States want to prevent schools from telling the truth about racism in America. Here’s what educators can do about it.
Rann Miller, Chalkbeat
It’s not enough to quote Martin Luther King Jr. and point to stories of Black success.
At least half a dozen states have introduced legislation to prevent the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools. Educators in states where such bills become law would be blocked from teaching about the racist roots of Western society, generally, and the United States, specifically, and how racism continues to plague us. Some states are trying to ban the use of the 1619 Project, as well.
To understand why Critical Race Theory, or CRT, and the 1619 Project — a New York Times magazine series about how slavery has shaped the U.S. — draw the ire of many Republican legislators, we can look to the late Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire for guidance:
Conditioned by the experience of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression. Formerly, they could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel, and hear Beethoven; while millions did [none of those things]. Any restriction on this way of life, in the name of rights of the community, appears to the former oppressors as a profound violation of their individual rights.
But it is not oppression.
It is entirely plausible that the lawmakers passing these bills feel that any restriction to or challenge of teaching and learning from a Eurocentric lens is a profound violation of their rights and those of their constituents, specifically because they’re white. That would explain why so many white people levy the claim of reverse racism on CRT or the 1619 Project.
There’s anxiety regarding America’s changing demographics and perceived direction, but the reality is that, even in this increasingly diverse nation, power and authority remain largely in the hands of white people. Roughly 80% of all teachers and administrators in U.S. public schools are white. These are the individuals who set the tone for what is taught and how it is taught.
By contrast, white students make up only 46% of American public school students.
In New Jersey, where I live, where I’ve taught, and where I currently direct after-school programming, lawmakers have chosen to embrace the teaching of Black history with the passage of its Amistad Law, which mandates that all public schools teach Black history. The commission notwithstanding, white teachers comprise the the vast majority of those making curriculum decisions about Black History.
In the district where I currently work, of the six curriculum supervisors of curriculum, only one is Black, while 24% of our district students are Black.
There is a common and specific rationale among those who argue against teaching the truth of American history. It goes something like this:
While enslavement and segregation did happen. It happened long ago and was not instituted by anyone alive today. Black people, like Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, have succeeded in spite of racism. Therefore we can move on. … Besides, I don’t see color; as Dr. Martin Luther King said, I judge people based on the content of their character alone.
I’ve heard these arguments numerous times from colleagues and superiors alike who didn’t understand the need for things like culturally relevant pedagogy and culturally responsive texts, more Black and Latinx teachers, and a Black Student Union. I’ve heard it in personal conversations with white people. I’ve heard it from some Black people, too.
But as a teacher and student of history, I am well aware of the truth of our society’s white supremacist roots, its racist systems, and its white spaces. It is responsible, for example, for white teachers suspending Black children at disproportionately high rates.
I understand the trepidation white teachers may have teaching enslavement and segregation; some of my colleagues have shared that with me. Some have told me that they don’t want to offend. Others have said that there’s information they just don’t know.
I also understand that white teachers may be unaware of the systemic racism within the Constitution or the nation’s history oppressing Black and brown people outside of its borders, such as in Haiti and its role in overthrowing governments in Black and brown lands like Hawaii. I never learned those truths in school. Why would teachers and parents and politicians be comfortable with history lessons they were never taught and ones that debunk much of what they always believed to be true?
So what is the solution? Thankfully, there are some things that district leaders can do.
First, they must really invest in their professional development programs — ones that teach about historical truths surrounding white supremacy and racism and ones that teach educators how to apply this knowledge to their content area and the grade levels they teach.
Second, district leaders must identify teachers willing to teach — or willing to learn how to teach — these necessary truths to students in all content areas. It certainly doesn’t hurt to hire more Black teachers. Not that white teachers can’t do it, but speaking as a former Black social studies teacher, I wanted to teach about racism, enslavement, and the Africans who arrived in the Americas before African enslavement, and I wasn’t scared to do it.
In addition to hiring more Black teachers, hire Black curriculum supervisors and directors — those with the power to select and distribute culturally relevant and responsive texts, teaching strategies, and assessments.
State policymakers can attempt to outlaw what students learn. But they cannot outlaw what teachers learn, and they cannot prevent school districts from hiring more Black educators. This is a way to circumvent their legislative efforts.
Certainly, some will disagree with these suggestions, just as my children disagree with eating their vegetables. However, it doesn’t stop me from putting the vegetables on their plate, nor should we fail to teach the truth of American history.
