Philosophy of Curriculum

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This is a special PhD edition post! I was asked to write a “philosophy of curriculum” paper because my program is a doctorate of philosophy in education with a concentration on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and evaluation. Reading the history and evolution of curriculum and the roles war and economics have played in guiding it was sad; unsurprising, and still sad. My goal in earning this degree is to help normalize and legitimize rehumanizing education.


Curriculum is at the core of this Doctor of Education program, so having a strong personal philosophy about the definition and purpose of curriculum is key. It is also important to have a philosophy for how curriculum should be developed, implemented, and evaluated. Important questions to consider are: What is included in a curriculum that can be adequately differentiated to meet the needs of diverse learners and educators in a culturally responsive, critical way? How can all stakeholders work together to create intelligent accountability (Fullan, 2011) in curricula? What do evaluators need to look for to measure the efficacy of curricula?

What is Curriculum?

Franklin & Johnson (2008) indicate the historical definitions of curriculum have fluctuated over the years. Some definitions include instruction as integral to content, while some definitions limit curriculum strictly to content, specifically content broken down by discipline and usually in the form of textbooks. While the first definition of curriculum, written by Franklin Bobbitt, was based on industrial efficacy (Cullen, Harris, & Hill, 2012), modern curricularists are faced with postindustrial-era education needs.

Students and educators now have access to virtually infinite amounts of information, or what has traditionally been defined as “content”. The goal then becomes producing critically conscious consumers and manipulators of information (Laureate, 2017). The “what” to teach, therefore, is only important insofar as it provides relevant, real-world problems that students are then asked to critically engage with and apply their learning to real-world scenarios. Ideally, these scenarios will be racial and social justice oriented, encouraging students to be positive change makers as young people, not when they “grow up”. This curriculum philosophy most closely aligns with what is sometimes called critical theorists (Miller, 2011).

Who Creates Curriculum?

Levin (2008) outlines the various political pressures that continue to determine who is responsible for creating curriculum. Everyone from higher education faculty to school boards and parents believe they are expert curricularists and have a right to create, inform, and approve or reject proposed curricula. Levin (2008) discusses the phenomenon in which a person believes they have expertise by virtue of having been a student. Franklin & Johnson (2008) add the role that politics, specifically the Cold War, and economics have played in determining who writes curricula, including politicians and business leaders. This can currently be seen with the advent of the Common Core and other education reform led by Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation (Ho, 2018).

Though many reports indicate the failures (Ho, 2018) and inherent racism in contemporary education reform, which can be defined as high-stakes standards-based reform (Au, 2009; Kendi, 2016), we continue to look to politicians and business leaders to spearhead curriculum development. Professional educators continue to be at the margins of curriculum development. This is a serious deficit that needs to be corrected. Master educators become expert pedagogues only through practice, reflection, and personal and professional development. There is need for family, student, and community input, but only insomuch as there is meaningful collaboration with skilled, trained, professional pedagogues. Politicians and business leaders should never inform curriculum, as they tend to only have their own interests, and not the interests of children – or even the nation – in mind.

How Is Curriculum Evaluated?

Because of the political and economic influences on education, specifically curriculum, current curricula tend to be evaluated in terms of mastery of standards, including the Common Core and other state-specific standards (Levin, 2008). Common Core standards tend to focus on discreet skills, which necessitates a pedagogy that compartmentalizes learning, instead of synthesizing learning in critical thought and practice (Common Core, n.d.). These inequitable measurements are not improving the outcomes of students, particularly students of color (Barshay, 2019; Au, 2011; Kendi, 2016).

Perception data and portfolio assessments may lend themselves better to measuring the efficacy of curriculum. Student and family perception of how and what they are learning can indicate how well a curriculum is meeting the needs of the stakeholders education is meant to serve. Portfolio assessments, which ask students to “show what they know”, can encourage the critical synthesis within and among disciplines (Hopkins, 2017), a skill many education advocates claim they want students to leave school with, including business leaders (Peart, 2019), and they are a more rigorous way to measure curriculum efficacy.


Curriculum is the heart of teaching and learning, and in a postindustrial education setting, instruction is an essential element of an effective curriculum that prepares diverse learners to be responsible and critical consumers of knowledge. While community should play a role in creating curriculum, respect for the professional skill and knowledge cultivated over years of practice should place educators at the center of curriculum creation. The outcomes of curriculum are best evaluated by those using it to learn: students and their families. Ending high-stakes evaluation of curriculum, and by extension education, and putting human factors back into the assessment of curriculum will produce civic-minded students ready to tackle the problems of the 21st century and many generations to come.



