Learn or Leave; When anti-bias training is too much

image: istockphoto.com

I’m writing this on Friday, September 4th, the first day of school in my district, and I want to acknowledge the trauma everyone is experiencing right now, particularly educators who are tasked with such a monumental, unprecedented job right now. I see you not receiving the support and training you need. I see you being blamed for the ineptitude of district administrators. I see you. I see all of you, and my sights are locked in on educators of Color. I see the added layers of stress and trauma you’re dealing with because systemic racism has been flayed open for everyone to see, but you’re not just looking at it. You’re inside it, surrounded by it, suffocating in it. I see you and I love you. Hold on.

This brings me to my topic today. We are dying, emotionally and literally. White peoples’ reluctance to learn and act is killing us. White people and the people of Color who aid and abet them are killing us. You are killing us. Here’s what that looks like: 

Imagine this: You ask a group of educators if they’ve ever engaged in anti-bias training. One-third of the group responds, “No.” That’s about right (white). You were kind of expecting that. What you didn’t expect is for a quarter of the educators to respond, “I don’t know.” How does an educated person not know if they’ve engaged in anti-bias training? Here’s a list of reasons I brainstormed:

  • One quarter of the educators surveyed have some kind of memory loss issues.
  • They had the training and then were neuralized.
  • Their dog ate the homework for the anti-bias training so they didn’t retain what they learned in the training.
  • The training was so completely watered-down that the anti-biasiness was unrecognizable and the educators weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to be learning about.
  • The training was not applicable to their every day experiences or their practice, so it didn’t make sense and didn’t “stick.” 
  • The language used in the training was not clearly defined, leaving the educators wondering what they just participated in.

Ok, ok… the first three are just me being silly, but the scenario is something that actually happened, and the last three bullet points are totally plausible, especially in very white spaces. Which reminds me, when’s the last time I mentioned Washington State is above the national average for percentage of white educators? Cuz it is. We’re about 90% white, while the national average is about 85%

What happens in these very white spaces is what Paul Gorski calls the Pacing for Privilege detour. Another infamous phrase that could be used to describe this phenomenon is “meeting people where they are.” That phrase, along with “it is what it is,” are the bane of my existence when it comes to anti-racism. Children? Students? Yes, we should meet them where they are, but educators and decision makers? Nope. They need to catch up or shut up. But when we take the pacing for privilege detour, we coddle and maintain the status quo. The language and approach using this strategy are so tone-policed that they are less than useless. It’s easy to understand how someone might not be sure what they were being taught or why. This strategy gives people the impression they’re doing something – at least the people who recognize it to be an anti-bias training. For the other 25%? Who knows what it’s doing for them. 

I understand the argument that if we go into white spaces full steam, we run the risk of people shutting down and not hearing our message, but WE ARE DYING. And I haven’t even mentioned anti-racist training. We’re talking about anti-bias training, which is remedial learning. I always say it’s for the people who don’t know they’re white, yet. (Yes, many white people can’t even handle conversations about them being white.) Ijeoma Oluo says if your anti-racist practices centers the needs of white people, it’s actually white supremacy. Dr. Martin Luther King said we want freedom now, not gradually. We have to start with action-oriented, anti-racist education and training with specific, measurable goals imbedded. Not anti-bias, not equity, not even racial equity – anti-racism. 

I recognize we won’t reach everyone, and that’s not my goal, but in acknowledging that, I must be willing to push those we can reach farther and faster. We don’t have time for them to wait to figure shit out. I’m willing to do some remedial work and study some vocabulary, but only if it starts with, “Shit is fucked up and we gotta get to work.” Bias? Yes… that’s a given. Racism? Yes… that’s a given. Anti-racist trainings should be the place we start and action should be the focus of those trainings. There’s enough on the interwebs about implicit bias that people can go back and educate themselves. When I’m in front of a group, I don’t have time for that. I’m focused on what we need to do NOW.