Rann Miller is an educator from New Jersey. He is a former social studies teacher and a director of a local after-school and summer program. In addition, Miller is a professional development presenter and public speaker. His writings on race, education, politics, and history are featured in the Hechinger Report, Education Week, and the Grio. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
Recently, a co-worker shared something that enlightened me. They always used a financial counselor to advise them on various decisions that they needed to make regarding their finances and investments. However, they didn’t seem to be satisfied with the outcome of their investments.
They shared with me that, after talking in detail with their spouse, they decided to learn more about investments and the stock market. They signed up for classes and realized they could actually manage their own financial portfolio. They took charge of their investments and began to see a positive turnaround within the first few months of releasing their financial counselor.
They seemed confident about what they had learned and we’re looking forward to managing their financial portfolio in the months and years to come.
The biggest fear that many people have, is the fear of not knowing what you don’t know. That sounds odd but it is true. What you do not know about your finances, or financial health, may seem scary to some to the point of denying its existence or choosing to deal with it when things get really tough.
God desires for us to have balance in everything we do. Having the confidence to handle your finances is a commitment you have to make to yourself. Hosea 4:6 states “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” KJV.
If people are bold enough to admit they do not know, they take the time to educate themselves in the areas that matter to them. So, why not us, children of the faith?
There are so many resources on finances. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my area of struggle when dealing with money?”
Is it a saving problem? Most likely you have not established boundaries and self-control, and you may need to set up a budget to stick to it.
Do you have unrealistic goals and expectations that leave you disheartened each month when you review your finances?Set goals for yourself that will boost your confidence because you are able to achieve them. This will result in becoming a better steward of your money because you have established a level of faith in yourself that you are capable of meeting goals when you set them.
Are you drowning in debt? Find out the exact amount that you owe so that you can establish a precise plan of tackling it.
When it comes to money, you have to be bold and face the issues head on. If you are tremendously blessed financially and have no issues with money, find ways to educate others to live in that liberty that you have been blessed to experience.
I learned a great lesson from that co-worker. What you don’t know, you can learn, and what you learn can enlighten you to make better and sound decisions that can position you financially to be in a stable place.
Are you ready to face what you don’t know about your finances? Start today. Learn something. It could serve as the trigger of change to a great financial future for you in the years to come.
It had been two weeks since Terri Anderson, a teacher at The Oaks Academy in Indianapolis, had seen her 19 prekindergarten students in person. But on a recent Friday, they met virtually for the first time on Google Hangouts. The result: a cacophony of 4- and 5-year-olds on unmuted microphones.
“It was the best sound I had heard since all this had happened,” she said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the educational system nationwide, even preschool has gone online. But school closures threaten to undo some of the progress that Indiana has made toward improving pre-K access for low-income families to help bridge critical early learning gaps.
Many pre-K classrooms have temporarily closed alongside K-12 schools to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, demand has waned at some Indiana child care centers as more families are keeping their children home. The loss of pre-K classrooms has consequences: First, education advocates fear that school closures will worsen the disparities for students across all grades who don’t have access to technology and whose families have fewer resources to support learning at home. Second, families could find themselves without child care as they continue to work during the pandemic in roles such as health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, and custodians.
“One of the most important things children learn in a pre-K classroom is how to do school, how to behave with other children, how to self-regulate and be ready to learn,” said Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, a nonprofit that provides and advocates for early education. “That’s one of the things that’s going to be harder for families to achieve independently.”
Because Indiana families have a lot of choices for where to go for preschool — districts, private schools, centers, homes, child care ministries — providers are tackling the challenge in different ways, both online and off-line.
At The Oaks, Anderson wanted the recent video meeting to be a joyful reunion for her pre-K class. She incorporated pieces of their daily routine, such as taking attendance with popsicle sticks that each had a student’s name. When she drew a student’s popsicle stick, she asked them to show the class a toy or something they had made at home, giving each a turn to speak “on the big screen.”
Anderson had them all hug their computers and give themselves hugs, too, wrapping their arms around their own shoulders.
“They need to be nurtured,” Anderson said. “They need a touch. They need a hug.”
Moving pre-K classrooms into the home also means teachers are supporting parents so they don’t feel stressed about their children “losing ground,” Anderson said. Teachers and instructional assistants regularly check in with individual students and families. The Oaks gives preschoolers 1-2 hours of learning each day, and more important than completing the work is instilling a sense of normalcy, she added. A lot of the key lessons are simple: Listen, follow directions, pay attention.
At first, parent Kelly McGary was worried when her son Sam’s preschool, Cooperative Play Academy on the city’s southside, closed its doors in early March. Sam had just learned to hold a pencil properly.