Au, W. (2011). Unequal by Design; High stakes testing and the standardization of inequity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Barshay, J. (2019). Five years after Common Core, a mysterious spike in failure rate among NY high school students. Hechinger Report. Retrieved from

Common Core. (n.d.). Read the standards. Retrieved from

Cullen, R., Harris, M., & Hill, R. R. (2012). The learner-centered curriculum: Design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Franklin, B. & Johnson, C. (2008). What the schools teach: a social history of the American curriculum since 1950. In F.M. Connelly, M. F. He & J. Phillion. The SAGE handbook of curriculum and instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412976572.n23

Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader; Learning to do what matters most. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.

Ho, S. (2018). AP analysis shows how Bill Gates influences education policy. AP News. Retrieved from

Hopkins, A. (2017). High schools turning to student portfolios to assess academic progress. EdSource. Retrieved from

Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning; The definitive history of racist ideas in America. New York, NY: Nation Books.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2017). Curriculum and the forces that shape it [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Levin, B. (2008). Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools. In F. Connelly, M. F. He, & J. Phillion. The SAGE Handbook of Curriculum and Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412976572.n1

Miller, D. L. (2011). Curriculum theory and practice: what’s your style? Phi Delta Kappan, (7), Retrieved from

Peart, N. (2019). The 12 most important skills you need to succeed at work. Forbes. Retrieved from

Math is Ethnic Studies

Featured image is of a mancala game table. Mancala is an ancient math game originating in Ethiopia.

Recently, the work of the Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Advisory Board has come under fire by conservative talk show hosts and Seattle’s own preeminent racist blogger, Melissa Westbrook. Critics accuse us of “dumbing down math.” Sitting school board director, Rick Burke’s wife, Lihn-Co Nguyen, has even hopped on the ethnic studies bashing.



Let’s take a minute to understand why these attacks are baseless and racist, shall we?

STEM so White

The teachers being considered for the 2019 STEM teacher awards in Washington State are 100% white. That’s not by accident. Several studies indicate that math and science tend to be white dominated spaces and research has linked this fact to the ways in which STEM fields devalue Black and Brown identities. While there are disparate outcomes by race for all standardized tests, math scores for students of color consistently remain far lower than other tested subjects.

Study after study tell us that how young people of color view themselves as mathematicians is key to their success in math courses. This applies to all subjects. That’s why you’ll often hear history teachers say things like, “Let’s think like historians!” Students of music who consider themselves musicians probably do better than those who don’t. Even in science, students have fun when they put on the white lab coat and do experiments. In that case, they can literally see themselves as scientists. Why would it be different for math?

Math is “Objective”

Part of the reason people don’t think identity is important in math is because it’s seen as the most objective subject in school. Math is math. There’s one right answer. Math is the “universal language.” I’m not arguing with any of those statements, but math is most certainly NOT objective, especially when it’s operationalized. And guess what? Teaching math is operationalizing math. When teachers choose not to include how identities matter in math, they are teaching a biased, politicized form of math. When we give the impression (or overtly state) that math originates from European sources (even the word “mathematics” comes from a Greek word), we are stealing the rich mathematical histories of students of color from them and we are lying to white students.

When we teach math using pedagogy and instructional strategies that focus on individual learning and achievement, we are ignoring the ways in which most students of color learn – collaboratively and collectively. We use word problems that are completely disconnected from the lived experiences of students of color. We don’t teach them how math can inform and transform their lives and their communities. Black and Brown people are completely erased from math and math is irrelevant to their lives in our current math practices.

And while math may be a universal language, there are different ways to learn about, conceptualize, and solve equations that are based on culture. There’s an entire sub-field of study called ethnomathematics. Not only does ethnomathematics center math learning in cultural traditions and knowledge, it teaches us that math looks and operates differently in different cultures. Consider the Aztec base 20 system of math. Instead of doing calculations and writing out numbers in units of 10, or decimals, Aztecs (Nahuatl) used 20 as a base unit. If we teach students there are many ways to get to the “right answer,” not only will they learn their cultural roots as mathematicians, they will also understand number sense better because they will be able to define it from multiple perspectives, or approaches.

a visualization of the Aztec base 20 system

Oppression in Math

“Western” math – the base 10 system (which actually comes from ancient India)- is not the only math. The fact that so few people understand there are other ways of “doing” math means that math has been used to erase the histories of communities, people, and empires of color. That is oppression. The fact that kids of Latinx descent don’t know their ancestors invented zero is oppression. Causing people to believe that only people of European descent had anything important to say or teach about math is racism.