One thing that prevents this from happening, in my opinion, is weak leadership. Leaders need to do what is right, not what is comfortable or easy. They have to be willing to piss off the people who stand on the wrong side of the issue. When people are dying there is no debate; one is either wrong or right. A racially just leader will mandate unapologetic trainings and explicitly state that anti-racism is the culture of the organization, leaving those who prefer to opt-out of training with the choice to learn or leave.

Thank You!

I have been quiet here for a bit while my legal fight played out with Seattle Public Schools. It’s now over and I have a statement regarding my separation from the district. I have been doing a lot of work on building up Washington Ethnic Studies Now, my new non-profit, but I hope to return to blogging, soon.


Regarding My Resignation from Seattle Public Schools:

On July 31, 2020, my time at the Seattle School District came to end after a lengthy legal process. It had always been my hope to return to the work that meant so much to us, but that was simply not presented as an option for moving forward. However, I will absolutely continue to be doing the critical work associated with Ethnic Studies and Anti-Racism in education through Washington Ethnic Studies Now. This may even include contracting with schools within the district, so I very much hope to be in the buildings with those I served before in the future.

For those of you who have supported and sustained me, I want to thank you for standing beside me for the last six months, and really, the past several years. Your support has helped provide a path forward for me that leaves me feeling secure and ready to keep doing this work!

“Seattle Excellence” What’s So Excellent About It?

As I’m preparing to begin my research for my dissertation, I’m required to take a course on strategic planning. My first assignment is to critique the strategic plan of my school district. Y’all know how much I love that. But for real… This is the essay I wrote using best practice by strategic planning experts and change theory principles. Enjoy!

Introduction

            Strategic planning is about the implementation of change. It is a process, not a task, which explains the use of “implementation” instead of “implementing” (Hall & Hord, 2015). Reeves (2009) stated that 70% of strategic plans fail, and he believes this is because organizations fail to view them as processes. Another important factor of successful implementation of strategic plans is leadership style. Top-down, authoritarian approaches tend to fail, whereas collaborative, systematic changes have more success (Fullan, 2014). This essay will analyze the strategic plan for Seattle Public schools using these indicators of success as a framework.

Mission, Vision, and Strategic Plan

            The mission statement for Seattle Public Schools is, “Seattle Public Schools is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps to ensure access and provide excellence in education for every student.” The vision statement is, “Every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, world-class education and graduates prepared for college, career, and community.” The current strategic plan includes four goals: high-quality instruction and learning experiences; predictable and consistent operational systems; culturally responsive workforce; and inclusive and authentic engagement (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b).

Alignment

In Superintendent Juneau’s statement introducing the strategic plan she said, “This work is not about changing students. It is about changing broken systems and undoing legacies of racism in public education. By actively addressing racism in our educational system, and ensuring students furthest from educational justice thrive, conditions in Seattle Public Schools will improve for all.” However, in the actual language of the goals and measures of the strategic plan, there is no mention of racism or anti-racism (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). Furthermore, anti-racism is absent in the mission and vision statements (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b). There is misalignment between the messaging around the strategic plan and the goals which has the potential to make the implementation challenging and contentious (Hall & Hord, 2015). And though Superintendent Juneau claims the goal is to change systems not students, several of the methods named to monitor implementation is on student outcomes like standardized test scores, which depend on the racist systems she claims to want to change (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a).

Data and Monitoring

Nearly all of the tools used to collect data and monitor progress of implementation are high-stakes and/or once-per-year measurements including student, family, and staff climate surveys, standardized testing, credits achieved by students, college and university registration, training completion, and staff demographics (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). This is contrary to best practice in which monitoring, or assessing, should be frequent and ongoing. As Hall and Hord (2015) pointed out, “Change is a process, not an event” (p. 10). Using data collected annually, or at the end of an event, is an evaluation, not a measurement.

Some methods listed to measure success in the strategic plans are not measurements at all. For example, educators attending trainings is an intervention, not a measurement of implementation, but it is included as a measurement in the strategic plan (Hall & Hord, 2018; Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). This quote from Reeves (2009) helps explain the difference:

Monitoring. A high monitoring score means that the school conducts consistent and frequent (at least monthly) analyses of student performance, teaching strategies, and leadership practices. In contrast, low monitoring scores are associated with schools that engage in the futile exercise of the educational autopsy—an analysis of last year’s scores long after it’s too late to do anything about them (p. 86).