But now she’s less concerned after watching him video conference with his preschool class twice a week, and do engaging homework assignments, such as nature walks.
“I just have to put it in perspective. He’s 3½, he’ll be fine,” said McGary, a public health nurse. “Even if it lasts a few more months, we’re still interacting with him and providing for him. He has a safe place to play. I think he just misses his friends.”
At the Edna Martin Christian Center in Martindale-Brightwood, the approach to at-home learning has evolved over the last few weeks since the child care ministry temporarily closed its doors, said Alexandra Hall, director of early childhood education.
Teachers started by sending food home with students on the first day. Then, they started sharing learning resources. They gave students kits filled with art supplies, reusable writing worksheets, stories, and bubbles. Later, they decided they wanted to find a way to stay in touch with students in a dynamic, interactive way.
That’s how they started a series of 30-minute Zoom sessions throughout the day, mimicking a regular school routine.
“We figured if it works for adults, why wouldn’t it work with kids?” Hall said.
They hold virtual circle time and snack time. Families all gather for the video call with a healthy snack to show and share.
“That is what has just truly been a godsend during this time — to be able to look at people, even though you can’t touch them,” Hall said.
The online setting still allows teachers to be responsive to students. Just like in the classroom, “sometimes you have to throw your plan out the window,” Hall said — like when a student joined the video call in a superhero costume, prompting a show-and-tell that overshadowed the scheduled science lesson.
Even when e-learning isn’t as accessible, pre-K classrooms are finding ways to keep learning. For the five Indianapolis sites of St. Mary’s Child Center, where 93% of children come from low-income families, administrators are mostly focused on basic needs, such as directing families toward food resources.
Teachers are posting videos where they read stories, sing songs, or go on scavenger hunts. They’re encouraging families to find “teachable moments” but aren’t stressing academics.
“Children are such natural learners,” said Diane Pike, director of outreach and professional development. “If they are allowed to explore and communicate and ask questions and have that support at home, they’re going to be OK for kindergarten.”
The other day I got an email from a friend on how he was getting frustrated and tired of reading books and hearing lectures on Eurocentric theology and church history. He wanted to have some color injected into his Bible college and seminary education.
It’s a story I’m all too familiar with. By the end of seminary, most people are screaming at the top of their lungs, “Let me out!” But they press on anyway because they know they have a calling and they know this is the path God has them on in order to equip them. This is even more true for those students who are of non-white ethnicity. The seminary is a far cry from their home culture and the things taught there are taught from a predominantly white historical and theological perspective. Consequently, you can feel like you are being brainwashed or indoctrinated into whiteness or at the very least just made to feel like an oddball or invisible because your experience is different from a lot of the other students. I’ve been there. And I would have lost my mind if it weren’t for these principles working themselves out in my life intentionally or unintentionally.
1. Remember why you are there
You are there because you are called. You are here because you want to soak up the knowledge to make you effective in ministry. You are there to connect with like-minded folk who may one day partner with you in ministry. Do not let the overwhelming whiteness take you off course. Learn. Soak it in. Grow.
2. Make two sets of notes
There are two sets of notes to take. Notes for the paper you will write and notes for yourself (Shout out to MK Asante). Some things will be helpful for your academic career but other things will help as you take your seminary training back home.
3. Find the alternative books
When I first started attending Fuller Theological Seminary I had the privilege of working in the library. As I put the books back on the shelves I learned about James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez and so many others. I began reading those books even before I started classes because they spoke from a perspective I understood and was familiar with. Just the exposure alone helped me to tackle some of the lack of diversity I was experiencing.
4. Find like-minded students
There is always, at least, a handful of students of color on any campus. If you can’t find students of color then there are many white students who understand where you are coming from. Reach out and connect. It may be the best thing you have ever done.
5. Find like-minded professors
In an attempt to make their faculties more diverse, most seminaries and Christian universities have hired at least two or three non-white professors who teach from a different perspective. Go and take their classes if you have the opportunity. If you can’t take their classes then find some way to connect with them. They understand your experience and are rooting for your success. Personally, I found Dr. Ralph Watkins and Dr. Jehu Hanciles. Just their teaching and course content helped me to not lose my mind!
6. Ask thought-provoking questions
Don’t just sit in class like a lump on a log. Ask questions—thought-provoking questions. Not solely to cause trouble. Ask questions from your unique ethnic and socio-economic perspective. It will not only bless you but also those in class around you who may be going into these contexts or just those who need to have their world expanded
7. Keep a vital and dynamic relationship with God
Last but not least, keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop reading your Bible. Remember this isn’t about ethnicity. This is about God’s calling on your life.