Science, and by extension math, have most certainly been used in more overt, nefarious forms of racism. Consider the Tuskegee Experiment, the story of Henrietta Lacks, and the debunked “science” of eugenics. Math was used to disenfranchise Black voters as late as the 1960s. Math is used in the War on Drugs in which the weight and type of drug is used in sentencing guidelines that disproportionately imprison Black and Brown offenders for longer sentences.

When Black and Brown students learn math through an ethnic studies pedagogy, it is an act of liberation. Undoing the colonization of math as a “Western” concept is resistance. Becoming a mathematician as a person of color is taking action against a system that heavily privileges white people, especially white men. Ethnic studies belongs in math just as much, if not more so, as it does in history.

My Week in Montgomery

The featured image is from the EJI Memorial. These jars are full of soil from lynching sites in the State of Alabama.

I have the great privilege to be on the current Advisory Board for Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance. Our first convening of the new board was last month and it took place at the Embassy Suites in Montgomery, Alabama. It was my first time to The South since I was 16. When I was a teenager, I traveled with my family to Missouri and Indiana to visit with my mom’s side of the family. Yes, I know that’s not technically The South, but I remember going to my grandfather’s birthplace, standing on the bank of the Ohio river, and looking across to Kentucky on the other side. That’s close enough to The South for me.

My dad, brothers, and I stood out as Mexican and mixed-race people. Our darker skin seemed to make many people uncomfortable, all of whom were blood relatives. After that visit, I vowed to never go back to The South and was apprehensive about what I might experience in Montgomery, especially considering the most recent stories of misogyny and racism in the era of Trumpism.

My passion for racial justice won out and I went to Montgomery, Alabama excited to meet and work with social justice educators from across the country. I was not disappointed by the talent and passion I met in that conference room. I met Dr. Stephanie Jones who is mapping out racial trauma in schools, particularly racial trauma caused by curriculum. I was so excited to learn about her work because it’s directly related to what I’m working on for my dissertation. I got to know Matilda Morrison who is working on LGBTQ topics for kinders in Ventura, California. I spent some time listening to stories told by Kevin Cordi who has a PhD in storytelling. How cool is that? I learned all about the coolest places to visit when I go to New York this winter from Geneviève DeBose Akinnagbe who teaches in Los Angeles. There are so many other people who are doing important work, and if you want to learn more about them, you can here.

Though I am going to be critical here, I want to start by saying Teaching Tolerance is a rich resource for anti-racist educators. I look forward to learning more about what they have to offer and how they are staying current with these problematic times. We need them, and I am committed to doing what I can to help them continue to be at the forefront on a national level in the fight against hate. Please take a moment to dig into their resources for educators.


The heat and humidity aren’t the only oppressive things in Montgomery. The history is oppressive. I don’t know if it was the eerily empty streets or the spirits of the past that hit a melancholy nerve as I walked the streets of Montgomery. I’m going to jump ahead in this story a bit to the Friday I spent in Montgomery. We had gone through all of our work as an advisory board and had Friday to explore on our own. Part of our experience with Teaching Tolerance included tickets to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

I had an idea of what I was in for at the museum and memorial, but I was not prepared for simply walking down the street. I started out walking down a street called Tallapaloosa and came to the first intersection where Commerce St. and Tallapaloosa met. To my left was this statue of Hank Williams, so I went to check it out and noticed the street led down to a river, so I headed that direction.

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I learned from the placards that this is where enslaved Africans were brought to and from market and then later forced to load cotton bales onto boats for transport. I was expecting something along those lines, so at this point I was feeling adequately prepared to face history.

I walked back up Commerce Street and ended up in a place called The Alley where I was excited to find a Mexican Restaurant! I have this thing where I try to find Mexican food in each new place I visit. I had my lunch then headed back out onto Commerce to just go explore. Not even 100 yards in, I found this placard explaining how the buildings along Commerce St. served as warehouses for enslaved Africans waiting to be bought and sold.

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Had I just had lunch in a building that was used to torture human beings? The idea was sickening. Nearly all of those buildings currently house various restaurants except for the space occupied by the EJI. Did the other patrons know what they were doing?

I kept walking toward the Rosa Parks museum. I didn’t go inside, but there was something surreal about standing in the spot she was arrested for unapologetically taking up space that was reserved for whiteness. At just about that moment, a thunderstorm rolled in out of nowhere, and giant water drops quickly drenched me. I wasn’t mad, though. It was hot before that!