Interventions occur after collecting baseline data and before collecting data for monitoring their effectiveness. Using the number of teachers engaged in an intervention is not measuring implementation of the goals of the strategic plan (Hord & Hall, 2015).

The misalignment between Superintendent Juneau’s stated purpose and strategic plan goals is also evident in the interventions (inaccurately named measurements). The focus of the intervention for CIAE is culturally responsive teaching which has been widely discredited as an anti-racist initiative. Many experts in the field of anti-racist education and culturally responsive practice reject the belief that culturally responsive teaching, alone, is anti-racist (Castro-Gill, n.d.).

Continuous School Improvement

            The strategic plan does not call out school-level goals and instead uses district-wide goals. This may be helpful as a framework for developing school-level goals, but the generality of the strategic plan may also lead to varying goals across the district. There are over 100 schools in Seattle Public Schools, so individual school improvement plans could look different without a consensus on school-level goals.

The goals of the strategic plan were created without input from classroom teachers and other building-level educators which is more likely to create resistance to change (Fullan, 2014). This, coupled with the fact that the measurement tools to collect data are almost entirely high-stakes or end of year data, means teachers are more likely to disregard any continuous improvement plan based on the district-level strategic plan as being irrelevant to their daily practice. This perceived disconnect could lead to a negative Pygmalion Effect in which teachers do not believe their participation in the strategic plan will influence their students’ academic outcomes (Reeves, 2009).

Conclusion

            In a school district as large as Seattle Public Schools, alignment and clarity are paramount. The superintendent’s messaging to the community does not align with the stated mission and vision statements or the language in the strategic plan. This creates confusion for those who are to implement the goals. Using interventions and evaluative tools to measure success of implementation adds to the confusion about what it is educators in each building are supposed to do and the data they should be collecting for continuous improvement and implementation. Closely aligning stated intent with language in the mission and vision statements and strategic plan, differentiating between interventions and measurements, and naming continuous data collection methods could improve the chances of success for the strategic plan in Seattle Public Schools.

References

Castro-Gill, T. (n.d.). Which comes first? Anti-racism or racial equity. Thoughts on

Racial Justice from an “Activist Teacher”. Retrieved from https://teacheractivist.com/2020/05/03/which-comes-first-anti-racism-or-racial-equity/

Fullan, M. (2014). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley &

Sons, Inc.

Hall, G. E., & Hord, S. M. (2015). Implementing change: Patterns, principles, and

potholes (4th ed.). Pearson. Retrieved from https://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/samplechapter/0/1/3/3/0133351920.pdf

Reeves, D. B. (2009). Leading to change; Making strategic planning work. Educational

Leadership, 65(4), 86-87. Retrieved from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=70a3dc4b-557f-45de-801e-08daaeccd978%40sdc-v-sessmgr03

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.a). 2019-24 SPS Strategic Plan. Retrieved from

Click to access 2019-24-ApprovedStratPlan.3.27.19.pdf

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.b). Strategic Plan. Retrieved from

https://www.seattleschools.org/district/district_quick_facts/strategic_plan

¡Ayúdame! Ethnic Studies in Seattle Needs You!

If you follow this blog and my work, you know that I am on paid administrative leave and have been under investigation for allegedly violating several policies. Recently, I was informed that my supervisor, Dr. Diane DeBacker, made a formal request to HR that I be removed from my position as Ethnic Studies Program Manager and the superintendent, Denise Juneau, approved the request. I will outline their reasons below, but my attorney and I believe these actions are part of a larger effort to remove me from Seattle Public Schools altogether as a form of retaliation and discrimination against my anti-racist work and activism.

Furthermore, my colleagues and I do not have faith in the district’s ability to maintain an authentic Ethnic Studies Program should I be removed. They have demonstrated their inability to authentically engage in any type of racial justice initiative.

