surface level of student interests and makes connections to their identities. It is important to make these connections to all your students’ identities, not only those of the majority group.
"Christian = normal, Jewish = other"
When I was growing up as a Jewish student in a predominantly Christian school district, I remember many Christmas and Easter themed arts and crafts lessons. They were never explicitly Christian, but I’m pretty sure everyone else knew which holidays the pine trees and eggs represented. The dominant presence of these holidays, and the general invisibility of the Jewish holidays sent a strong message to be, even if it was never verbalized. Christian = normal, Jewish = other. And the rare times that teachers acknowledged Hanukkah didn't really solve the problem. There are many more important Jewish holidays that don't fall in December. And there are many Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu holidays throughout the year that never got a mention at all.
Most of my life though my other identities were front and center in the classroom. As a white male student, I had plenty of texts written by and about people that looked like me. It wasn’t until high school when I was exposed to a more diverse array of literature. But it always felt like just enough. When we finally read Richard Wright’s Black Boy it felt more like a token choice than an acknowledgement of great Black writers.
Educators of 2016: We have no excuse not to do better. The events of this past week demand us to step up on behalf of all our students.
Our students of color, our Muslim students, our gay students, our students with disabilities, and all students who are marginalized need to see themselves affirmed in our classrooms. And just as importantly our white students and others “at the center” of society need to empathize with those who are marginalized.
At its core, culturally relevant pedagogy is about ensuring success for all the students in the room by building on what they already know and care about. Additionally it’s about developing critical thinking skills by examining the perspectives and biases inherent in all texts. Don't we already talk about creating successful critical thinkers in our classrooms? There's no excuse to dismiss these practices now in the era of Trump.
Building Resilience, Dismantling Hate
Our kids are going to need a lot of resilience to weather the storm of hate and divisiveness we’re experiencing. This resilience can be cultivated by teachers who celebrate their students. It won't happen by pretending we don't see race (or gender or religion) or that everyone’s the same.
But, we don't just want to build resilient young people, we want to dismantle the harmful forces around them. Anti-bias education teaches students they are powerful. It teaches them they can take action against injustice in their community. If we want to live in a world different than what we're seeing in the news this week, it's clear we'll have to show the next generation another way.
Ultimately, culturally relevant pedagogy is one name for one part of a larger approach to teaching that celebrates diversity. When looking for resources you might also look for “anti-bias education” or “culturally responsive teaching”. These are not interchangeable, but they all work together to help teachers create a classroom environment where all students can succeed.
In the mean time here are a few resources to help you start:
There will be teachers out there who will disagree with the correlation between Trump’s elections and these incidents. I disagree. But whether or not we agree on the source of this problem, as teachers we are all obligated to make our classrooms safe for all students. We are obligated to teach students kindness and respect for others. If we genuinely want our students to do this, we must start by making sure our teaching demonstrates respect for all people as well.