I started back toward the EJI, and while I waited for a crossing light, a big, black pickup truck entered the intersection with a Stars and Bars license plate. I’m not used to seeing that in Seattle, and was startled, though I know I shouldn’t have been. On the way back I also passed a beautiful fountain that I later learned was where slave auctions were held.

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By the time I made it back to the EJI, which was only a few blocks away, I was dripping wet and glad to be in out of the rain. I thought I was prepared for what I was going to experience. I wasn’t.

I don’t have pictures from inside the EJI because cameras are forbidden. I understand why. The emotional weight of that museum is overwhelming. People were openly sobbing, holding their children a little tighter. It was an interesting contrast sometimes; mothers and fathers with tears in their eyes as their toddlers ran around laughing and playing. If you’re hoping for a feel good, Civil Rights museum, EJI is not the place you’re looking for. You are confronted full force with the evils of whiteness. Images of torture, incarceration, murder, and the commodification of human beings are on full display. I couldn’t help but cry. Only people who have lost their humanity wouldn’t. I tried to hold myself together as much as possible because I felt selfish as a non-Black person taking op that space when there were far more Black families there grieving. I’m not surprised there weren’t many white people, but it’s still disheartening.

The EJI provides a shuttle to the monument about a mile away. I cannot even begin to describe how I felt walking through that monument.

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Again, I tried to take up as little space as possible for the same reason. The monument consists of smaller monuments to the lynching victims of each county in The South. Some are marked “unknown.” When you first start out in the space, the individual monuments are at eye level, then, as you go around the square, the individual monuments begin to rise above you. When they are fully above your head it becomes a daunting, haunted space.

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At eye level you are confronted with the “reasons” for lynchings, most of which are related to the innocence of white women.

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As I turned the next corner and saw the monument to all of the undiscovered victims, I literally could not go on. I sat there for a long time quietly crying.

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How can humans do this to other humans? It’s hard to even recount this here. In the center of this space, with the lynching monuments still above my head, was a glass container with layers of soil from various lynching sites in The South. All I could think about was how we have covered up this gruesome part of our past and it’s making a comeback because of our willful ignorance. There are reminders, but they’re too unsettling for many to look at. How do we make people look at this and truly see it for what it is – past and present?

Toward the end of the memorial are duplicate monuments. The curators of the museum have invited each of the counties to pick their respective monument up and display in remembrance of those who were lynched on their soil. So far, not one has been picked up. I went back to my hotel feeling  – I don’t even know. Right now I vacillate between rage, despair, renewed energy to fight, and disgust. I’m sorry it took me so long to go back to The South and look this history in the eye. I return to Montgomery next summer for another advisory board summit, and I am ready to learn and see more.


Here, I’m going to backtrack to my experiences during the advisory board work. While there are many educators doing amazing things, there were some things that happened I didn’t expect. I should know better. I’ve been in enough social and racial justice spaces to see people who probably shouldn’t be there put their feet in their mouths. I probably said or did something that offended others in attendance, too. Sometimes I get excited and words just fall out of my mouth! We all need to do reflective work and own our mistakes. I have work to do.

There were several times, however, when I felt like it was more than the typical reflective work. I had a couple of moments where I felt like my identity was being challenged. That seemed like such an obvious microaggression that I wasn’t expecting it. Fortunately, I was able to confront the person who committed it and they were receptive. We worked through it and I’m confident we can become good friends and colleagues.

I was surprised at the number of white participants. While I firmly believe white people should be part of this work, I also believe people of color, particularly womxn of color, should have the largest share of leadership. While there are strong people of color on the advisory, particularly Black womxn, there were only one or two who seemed to be in leadership positions with Teaching Tolerance.

I was struck at how delineated the terms “social justice” and “racial justice” felt. I recognize this is because of my own paradigm around those terms. For me, if we say “racial justice” we are including every single social justice issue because people of color experience them all. I’m wondering how I can advocate for more leaders of color and for shifting the language or perception that racial justice is only about race. We have work to do. We can’t go back to the past that haunts the streets in Montgomery. We can’t.

13 Things Not to Do When You’re Called the “R” Word; And two things you should

Yes, thirteen things. I know that seems like a lot. Usually these types of pieces stick to a nice, neat number like 3, 5, or 10, but 13 is the number of things not to do that I counted in a single response written by a white woman whom I called the “R” word (R = racist), and it’s only 13 because I combined some of them!

I am an educator of color in Seattle whose job is anti-racist work within the school district. Seattle is very white – nearly 70%. It’s also one of the most liberal cities in the US, and these liberal, white Seattleites hate being called racist, but the thing is – a lot of them are. The reason they hate it so much is because of this idea that a racist is a bad person. Robin DiAngelo calls it the “good/bad binary.”