My attorney filed a formal challenge to this decision to demote me and the school board will be hearing the challenge next week. I have a very specific ask for you to help us fight the #ReWhiting of ethnic studies in Seattle:

If you have been impacted by my work and the work of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, please contact the school board directors to share what the work has meant to you. You don’t have to be an SPS staff member, student, or family. The more they hear how far-reaching this work is, the better. Please email each of the board members with your experiences:

District I

Liza Rankin

liza.rankin@seattleschools.org

District II

Lisa Rivera-Smith

lisa.rivera-smith@seattleschools.org

District III

Chandra N. Hampson

chandra.hampson@seattleschools.org

District IV

Eden Mack

eden.mack@seattleschools.org

District V

Zachary DeWolf

zachary.dewolf@seattleschools.org

District VI

Leslie Harris

leslie.harris@seattleschools.org

District VII

Brandon K. Hersey

brandon.hersey@seattleschools.org

Why I’m Being Removed

Below are the reasons Dr. DeBacker and Denise Juneau believe I am not fit to be the Ethnic Studies Program Manager, per a letter I received from Juneau. I will respond to each of these claims with my perspective. It’s important to note that my previous supervisor, Dr. Kyle Kinoshita, a Japanese-American educator with an ethnic studies degree, gave me an exceptional performance review before he retired in July of 2019. Dr. DeBacker, a white educator, has admitted to the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group that she knows very little about racial equity or ethnic studies, but feels she can determine who is best for the job.

Reason 1: I am untruthful and lack integrity.

Reason 2: I contacted school board Directors directly without permission from my supervisor.

Reason 3: I don’t collaborate well with people I think are racist, and therefore am stalling the work of ethnic studies. A quote from Dr. DeBacker’s HR request, “Ms. Castro-Gill has repeatedly failed to collaborate with individuals and groups, especially those individuals and groups which she believes are racist.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Integrity

In July I was notified about a harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) complaint against me by a teacher whom I’ve never met and at the time didn’t know the name of. Their complaint was that I was cyber-bullying them. This complaint was based on the fact I shared a post on FB that included a 911 call the teacher made. The HR investigation into the complaint found that I did not engage in any activities that fall under SPS’s HIB policy; however, they found that I did violate a policy about being deceitful during the investigation interview. They believe – though they can’t prove – that my testimony “lacked candor.” This is 100% of the “evidence” Superintendent Juneau and Dr. DeBacker base their claim for Reason 1 above on.

This completely ignores and erases my years of work in SPS as a teacher and administrator. It erases the awards I’ve won that include integrity as criteria. It ignores all of my prior performance reviews which include rating integrity. Here is what Dr. Kinoshita had to say about integrity on my most recent performance review in which he scored me a 5 out of 5:

Ms Gill [has] a strong moral compass that assists in decision making. As she moves into the realm of developing other leaders for this work, modeling the capacities that she hopes others to emulate will rise in importance. As well, communicating honestly to other leaders in the district will continue to be important in helping SPS to develop its own compass for authentic racial equity.

I lack integrity because Denise Juneau needs me to, not because there is any evidence of it. As Dr. Kinoshita states in an interview I conducted with him, “However, in fact, what’s actually happened in this effort is that [some] top district leaders have actually treated this as something that is threatening, and so, therefore, has put limits upon the entire initiative, and put limits on all the stakeholders.” I have become a threat, which makes me a target.

Contacting the School Board

I only have one thing to say about this. Well, maybe two.

First – School board members are elected officials, and I have a right to contact them about anything I want.

Second – In a Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting, then Board President (to whom the superintendent reports), Leslie Harris, very pointedly told Dr. DeBacker that she wanted me to continue contacting the board and she didn’t appreciate Superintendent Juneau telling me I couldn’t. So, I kept contacting the board.

