This post provides a rationale for pushing outside our comfort zones when it comes to our personal point of view and crafting a more diverse, inclusive curriculum. In honor of Black History Month, we can reflect on our points of view, celebrate diversity, see whiteness, and read with abandon. This post is the first in a series.
Teachers of the gifted are often gifted kids themselves: always curious, lifelong learners, seeking new experiences. Black History Month is a perfect opportunity for us to grow and to model lifelong learning to our students. And if we grow as learners, we will provide resources and experiences that mix academic rigor with views, visions, and representations that reflect our students themselves–not just demographic or type of student.
If we are to craft curriculum built with empathy, openness, and awareness–one that feeds all our students–we will never stop challenging our assumptions and embracing others’ experiences.
How do you as a learner and educator expand your realm of empathy, openness, and awareness? Share with us below!
Reflect on our Points of View
“If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch. ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’”
– President Barack Obama
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anais Nin.
Our curriculum can reflect our personal point of view–one that is formed by multiple aspects such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and much more. Our gifted programs likewise reflect both individual and community points of view, which of course includes bias.
A 2016 study by Vanderbilt researchers found that black students with comparable high test scores were “half as likely as white students to be assigned to gifted programs.” The study also found that the racial gap essentially disappears when black students are taught by black teachers.
What’s deeply concerning to the researchers is the fact that many kids are directed toward gifted programs in elementary years where 80% of our black students learn from teachers of other races. In Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding’s words: “our results show that identification of gifted students depends, in part, on factors having little to do with student performance or ability that lead students to be assigned disproportionately on the basis of race and ethnicity.”
Likewise, if your school’s gifted curriculum or your subject-area curriculum has “been around a while,” and/or you are the main developer of it, it’s possible that the points of view aren’t as broad as they could be–that the lens of race, ethnicity, and other factors form it.
In our professional development modules for our online teachers in the eStudies program, we invite our staff to celebrate and dialogue about diversity. Our goal is to encourage some thinking outside the box, or rather, thinking outside our own skin.
How would you respond to these prompts? How might they shake up the curriculum you’ve built?
Discussion #1: Celebrating our Diversity
We work with a very diverse group of students. Among many intriguing variations our students have, there is geographic diversity (urban, suburban, and rural, domestic and international students, etc.); racial and ethnic diversity; diversity of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression; and religious diversity–just to name a few! Students come to our program with different worldviews, abilities, interests, prerequisite knowledge, and political and social ideas.
What would you do during the first weeks of the program to create an online environment that
- invites students to celebrate and share some aspect of that diversity that is appropriate to our academic environment,
- that encourages all students to engage fully in the learning process,
- and that invites them to take intellectual risks?
What methods, language, and strategies will you use to invite students into this process that sets a welcoming and inclusive tone? Be specific with icebreaker ideas, discussion questions, statements you might make, or other ideas you will share.
Discussion #2: Diversifying Our Resources
Duke TIP strives to be inclusive, and yet sometimes, our resources, readings, and other materials can reflect a limited world view. As just one example: imagine that all sources in a course–readings and multimedia resources–were written or prepared by people of the same gender, race, and class. What identities, voices and perspectives tend to be reflected in your current curriculum? How can you work to incorporate those identities and perspectives that are not represented?
- What are some ways you might make small tweaks to your materials this year that might increase the diversity and richness of the human landscape that your curriculum portrays?
- Regarding your strategy, how would you define success? What does it look like?
Discussion #3: Where Do You Want to Grow?
Knowing that we all begin from where we are, and where we are is shaped by the same diverse aspects that shape our students—where do you feel the need to grow in terms of awareness? This year, for example, Duke TIP Main Office asked to receive training regarding students on the autistic spectrum as well as a training on sexual and gender diversity. We are compiling some resources for staff to be shared as needed.
- What resources do you wish you had to better meet the needs of certain students?
- What resources do you have that you would like to share?
- As a leader, are you aware of the boundaries of your comfort zone? Briefly reflect on situations and ideas you might find challenging to handle. What steps would you take to expand the boundaries of your comfort zone?
Little choices lead to bigger shifts in perspective. What are you reading, seeing, or experiencing in the art world this month that might just expand your horizons?
Here in Durham, North Carolina, where poet, essayist, playwright, and arts educator Howard Craft continues to inspire fans and students with his work, I just received his latest book of poetry, Raising the Sky, from Jacar Press. I also attended his latest play, The Miraculous and the Mundane. I’m excited to push out my boundaries some more–as educator, as author, and as citizen.