There’s been a phrase created in the past couple of years by a white Seattle educator to describe the type of racism that exists in Seattle: Passive Progressive. A Passive Progressive is a white person who espouses progressive ideals, especially racial justice, but only to the degree it earns them points for being progressive enough to be a Seattlelite. A Black professor I work with put it best, “White people love to put ‘Black Lives Matter’ yard signs on the lawns of the neighborhoods they’re gentrifying.”

I’ve been calling out a white woman, who considers herself an “education advocate,” as a racist very publicly on my social media. We’ll call this woman Becky. I decided to do this intentional calling out when I became witness to how Becky’s Passive Progressive racism was derailing a curriculum adoption process that was widely supported by families and science educators of color. I wanted people to know that most of the opposition was coming from a racist. Becky writes for and moderates a kind of “watch dog” community forum where she “reports” on various school district goings on. I could give you a “All the Ways Becky is Racist” list that would be so much longer than this post, but just know she thought a joke about fried chicken in a discussion about racism on her forum was “much needed levity.” But Becky is one of those people who believes she is inherently not racist because she is progressive. She wrote a public response to my call outs that I am using to generate this list. The quotes below come directly from her response.

It’s important to note that Becky self identifies as white. It’s also important to note that I use the definition, “prejudice + power = racism,” which means people of color can’t be racist because we’ve never held systemic power, so this list of “things not to do” only applies to white folks!

Ready? Here we go!

Number 1: Don’t expect the person of color who called you a racist to meet you on your terms.

In her response to me calling her a racist, Becky writes:

“When you are dealing with zealots who believe they are the ones who speak with purity about all things race, ethnicity, and the intersection of those for all of us, there’s nothing you can say that will satisfy them if you can’t pass their purity means testing.  You will always be shouted down.”

We’ll get to the “zealot” and “shouted down” parts later, but here I want you to note how Becky expects me to listen to and understand her definitions of the intersections of race and ethnicity and have a discussion with her instead of “shouting” her down. I never yelled. In fact, I’ve never talked to Becky in person. I’ve only ever called her a racist on social media.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 2: Don’t try to prove the person of color who called you a racist is, in fact, a racist themselves.

I’m a PhD student and I post some of my papers on my blog because my doctorate of philosophy is in education, and I write an education blog, so it’s relevant. In one paper I was writing about how to create an anti-racist data culture. Becky didn’t like my ideas and thought they were reverse racist and she, a white woman, knows better who should do the job:

“Below is what she wrote at her blog about Dr. [Xxxx Xxxxxxxx], head of Research and Evaluation, who admittedly is a white male, but also someone who I have found to be smart and well-qualified.

An additional factor to consider is that the research and evaluation team in Seattle Public Schools consists primarily of white people, with the director being a white male (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b). When the goals of the district, including the Strategic Plan, specifically call out racial disparities, it would make sense that the data culture be led by a person who identifies with impacted groups. A racial equity literate (Gorski, 2015) person of color would be better suited to set the parameters and purpose of data collected than a white male who cannot fully understand the needs of students of color.

Emphasis added by Becky.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 3: Don’t denigrate and belittle the person of color who called you a racist.

“Castro-Gill seemingly flails around, ‘Look at me! Why aren’t you looking at me?’ about her work. And that points to a sad, pathetic person.”

My work speaks for itself. I don’t need people to look at me, but if they did, they’d see I’m a successful, professional, grown-ass 44-year-old woman of color with three children, one grandchild, three college degrees under my belt and a fourth on the way. I’ve lived through drug dependency, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, and being widowed. I want people to look at Becky and how she thinks I’m “unsophisticated” and “pathetic.” That tells you more about Becky than me.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 4: Don’t contact the person of color’s employer to try to have them fired.

Yes, Becky really did this; not once, but thrice. Oh, Becky. Becky took a comment from her forum and sent it to my superiors claiming it was from me. The comment clearly did not come from me and was against everything I stand for as an educator. Here’s what Becky had to say about sending the comment to my bosses:

“My spidey sense (and common sense) tells me it was her.  She denies it was her and has threatened to sue me for saying so.  Yes, I should have been more circumspect and said something like, ‘It sounds like her’.”

Emphasis from Becky.