Collaboration

Again, I want to quote Dr. Kinoshita’s most recent performance review in which he scored me a 4 out of 5 for collaboration (prior to the Ethnic Studies Summer Institute discussed below):

Ms. Gill has learned to leverage already-existing relationships to good end to accomplish the large amount of work volume this year. The above-mentioned partnership with DREA [Department of Racial Equity Advancement in SPS] and the CRE [Seattle Education Association’s Center for Racial Equity] has resulted in not only major professional development accomplishments, but access to hundreds of SPS teachers. Racial Equity Team Institutes and Black Lives Matter observances [which I have co-led with the aforementioned groups] have influenced a broad section of teachers and helped provide them conceptual knowledge as well as language to discuss race, racism, and privilege. She has built a cohesive Ethnic Studies Advisory [Group], which is committed and dedicated to developing curriculum. The team have benefitted from your guidance in developing quality curriculum products that will be ready for the adoption process. The participants, already strong in their beliefs when they volunteered, now also have become advocates for ethnic studies and what it stands for. Ms. Gill has also forged ties with Seattle’s burgeoning number of ethnic community organizations, connections that Seattle Public Schools has never had*. She connected with their long-standing desire to dislodge the Eurocentric curriculum monopoly in SPS. These connections have resulted in credibility for the ethnic studies effort, and community engagement in review of the curriculum. These ties should continue to be cultivated as a means to strengthen the perspective of the curriculum. Another important area of collaboration that has begun is the beginnings of joint projects with the other subject area managers in CAI, which will go far in extending the reach of ethnic studies to SPS students, and help with the transformation away from the exclusively Eurocentric content. These connections have great potential to leverage ethnic studies, and they should be carefully cultivated.

*emphasis added

Of all the accusations lobbed against me, this is the most demonstrably false. I mean, look at the picture for this post – it consists of educators, students, and families that I’ve worked with over the past several years. But I don’t collaborate? If I were to go back into prior years of performance reviews, I could share with you similar feedback from former supervisors. I have consistently scored 4s and 5s on collaboration. This also doesn’t take into consideration the award I was given by the NAACP for collaborating with the NAACP and other educators on the initial push for ethnic studies in SPS. It doesn’t take into consideration me being named Teacher of the Year for the collaborative work between SPS, community organizations, and SEA to build the ethnic studies program while I was still teaching full time. It completely ignores the level of collaboration it took for me to single-handedly organize a two-week long PD in collaboration with the following people and organizations:

The Ethnic Studies Advisory Group

SEA’s Center for Racial Equity

SPS Culturally Responsive Teacher Leadership Cadre

Seattle University

The NAACP Youth Council

Families of Color Seattle

Dr. Wayne Au, UW Bothell

Dr. Nan Ma, Bellevue College

Dr. Gonzalo Guzmán, UW Seattle

Dr. LaTaSha Levy, UW Seattle

Rayann Kalei’okalani Onzuka of Huraiti Mana and Wing Luke Museum

Sharon H. Chang. Author and Activist

Dr. Django Paris, UW Seattle

Naho Shioya, Teaching Artist

The complaints outlined in Dr. DeBacker and Juneau’s letters come mostly from white women whose feelings were hurt that I pointed out racist actions. I have never called anyone a racist, as is suggested by Dr. DeBacker. I have pointed out racist events. For example, I never called anyone in Communications a racist. I said that a white woman taking over the work of educators of Color – while I was on vacation – without discussing it with me or my supervisor, Dr. Kinoshita – was a form of institutionalized racism. I didn’t even find out this happened from Carri Campbell and her crew. While I was on vacation I received a text from one of the members of the web developing team we had hired letting me know that Communications had taken over the project.

Another example is the appropriation of our work by HR, specifically Lindsey Berger and Dr. Clover Codd. Lindsey asked to meet with me after our (very successful) Ethnic Studies Summer Institute to learn more about my work. Lindsey outright stated in this meeting, “Clover and I are trying to figure out how you got 100 people to give up two weeks of their summer without giving them any incentives. We have to bribe people to come to our PD.” We had a good chat and did some relationship building. Lindsey asked how she could support our efforts. I told her I needed a staff. Next thing I know, I get an email from Lindsey saying my PD work was being presented in an HR meeting by Uti Hawkins, a member of DREA who has not at all been involved in the ethnic studies work in SPS. Lindsey was writing to ask if I’d like to attend and observe the presentation! That’s when I responded that they were appropriating the work of educators of Color and tokenizing Uti, a woman of Color, as the mouthpiece for work Uti’s not familiar with. I never called anyone racist, but if that’s not appropriation, I don’t know what is.