Read with Abandon
The We Need Diverse Books organization and movement strives to “produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” Whether you teach English Language Arts or not, the fiction you read and the nonfiction you consume matter. What if we all read with abandon? How much bigger might our worlds be? And how much bigger would be the worlds we introduce to our students?
YA author Matt de la Peña brings it home to how we impact our kids when our books don’t represent them. Watch as he asks this group of children, “What is the ‘normal’ character you read in books?” A child’s answer: “A young white person?” is one of the many reasons that we need this that this movement.
If you’re wondering why the percentage of students of color represented in children’s literature is so low (where animal characters are more prevalent than children of color) this next video does a great job of explaining how the traditional publishing industry–traditionally run by white people–has privileged certain people, manuscripts, and trends.
When you look at your TBR (To Be Read) pile, where does it stretch your horizons? When you look at your classroom, what cultures and experiences could you seek out in your reading? Are there too many books that reflect an assumed “default white” community?
Keeping in mind the barriers for many authors of color to be published, whom do you know in your local community who is actively writing and sharing their artistic work? Are there indie authors and presses producing excellent work whose perspective might benefit you? Exploring those options might bring an exciting new reading to your attention and your classroom.
Seek Diversity Training
Most of don’t feel prepped for challenging conversations around race and diversity. As part of our lifelong learning, we can grow tremendously when we seek out training.
Embrace Race, an organization dedicated to providing support for adults who want to have healthy and meaningful conversations around race, offers several tip sheets for adults and educators. It’s great to know there are approaches, methods, and questions to use–that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and stumble with our protoype. Your school guidance staff might also have helpful resources.
See the Whiteness
So much of our cultural conversations lack an honest dialogue about whiteness and how race is defined–and how race is a problematic construct in and of itself. Scene on Radio’s Seeing White podcast does an excellent job in its 14-part documentary series to encourage conversations on these topics. Three questions in particular occupy this tour through past and present American lives and cultures:
- Where did whiteness come from?
- What does whiteness mean?
- How does whiteness work?
This is a great listen on the way to work. Whatever your racial or ethnic background, you’ll find fascinating new historical information and confrontations with America’s problematic past. As host John Biewen writes:
“The subject of whiteness is potentially uncomfortable for people of any race or ethnicity. People of color may react to the topic of whiteness by thinking: Really? We live in a world dominated and controlled by white people. Whiteness is our often-uncomfortable reality. Do we have to have a discussion about whiteness? For folks feeling that way, please understand: This is not about celebrating whiteness. We’re here to take a critical look at whiteness and how it functions in the life of our society, how it affects us all. Because it does, and we usually don’t talk about it directly.
White people, on the other hand, may react with unease: Am I about to be attacked? Is the point of this discussion that all white people are bad? To those people we can say: The point is not to attack every individual of European descent. None of us chose our ‘race,’ nor did we create the society that we were all born into. In this class or discussion group, we’re in this together, trying to understand how we all got here. A conclusion of the Seeing White series is that white people must own and take responsibility for the advantages that come with whiteness, but that is not the same as saying that you as a white person are to blame and need to feel ashamed.”
Download the Study Guide that accompanies these podcasts here.
Find the Perfect Pairing
Chances are that a book, essay, poem, or other piece we read in school or one we teach now that is considered the “canon” provides only one lens on a race or culture. How can we create a buffet of resources, mixing YA or current news articles with texts from the canon?
- If you teach To Kill a Mockingbird, why not pair it with A Raisin in the Sun or The Hate U Give? And excerpts from Huck Finn to give it historical context? If we read sections of some classic books, while allowing students a list of independent reading choices (or to propose their own suggestions), we can gather at the literary table to discuss larger concepts around social justice, revolution and change, and injustice. Go Set a Watchman is also an interesting pairing with To Kill a Mockingbird for older high school students. For cultural context and a summary, check out this Atlantic article, “Obama’s Ingenious Mention of Atticus Finch”.
- The Nerdy Book Club is a great place to start when looking for new offerings in children’s literature.
- Check out Epic Reads (HarperCollins) 2017 list of YA reads for Black History Month.
- As we ready widely, keep a running list of possibilities. I’ve been thinking lately a lot about how I would teach Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to a world literature class today. Would I pair it with Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus? I’m leaning toward the latter, because of the intersections of Nigeria, gender themes, oppression within and without a family, and coming of age. Would I excerpt from the modern or the classic books? What historical documents might pair well?
Next post: some thoughts about teaching The Hate U Give. This New York Times young adult best-seller captures both the joys and terrors of growing up a young black female in a particular New Jersey town, navigating the differences between private school and her neighborhood, as well as the realities of police brutality in her community.