Here, Becky admits to knowing she wasn’t positive it was me, and she admits she reported it as if she was positive. If she wasn’t a racist, she would understand how challenging it is to be a woman of color working inside a racist institution doing racial justice work and not add fuel to the fire. But, I digress.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 5: Don’t engage in respectability politics AND Don’t tone police. defines “respectability politics” as “the set of beliefs holding that conformity to socially acceptable or mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a member of a marginalized or minority group from prejudices and systemic injustices.” defines “tone policing” as “a conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful, or otherwise emotionally charged manner.”

Becky says:

“She’s so righteous about her positions, she believes she’s entitled to run amok anywhere she pleases.  I’m not sure that’s the mark of someone who listens.”

Run amok? Besides Donald Trump and his crew, I’ve literally only ever called out this woman publicly as a racist.

Oh, then there’s the whole “zealot” thing:

“And please take note; this won’t be just me.  Racial equity is going to be used as a club in this district and the zealots are going to happily wield it.”

“I find it hard to believe this kind of attitude and willingness to go after people viciously and with glee is really going to move the needle on ethnic studies in this district.”

Emphasis by Becky, again.

Here we see Becky dictating how racial justice advocates should properly conduct business. We aren’t supposed to be angry or hold steadfastly to our ideals. We should meet white people where they are. See #1 above.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 6: Don’t use dog whistles.

Becky is a sly one using two examples of what not to do in one statement:

“Racial equity is going to be used as a club in this district and the zealots are going to happily wield it.”

This is both respectability politics and dog whistling. defines “dog whistling” as “a political strategy, statement, slogan, etc., that conveys a controversial, secondary message understood only by those who support the message.” Becky’s warning white folks that Black and Brown folks are gonna be coming for them. Zealots = angry Black and Brown folks!

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 7: Don’t speak for people of color you think would vouch for you AND Don’t tokenize people of color as proof you’re not a racist.

Here we get two in one, again! Becky says:

“I know that [Xxxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx], head of [XXXX], has spoken up for me and even to Ms. Castro-Gill, who seems mightily annoyed that [Xxxxx Xxxxxx] just doesn’t seem to get it.

I know [Xxxxx Xxxxx], who is the head of [XXX], and is a colleague friend would not agree that I’m a racist.  (And boy, would I love to see Castro-Gill take her on; [Xxxxx] does not suffer fools gladly.)”

Even if these people agree that Becky isn’t a racist, speaking for them is racist, not to mention the fact that many people of color have internalized oppression and engage in whiteness themselves. I’m not saying these particular people do either, but using people who do is tokenizing. Think: Ben Carson.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 8: Don’t use white people’s opinions of you to prove you’re not a racist.

Becky spoke for three people who she thinks would vouch for her not being a racist. Two were in the above example of what not to do. The third is a white person.

“I know Dr. [Xxxxx Xxxxxxx], a lifelong educator and support of lifting up students of color in our district, would not agree.”

White people don’t get to decide what is and who is racist. Hard stop.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 9: Don’t use your volunteer experience in impoverished communities as evidence that you’re not a racist AND Don’t use your volunteer experience in communities of color as evidence that you’re not a racist.

I’m combining these two because they are similar and I am making a distinction between them because here we can see Becky conflating poverty with race:

“This librarian has seen me come into her Title One elementary school, week in, week out, month in, month out, year in, year out…for three straight years.”

In the above quote Becky is referring to a librarian who agrees with me that Becky is a racist. Becky is dumbfounded the librarian would agree that she’s a racist when the librarian is witness to her volunteer work with Title 1 (low income) kids. Not all Black and Brown people are poor! And using this as evidence you’re not racist IS racist.

Becky goes on to say:

“If I’m a racist, it’s odd how I’m working mighty hard for kids of color.  Putting in time and money and sweat into helping kids of color in public education, that’s how I hide my racism.”

Think: “voluntourism,” the phenomenon in which white people go to far off countries full of Brown and Black people to bring culture and knowledge into spaces otherwise devoid of such. This type of thinking is deficit minded. We’ve already seen how she conflates poverty and race. This is just further evidence she should be nowhere near kids of color.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 10: Don’t use proximity to people of color or where you grew up as evidence you’re not a racist.

“That growing up – right on the border with Mexico – in a small, rural town that was majority Mexican, that means nothing. My Mexican-American friends from high school would laugh right in their faces to learn that anyone would think I’m a racist.”

In this prime specimen, Becky uses where she grew up, proximity to people of color, AND speaking for people of color she thinks would vouch for her. It’s like she was reading DiAngelo’s White Fragility as a guide for how to be a racist!

In another statement about her volunteer work she says:

“I’m in a diverse classroom and my teacher is black.”

