What is Racial Literacy?
Lately, critical race theory has been in the news and even in some random videos with parents at local school board meetings that pop up on my Facebook feed. I’m happy that people still care enough to attend their local board meetings, especially after the year we all had. But I’m sad to see an unwillingness to talk about race in schools. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about anything, especially race.
For me, talking about race, or really culture, has always been about love. Schools function to connect people through art, music, sports, science, history, and language. Children discover what they love to do and eventually, they turn their work into a contribution, a contribution that directly or indirectly helps others. Love is what drives all of our conversations and work.
Understanding the role of race in our history and our culture can be complicated and take a lot of time but some of the best ideas I’ve encountered related to race are simple and make economic sense. So how do we find a way forward that works for everyone?
First and foremost, the public has tasked teachers with presenting facts to children. Teachers ask students for answers to questions, but any kind of answer must be backed up and supported with facts, with evidence. Those facts might be a quote from a poem, an idea in an essay, a lyric from a song, a statistic, a formula, a foreign language, a code, or a historical event or current event. We present reality to our students and ask them to make sense of it. Sometimes the answer is absolute, like 2 + 2 = 4 or my personal favorite, F = ma. But sometimes, we ask students to think for themselves and come up with their own answer. But when a teacher asks a question, a student must provide as much evidence as they can so they can believe in what they’re saying and stand behind it.
“An Empire State of Mind” by Imani Perry is a great place to start or Race in America by Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer, if you’re looking for a longer text.
Racial literary is like anything else in education, it helps us find who we are and where we’re going. If we want to solve the problem of partisan politics, we must create balanced and inclusive conversations about race where everyone feels comfortable to ask questions, state opinions, and find answers to challenging questions.
We’re Americans, we love competition, so we should want to give all children (and adults) a level playing field. When we ask students if there’s a level playing field in our country, we need to ask them about education, health care, criminal justice, wages, and housing. Race and culture are not single topics to cover in class, they are hinges on the door that opens to reality and allows us to connect across time and space.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers