Since the days of the Obama administration, there has been a heavy focus on providing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to students of color. STEM education is important and the desire the increase the number of people of color, and women, in STEM fields is an admirable one. These areas are very important and they are keys to unlocking high paying higher warding careers for all individuals. However I’ve always found it that in the chase of excellence in STEM, we neglect everything else; namely the arts and the social sciences. History and literature are vital subjects to the education experience and ones quest to unearth and develop their own identity. Unfortunately, only recently has STEM become STEAMS (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, and social science). When we look at how we teach history and literature, the methods and tradition with which we do this is not culturally relevant; many of these traditional pedagogical methods perpetuate white supremacy (the same can be said about STEM subjects).
When we talk about cultural competency we always look to work with people rather than dismantle systems. While it is true that people do perpetuate racist norms within a system of white supremacy, our focus is on the actors within the system rather than focusing on the system itself. The systematic white supremacy allows for Whites to, either ignorantly, knowingly or willfully, thrives and/or perpetuates it. A reason why is because people conflate white supremacy and White people in cultural competency work; that to confront White people and their individual biases is to confront white supremacy. This conflating of ideas prevents us from getting at the heart of the issue. Confronting white supremacy is not about confronting White people per se. Confronting white supremacy is confronting the system itself; it is confronting the gatekeepers – those who justify, promote and perpetuate the system… and also those who benefit from the system without any desire to change it. While the gatekeepers are not limited to only White people, it is important to note that any discussion on dismantling the system of white supremacy will generally only go as far as White people, gatekeepers and the masses, are willing to take it.
We must shift our focus from confronting people to dismantling the system of white supremacy itself. One way to begin doing that work in the classroom is to look at the fundamental resource educators use to teach students; textbooks. Educators love talking about using technology in the classroom however technology doesn’t simply mean a SmartBoard, or YouTube, or an LCD projector. Those are just technological tools teachers use to teach the same ways teachers have traditionally taught – from a Eurocentric perspective instructionally and pedagogically. Many teachers use all of this “technology” while continuing to use outdated and culturally irrelevant textbooks. Many (if not all) of these textbooks are written by White people and generally celebrate white supremacy by their lack of cultural irrelevance. They fail to tell the whole truth concerning the history of oppression and intolerance towards people of color. They fail to tell the stories and experience of people of color from their own perspective. When teaching kids in the inner city, many of whom are Black, Latino and Asian, it is vital to not only teach the truth about history but to read the literature that depicts that history and the experience of it from their own perspective. If you teach English or social studies it is your job to provide your students of color with the resources to hear those different perspectives. You may not be sure of where to look in order to find those different perspectives for your students. However, you have to do the research in order to find the resources that tell the whole story and tell it from a viewpoint other than the oppressor. If you are not sure where to look to find such resources, here are some places where you should start:
- ACADEMIC JOURNALS – this is a great place to find peer reviewed historically accurate information to teach your students. While your students may find reading this material dense, you can take the gems from these articles and create amazing lessons from scholars from various backgrounds who seek to expose the truth from various perspectives; focus gathering your resources from Black and Latino academic journals.
- LITERATURE ANTHOLOGIES – Find Black, Latino and Asian anthologies of literature and teach these masterpieces to your students when you travel through units on poetry, prose, comedy and mythology. It’s a guarantee that you will not find the majority of these classics in a baseline world masterpieces text.
- ONLINE NEWS & COMMENTARY SITES – a number of these sites offer great information and think pieces on historical topics, politics, culture and the arts. Of course, be mindful of which stories or content that you use for the classroom. Here are some that you should try:
- Vulture – http://www.vulture.com/
- Vox – https://www.vox.com/
- Truth-out – http://www.truth-out.org/
- Colorlines – http://www.colorlines.com/
- The Atlantic – https://www.theatlantic.com/
- Slate – http://www.slate.com/
- The Root – http://www.theroot.com/
- Blavity – https://blavity.com/
- Pew Research Center – http://www.pewresearch.org/
- BLACK OWNED & LATINO OWNED BOOK STORES – you can find these establishments in many urban neighborhood and inner-cities. There are amazing resources and books that you will not find in any major bookstore chain like Barnes and Noble. Also, owners of these establishments can offer insight and possible services for you and your students.
- MUSEUMS DEDICATED TO PEOPLE OF COLOR – you can always take a field trip with your students, but take a trip to a museum dedicated to the history of people of color. Major cities may have such places, but you can find such museums throughout the country, if you look hard enough. For great resources to take back to the classroom, visit the gift shop.
- LOCAL HISTORICAL SOCIETIES – your community or town may have a historical society (and even your county). These places have tons of local history that you may not find in more national-themed museums. Such societies have wonderful staff that will even come out to your school and offer a lesson to your students.
- LIBRARY (preferably a college-level library) – if the community where you work has an institution of higher education, or has one close by, take a visit to their library and explore the resources they have. You’ll have access to books and academic journals where you can take information back to your classroom.
- THE COMMUNITY SURROUNDING YOUR SCHOOL – it is always a good decision to find those parents and activists local to your community who can offer students (and teachers) insight into the history and experiences of the people within the community. This is also a great resource for you to tap into when seeking to expose students to diverse perspectives on history and life.
- SOCIAL MEDIA – while social media is great for keeping in touch with family and friends, it is also a great way to gain information on what’s going on and the impact the past has on today. You should join specific groups according to the information that you are looking for (Facebook), follow individuals who share information on a topic of interest to your or your students (Facebook and/or Twitter), and you should search specific hashtags to find information on what it is that you’re looking for. Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only platforms to do this on, but they are the ones I use regularly, specifically Twitter.
- CREATE YOUR OWN TEXT – With all of the knowledge that you’ve amassed from books, academic journals and talking with the community, you might have enough to create your own in-house course textbook that is specifically catered to your students. If you find success with the text you’ve created, you may want to consider sharing it with colleagues across your district and even making it into a classroom textbook by reaching out to a publisher.
I recognize, as many do, that you cannot dismantle the system and institutions of white supremacy overnight. But day by day, lesson by lesson, you can help develop the identity of your students by abandoning the textbook. Present them with texts that tell their history and their truth from their perspective. You can and must do so no matter the content area you teach. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
Let us continue to press towards the mark!