Never once in her defense does Becky talk about what she learns from the people of color she’s in proximity to. She only uses them as props and shields. This is a form of tokenizing and, guess what Becky? It’s racist.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 11: Don’t use blood quantum to prove you can’t be a racist.

It’s important to know that Becky identifies as a white woman. She has never claimed to be a woman of color, but whenever Becky is called a racist, she resurrects her abuela as a shield:

“I’m a quarter but apparently, my quarter doesn’t count.  My abuela would be spinning in her grave if she heard that one.”

Ok, but then Becky admits that she doesn’t identify as a woman of color:

“That I don’t identify as Mexican-American does NOT mean that it is not part of who I am and that I am not proud of it.”

What’s most racist about this is the racist history of blood quantum ideology and, again, she’s not telling us what she learned from her abuela or how that impacted her identity development, just that she has one and that makes her ¼ Mexican – oh, and she’s proud of it while she doesn’t claim it.

Also, you don’t get to identify as, live as, and benefit from being white and then call up your abuela when you do racist shit.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 12: Don’t be a “non-racist.”

Becky frequently allows comments on her forum that are blatantly racist. One commenter blamed an educator of color for white students engaging in racist vandalism, including writing the words “KKK” and “white power” outside their classrom, because the educator of color was teaching ethnic studies and the white kids were just “sophomorically rebelling” (Becky agreed with the commenter, btw).

Becky claims she leaves these racist comments up for reasons:

“And when I read a comment that is racist or completely bizarre, I do sometimes let it stand. You know why? Because sometimes it’s better to say nothing and let that person’s shameful words speak for themselves. Because sometimes my readers are much better at letting someone know how very wrong they are than I am.”

Ok, Becky… Here, it’s important to note she frequently deletes comments she doesn’t like. Often in the comments section you’ll find the notice, “Comment removed by moderator,” but the racist ones? Naw.. those can fly. Becky, you’re either anti-racist, non-racist, or racist, and many people believe if you’re not the first, you’re the last. An anti-racist person would call that shit out. There’s no such thing as neutrality when systems of oppression exist.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 13: Don’t be a self-proclaimed ally.

“I’m a natural ally and yet because I don’t pass their litmus test, then I’m out.”

That’s right, Becky! You don’t get to decide. We do.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Listen and reflect. You were probably thinking, “I get it… ‘listen and reflect’,” but it’s been my experience that white people don’t like to hear that’s the answer to how to respond to the anger and pain of people of color. Notice I’m not saying, “Take Tracy’s word as gospel.” If I were the only person calling Becky a racist, Becky may not be a racist, but a lot of people of color – and white people – call Becky a racist. Instead of listening and reflecting, Becky deletes their comments when they call her out and she deflects, using racist tactics to “prove” she’s not a racist.

I hope Becky’s racist Beckfoolery can be used for good and this piece will help people identify how they are being racist when responding to being called a racist. Don’t be like Becky; instead, listen and reflect.

Positive Social Change Special PhD Edition: Philosophy of Leadership

A new quarter brings a new PhD special series (or two). One of the courses I’m currently enrolled in is called “Evaluating Curriculum to Promote Positive Social Change.” Like last time, the instructor has us breaking down a rather lengthy paper into chunks. I present to you here one of the chunks!

I was asked to write about my philosophy of leadership. I know I’ve done this before on the blog, but it’s good to document how my thinking has evolved – if at all – thanks to new learning and insights. (spoiler: I don’t think it has, much. Maybe it’s more polished…)


In an education setting, there are many layers of leadership. Students, family members, community members, support staff, teachers, and administrators all play leadership roles in some form. Over the decades, the definition of leadership has shifted from one of authoritarianism to one of coach or “influencer” (Northouse, 2016). In systems with changing demographics, in which students, teachers, and communities of color come from more collectivist cultures, leadership needs to take a more collectivist approach to meet the needs of everyone in the system (Yi, 2018).

In Seattle Public Schools there is a movement to shift pedagogies from what Paolo Friere (1968) called “banking” education to culturally responsive teaching. In her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain; Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, Zaretta Hammond outlines how shifting from the “sage on the stage” to a facilitator of learning centers the skills, learning and cultural wealth of students, making learning more student centered and encouraging learner leadership, or what Hammond calls “independent learners” (2016). To achieve this goal, adult learners need to practice and model the same leadership style of collectivism and collaboration.

