What really is equity in education? It is a freedom from bias or favoritism. We also have to consider diversity. Everyone has a uniqueness to them that spans across race and culture and even household. We as educators have to embrace and cultivate this uniqueness. This has been on my mind and I am sure I am not alone. Educators know and have discussed the word gap, the knowledge gap or whatever you choose to call it. We talk about schools in low income areas not having enough resources to effectively educate children who are already grade levels behind their peers. We have even come up with a few ideas to help level the playing field so to speak, but this pandemic has exposed some more real inequalities to the world. School district and state officials are working on plans to lay out what instruction will look like in the next school year and are sure to focus on the digital divide as well as the gap that student groups who fall short academically will face so I will focus more on racial equity in this blog post.
2020 has been a year of a heighten awareness and exposure to the obvious signs that we STILL have issues with inequity in education and to add fuel to the fire, because of the exposure social media brings, we are also witnesses to the ongoing racial inequities that are causing uprisings all over the country. COVID-19 and the killing of blacks by police seems to be unfairly impacting the African American community. This inequity is visible across race and economic status but mostly targets poor people of color. We all see it even if we don’t admit it. Seeing these matters playing out in the news daily is a great stress on my spirit! If it is affecting me, I cannot imagine how it is affecting children and that is all children, not just children of color!
Children may experience emotions from fear, to depression, or anger or possibly a combination of this. I often reflect on the question of “what can I do for children?” especially children of color. I also think about how I can help prepare the teachers that I work with because quite often African American children and other children of color are not being supported and valued in their classrooms and communities. Teachers being aware of this is the first step in dealing with it. Something must be done! I am compelled to be an advocate and a voice for my community as it relates to education and educators, because that is where my real passion lies. My mind is in deep thought and I am seeking to answer the question: "What can I do to level the playing field?" How can I help teachers, teach all children?
I feel I need to say that black lives matter here and I also need to state, as has been echoed by others, that my previous statement does not mean that all other lives don’t matter, but that we matter too equally whether we are rich or poor! As an African American educator, I see the need to discuss these issues and write about what education should look like during these times and for the future because we are working through these issues, but still need to think about how to educate our future leaders. I am considering how we can cultivate diversity in our classrooms to better support all student, especially students of color. My thoughts are simply that if we show, discuss, and share the cultural differences each of the children in our classrooms have, we help build their pride and self-confidence. We also teach children to embrace the unique culture of others. I believe that this is the beginning of healing process of the racial tension we have. Start with the children! We can start with helping them build pride in self and an understanding and appreciation of others. A good way to do this is with multicultural literature.
Teachers introducing multicultural literature functions as an influential tool in empowering students to gain a better understanding of both their own culture and the cultures of others. Children develop better cognitive skills as they learn to engage with and critically evaluate the texts that they read as they learn their own culture and the culture of others. Teachers can and should consider ways to help their students engage in interacting with these types of texts. Suzanne Evans conducted a study in 2010 and found that exposure to multicultural literature increased children’s awareness of the social practices, values and belief systems of other cultures. I believe it is this awareness that is a part of the racial healing process we need.
Students are learning about their culture and the cultures of others as a part of the educational routine of the day. They are learning to think critically and to respond to literature and to life situations as independent thinkers who are aware of who they are and are aware of the cultures of others. They are also learning to esteem themselves when they see positive self-images. This combats the negative feelings students may face because of what they see on the news and on social media now. Once we build each students pride in self, we must continue to education them. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed stated: Education either serves as a tool to enable incorporation of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. It is our job as educators to help children speak freely about the system they are growing up in. We must educate and cultivate our future! We can do this by introducing children to their culture and the culture of others and by being culturally responsive teachers.
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Culture is who we are and teachers understanding that is a cornerstone to aid with learning. For teachers to be culturally responsive we have to think about reshaping our thinking process to create a pedagogy that recognizes, celebrates, and responds to all a culture offers and creates fair access to all students from all cultures. Gloria Ladson-Billings, the author of The Dream Keepers lists and explains some characteristics of culturally responsive teaching. They are:
Zaretta Hammond says that being a culturally responsive teacher begins with building relationships. Getting to know our students is one of the best ways to help educate them. As Theodore Roosevelt said, nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Our children need a champion! Children know when you are not being genuine. Taking time to get to know them is a good way to reach them and engage them in new learning. They will be more receptive to you as an educator and you will have a bit better insight into what to do to understand each of their unique needs. Feeling sorry for their status in life will only coddle them and keep you from applying the correct amount of push to keep them grappling in the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) where the learning happens. We as educators — and yes I said we— should learn culturally relevant teaching. Culturally relevant teaching according to the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt) the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of your own culture as well as those from other cultures. It is this willingness that will help cultivate the relationships we build with our students as we teach them. It is our job as educators to teach children respectfully and equitably. It may require a little mindset change for some, but it is imperative that we do it. Our children are our future so in order to have a better, healed, well balanced tomorrow, we need to work on it today.
Thank you for reading!
Pearl Garden, Ed.D has completed her dissertation research involving understanding the vocabulary instruction practices of early grade teachers. She has a passion for the new and novice educator, and it is her goal to help educators tackle the achievement gap with her research findings. She will use this blog to share what she has learned in “pearls of literacy”. The ideas come from her dissertation titled “A Content Analysis of the Vocabulary Instruction Habits by Early Grade Teachers”.