Finally, more “evidence” I don’t collaborate is that I “bully” and “shame” families and colleagues. Anyone who has done racial justice work knows that just mentioning race or racism equates to bullying for a lot of folks. No person can do this work without a handful of people calling them a bully. That’s just an occupational hazard. It’s worthwhile to note that of all the people saying I’ve bullied or shamed them, all are white except one and the parents making claims against me are complaining about my off-the-clock social media activity. In the instance where a WOC says I shamed her by criticizing a PD she developed, I wasn’t even the person criticizing it. Several of my colleagues criticized it and asked for my advice. I agreed with them. They sent an email and cc’d me on it. No complaint was made against my colleague who wrote the original email, but a HIB was filed against me.

Target Practice

This is a targeted attack. There’s no other way to look at it. It’s clear from the evidence that I collaborate exceptionally well with people, communities, and organizations of Color – a skill most in SPS leadership lack. I have proven the “culturally responsive” leadership Superintendent Juneau pretends to be about, but I’m unfit for the job because some white womens feelings were hurt. Sound familiar?

Which Comes First? Anti-Racism or Racial Equity

image credit: https://iff.org/racial-equity-in-times-of-crisis-lets-interrupt-history/

I recently completed what amounts to a couple of chapters worth of a report on what ethnic studies educators in Western Washington believe they need to implement a successful ethnic studies program. You can read the results on the Washington State Ethnic Studies Now website. One of the discussions sparked by the data I collected is about which comes first – anti-racism or racial equity. The respondents of my interviews believe that anti-racism has to come first because without it, racial equity is just a buzzword. Others in my teacher activist circles believe that racial equity comes first and anti-racism is the end goal. At least one of my friends believes that both can happen at the same time. I’m grateful that I have such thoughtful and critical educators as friends and colleagues. For me, personally, I tend to agree more with the educators I interviewed.

Here’s how the educators I interviewed defined equity, racial equity, and anti-racism:

EquityEvery educator responded that equity means providing access to systems and resources, focusing on groups that are historically and presently marginalized. 

Racial Equity – This term means the same thing as equity, but with a focus on race and acknowledgment of systems of racial oppression.

Anti-racism – This is where there is some variation in opinion among the educators. Every educator used the term “dismantle” in their definition. They all see anti-racism as dismantling racially unjust systems, institutions, practices, and beliefs. A couple educators included capitalism as one system that needs to be dismantled, particularly when it comes to high-stakes testing and standardized, Eurocentric curriculum, and a few white educators included the need to work on their own racism and biases.

In this blog post I want to talk about some differences between terms used in “equity” initiatives in education. I definitely don’t think we can use “equity” to address racial injustice in education. It’s too easily co-opted if it’s not at least “racial equity.” I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, focusing mostly on culturally responsive teaching, but I’m glad I’ve put it off so I can cover some of my new learning and musings. Specifically I want to argue which comes first, anti-racism or racial equity. Ready? Here we go!

Multiculturalism

Yuck. Multiculturalism is a necessary evil. We can’t be anti-racist or teach ethnic studies if we aren’t including some kind of multicultural component in our praxis, but just yuck. I say yuck because TOO MANY people stop there and call it equitable. In fact, while visiting a principal in Seattle to discuss ethnic studies, the principal was compelled to inform me that they “already do ethnic studies.” “Don’t you see the posters of different cultures in the halls? Our staff is very diverse, too.”

index

I worked in collaboration with several colleagues to come up with this definition of multiculturalism and why multiculturalism is problematic on its own.

Multicultural education is frequently content about the cultures of different groups, often groups considered non-white, which creates the idea of white being the “default race.” Non-white groups are taught about in terms of “contributions” or other additive language.

The teaching of multicultural content operates from the assumption that the problem of racism is an under appreciation of different cultures, and therefore the solution is the celebration of different cultures. What makes this problematic is that 1) it does not address power 2) in defining discrete cultures, people and cultures are necessarily reduced in complexity. 