Types of Leadership in Seattle Public Schools

The leadership in Seattle Public Schools is hierarchical. Staff in different levels of the organization chart are actively discouraged, and sometimes forbidden, from interacting or collaborating with people higher than their position in the chart. Most of the leaders in Seattle Public Schools fall under the label “assigned leadership” because they have been promoted through the ranks instead of being identified and named as effective, inspirational leaders (Northouse, 2016). This is the systemic climate, but there are some leaders who buck the system.

Seattle Public Schools uses a “site-based” model of leadership. This creates different sets of hierarchies. There is a hierarchy among the central office staff and hierarchies in each school site. The central office consists of various departments, including teaching and learning, human resources, students support services, communications, etc. Each of these departments have chiefs who lead them, and these chiefs are part of the “small cabinet” that reports to the superintendent and the superintendent reports to the board of directors. Below the chiefs are executive directors, directors, and managers in that hierarchical order.

The author of this paper serves in a manager role and has been told they are not allowed to contact the superintendent or the board of directors. There is a chain of command one must go through to resolve issues and make decisions. Professional development is given to people lower on the organization chart by those higher on the organization chart or sometimes laterally. Those with more power in the hierarchy rarely collaborate with their subordinates, but instead instruct them on what to do.

At the school site, principals are seen as the leaders, and despite efforts by the education association to foster educator leadership, principals frequently interfere with these efforts. This is evidenced by the need for, and current implementation of, each building leadership team attending trainings on how these teams should be collaborative and not led by principals.

There are a few leaders at both the district and school sites who have chosen to be more transformational and collaborative in their practice. These leaders are the exception, however. They tend to be people of color or white leaders who have chosen to be anti-racist or social justice leaders. These are the leaders who collaborate with the educators and students in their building, provide leadership opportunities for both, and remove as many barriers as possible for their subordinates, often by managing up.

Opportunities and Challenges

There are many emergent educator leaders in Seattle Public Schools. There are many examples of educators taking the lead on racial justice, specifically. For example, when a family support worker planned to host an event in which Black leaders in the community lined the walkway to school to give students hi-fives, conservative media stoked fear and hate to the point the school received bomb threats. This family support worker, DeShawn Jackson, refused to back down and held the event anyway. After he went to other educator leaders for support, including Jesse Hagopian and an educator activist group, Social Equity Educators, thousands of educators in Seattle organized in support of the event and wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school and taught lessons about systemic racism. That was in 2016 and since then, educators across the country have joined in and established a national network of educator leaders. The day of action has become the “National Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.”

Within the education association in Seattle is a program called the Center for Racial Equity. This program was founded the same year as the first Black Lives Matter day of action. This program fosters educator leadership specific to racial justice in Seattle Public Schools. The program has been instrumental in supporting the work of the national network, in the district’s racial equity team program, and in the emerging ethnic studies program. The district is beginning to partner with the Center on critical racial equity work, which is strengthening both organizations’ efforts and improving outcomes for all students.

With the site-based model of leadership, one challenge is the barrier principals frequently create to leadership opportunities for educators. If educators do not take the traditional path of teacher, building administrator, district administrator, they have little chance of obtaining a leadership role within the district. Most leadership roles are through union work. The fact educators are discouraged or prevented from collaborating with their supervisors or their supervisors’ supervisors also limits opportunities.

Proposed Changes

The first step to create greater opportunities for transformational and shared leadership is to dismantle the site-based decision-making model. This model galvanizes the hierarchy that prevents authentic collaboration and stifles emergent leaders. If there is a more fluid exchange between educators, building leaders, and district leaders, collaborative and shared leadership could be engaged in. This model would create space for leaders to learn from each other and from their subordinates. Additionally, removing barriers to collective leadership can lead to transformational leadership which inspires subordinates to have increased motivation and job satisfaction (Northouse, 2019).

Another change would be to give more weight in decision making to emergent leaders who have demonstrated successful transformational leadership. These emergent leaders should be recruited into district leadership positions instead of pulling from the principal pool for the sake of maintaining hierarchies. Emergent educator leaders should also be supported in moving into principalships if that is their goal. The district should work with the education association, especially the Center for Racial Equity to identify these leaders and offer scholarships, training, and coaching to move into building leadership roles.


Transformational, collaborative, and collectivist leadership is instrumental to creating a learner leadership style. Strict hierarchies in a system inhibit this style of leadership and should be dismantled as much as possible. Fostering emergent leaders is key to creating systemic change and creating pathways for emergent leaders will encourage more to step forward. This leadership style will improve the outcomes for all students and model the type of leadership educators want students to engage in.


Friere, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Hammond, Z. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain; Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Yi, J. (2018). Revisiting individualism-collectivism: A cross-cultural comparison among college students in four countries. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 47. Retrieved from