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For anti-racism in education, self-awareness is key

When you read the word anti-racist, what do you think of? How do you feel? If you’re an educator, you know how important it is to create a supportive setting for your students. No matter if you have a formal classroom or not, the need for support stays the same in any instructional environment. A large portion of that support needs to come from a place of self-awareness and value. “Anti-racist teachers take black students seriously. They create a curriculum with black students in mind, and the

Lessonbee

2 minute read.

22 Feb 2021

When you read the word anti-racist, what do you think of? How do you feel? If you’re an educator, you know how important it is to create a supportive setting for your students. No matter if you have a formal classroom or not, the need for support stays the same in any instructional environment.

A large portion of that support needs to come from a place of self-awareness and value.

“Anti-racist teachers take black students seriously. They create a curriculum with black students in mind, and they carefully read students’ work to understand what they are expressing. This might sound fairly standard, but making black students feel valued goes beyond general “good teaching.” It requires educators to view the success of black students as central to the success of their own teaching.” Says Principal Pirette McKamey, on the teacher’s responsibility in the classroom.

Pirette McKamey is the first black principal of Mission High School in San Francisco and has taught high-school English and history for 26 years. She also co-founded and co-led the anti-racist teaching committee at Mission High.

The difference in performance and morale between an anti-racist classroom, and one who is using out of date methods because they've "worked so far," is staggering.

These systems go deeper than even those who participate realize.

“Recent explorations of the role of civil rights in educational disparity by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that in one school district, there were 149 suspensions and expulsions for every 100 black students compared with 32 for every 100 white students. Educators in that school district were shocked to learn that black students were treated more harshly even when the infractions were identical.” Says Danielle Moss Lee, Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA of the City of New York.

Danielle has a rich history in education and is an active advocate for underserved communities.

There comes a time when the methods we use that have “worked so far” need to be examined. Who are they actually working for? Are they as effective as we think they are?

In an anti-racist classroom, that question has to be answered.

Let us not forget that the events of the little rock nine were only 63 years ago. All but 1 are still alive today as I type this.

Let that sink in.

We cannot afford to let the shadows of discrimination darken the halls of our schools. We cannot step back an inch towards where things have been.

Where better to start than in the classroom? In curriculum? At the root of where mindsets are learned, explored, where behaviors are mimicked? These conversations should not be reserved for thanksgiving verbal brawls with family and Twitter threads with strangers. This subject is not roped off against young minds, nor should it be.

“It is an ongoing practice that must be integrated into your life. Anti-racist practice is an ongoing practice, you will never ‘" arrive."’ It is a journey, not a destination.” Says Professor Robin DiAngelo, on what it takes to be anti-racist.

The sooner that journey is started, the better.

Robin DiAngelo is an academic, lecturer, and author working in the fields of critical discourse analysis and whiteness studies. She holds a Ph.D. in multicultural education from the University of Washington.

I ask again: What do you think of when you read the word anti-racist? What do you feel?

Start by answering those questions, and follow where they lead.

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