Critical multiculturalism can address systems of power, but most incarnations of multicultural education are “liberal multiculturalism” which focuses on surface level culture.

Surface level culture can be defined as the parts of culture that are easily identifiable to people outside of that culture; for example, food, language, dress, music, holidays, and traditions.

Even more disturbing is that multiculturalism is where many teacher preparation programs start and stop in terms of “equity” training for prospective educators. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Equity Literacy for All by Katy Swalwell and Paul Gorski to help you understand why multiculturalism is bad for kids of Color and white trumptaco_horiz2-1024x751kids. Knowing some trivia facts about “other” peoples’ culture gives white people a false sense of being non-racist. A person can know, and even appreciate, various cultures while still being and acting racist. And we know non-racist = racist.

 

So here I argue that a person needs to be anti-racist before they can teach multiculturalism. Without the critical race theoretical frame, it’s just liberal multiculturalism. It’s surface level information that makes white people feel better about themselves.

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)

I can’t lie. I love Zaretta Hammond’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. I love it because I believe that in another dimension I’m a brain surgeon. The brain is so fascinating. I remember learning in my undergrad program that the brain is the hardware and culture is the software. I also love the analogy that culture is the lens of the camera and frames what and how we see in the world. I believe that. I see how whiteness has warped our sense of culture, what we value, and what we consider unworthy. BUT Zaretta Hammond herself says CRT is not “social justice” nor does it require “anti-bias” training. It’s not inherently anti-racist. I believe it is a piece of the puzzle, but can do more harm when not prefaced with anti-racist pedagogies. As Dr. H. Samy Alim said in a keynote I attended last year at a conference in L.A., “CRT has been picked up and read through a white, hegemonic lens of assimilation.”

 

Districts all over the country have jumped on the CRT bandwagon precisely because of what Dr. Alim said. And because the word “culture” is more palatable than “anti-racist” they can’t wait to “do” CRT. They read the book and are suddenly experts creating and implementing Pinterest worthy CRT strategies (seriously – search “culturally responsive teaching” on Pinterest). UntitledThe problem is most educators can’t even correctly define CRT. People frequently confuse culturally relevant teaching for culturally responsive teaching. They further confuse culturally relevant teaching with culturally relevant pedagogy. Words are important in these conversations, but because we don’t dig this deep in professional development, people use these terms interchangeably which works to dilute their meaning, and thus their efficacy.

First, culturally relevant teaching is using content that is relevant to students. Culturally relevant content does not have anything to do with anti-racism unless that’s what you make it about. We can use Minecraft to teach kids engineering and call it culturally relevant. Culturally responsive teaching, the way Zaretta Hammond wrote about it, is about instruction. It’s about being responsive to the varied needs of your learners and rejecting a one-size fits all approach keeping in mind that culture is the software of the brain. Again, you can use culturally responsive practices in a classroom and never teach about race or oppression, or even consider them in lesson planning.

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings is responsible for the term culturally relevant pedagogy, introducing it about two decades ago. Culturally relevant pedagogy goes further than CRT because it calls for educators to create sociopolitical awareness in their students. Dr. Billings, however, recently wrote a chapter for the book Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies in which she says culturally relevant pedagogy doesn’t go far enough; even it isn’t anti-racist. So here I argue that when an educator hasn’t studied critical race theory in depth, they can do more harm with all of the types of teaching and pedagogy discussed under this CRT heading.

Racial Equity

Here I’m at a point where I believe we will not achieve racial equity if we aren’t first anti-racist. I can see how both can be done at the same time, but even that comes with the danger of making decisions called “racial equity” without the proper anti-racist analysis. I used this graphic with my sixth graders as a vocabulary inference tool.

65ae84479462450b798f3d59ce022cd5

My students worked together to define equity and how it’s different from equality. To paraphrase their definitions, equality means everyone starts out the same and equity means everyone ends up the same. When I think about this argument of which needs to come first, I go back to this image. In order for everyone to end up the same, or get what they all need (apples), we first had to dismantle and reconstruct the system (boxes) used for people to get what they need. To achieve racial equity in education we have to be anti-racist first and dismantle then reconstruct education.