What about you do you have any other tips to include? What was your experience in seminary like? How did you keep from losing your mind?
March is Reading Awareness Month and a fitting time to discuss literacy in the United States, particularly among urban and minority families.
The impacts of literacy begin at a very young age—reading to children increases their vocabulary skills and improves reading comprehension. Faltering literacy rates among youth have a dramatic impact on where we end up later in our lifetimes.
Statistics provided by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, say that two-thirds of kids who aren’t reading well in fourth grade will end up on welfare or in jail and have a 78% chance of not catching up to their reading benchmarks. Sixty percent of juvenile delinquents and 80% of adult inmates are illiterate.
The Value of Education
Although learning disabilities (such as Dyslexia and ADHD) can impair one’s ability to read fluently or at a higher grade level, Clark Atlanta University professor Torrance Stephens says poverty often leads to illiterate youth and adults. “[One of the] main misconceptions is that these people don’t value education,” says Stephens, who has worked in public health and education and with minority literacy in the US and Africa for 30 years.
“What I have found is that from the elderly black and white women I worked with in my earlier years, to the women of child-bearing age I worked with in Nigeria, to the ex-felons, they all valued education and knew its importance. But in each case, economic factors led them to leave their formal education.”
Stephens, who has published several books including The Legacy of the Bush-Obama Keynesian Dialect and Income Inequality in America, remembers an elderly African American woman explaining how she left school in fourth grade to sharecrop and help her family. Her story is similar to that of many ex-convicts he has worked with who indicate, “they had to assist in providing for their families, thus school would have to be a loss and they hit the streets hustling.”
The National Commission on Adult Literacy says that reading from a young age is one way to keep our society from losing the important skill of reading. A report published in March 2015 by the Pew Research Center on Hispanic Trends showed that 80% of blacks had visited a library or bookmobile in their lifetime compared to 83% of whites. But with high school graduation rates topping out at roughly 50% in urban areas, it’s clear that frequency among racial and economic groups are not the same.
College graduates and those with household incomes over $100,000 are most likely to frequent a public library. Children who don’t have examples of avid readers in their life are less likely to become literate on their own.
It may appear strange that literacy is still inaccessible to some Americans in an age where the Internet has brought so much content to our fingertips—content which usually must be read. The vast majority of Americans from the poorest urban areas to high-scale suburbs have cell phones, granting them access to a gold mine of information, but Stephens suggests that real-world examples are still missing.
“In this instant culture dominated by emoji’s and 140-character thought spaces, reading—real reading—that requires thinking and comprehension takes a back seat. The challenge of getting people to read in an increasingly television-dominated culture is a major difficulty,” he says.
“I saw everybody around me reading daily; everyone had a library card and we were in the library weekly. I know parents tell their kids to read, but I don’t know if we as African Americans really encourage our kids to read, or even set the example. I suspect if you tell your kids to read, and watch the NBA or some music awards show, they will replicate your behavior and learn by example, especially if they never see you pick up a book.”
Making a Difference
The Read Aloud campaign challenges parents to read to their kids for 15 minutes every night before bed, something that 13 million children won’t experience on a daily basis. The 10-year campaign challenges families to “Read Aloud for 15 Minutes. Every Child. Every Parent. Every day.”
It’s an important task that sounds simple but can be incredibly difficult in an urban home where one or both parents may not be present and problems in the surrounding area can negatively affect the learning environment. There are also countless programs geared toward reading awareness and combating illiteracy, including AmeriCorps, Literacy Partners, The Wallace Foundation, and local programs run by state and city governments.
Over 2 million New Yorkers alone cannot read, which limits employment opportunities, quality of life, and makes it virtually impossible to pass good reading habits to children. Stephens says that many people believe literacy programs are daunting, but taking classes at a local program is a great way to overcome the challenge of illiteracy. Many programs are volunteer-run, and always in need of more hands.
This March, contact your local library or government and ask about ways to get involved with your community’s literacy efforts. Help promote a literacy campaign, give to a reading organization, or become a tutor. The Literacy Information and Communication System has an online directory that lists reading advocacy programs in your area.
Why is reading awareness so important? “A country’s wealth is almost directly related to a country’s literacy rate,” Stephens explains. “Literacy is the ability to read and write, which are strong predictors of individual monetary worth and future lifelong earning potential. Two, literacy is a very strong protective factor against getting arrested and/or involved with the criminal justice system. On an individual level, greater literacy is positively associated with increased cognitive development such as better problem-solving ability which means the more reading exposure the longer brainactivity will remain robust.”