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EducationPersonal Reflection

Creating Anti-racist Curricula

3 June 2020

A few months ago, I wrote a short post on using precise language to discuss racism, discrimination and prejudice. Now, as African Americans and their allies protest racial injustice in the US, my thoughts return to the importance of not only teaching about race and racism, but also of creating anti-racist curricula.

What does anti-racist mean?

As mentioned previously, I taught at an “urban school” in Cincinnati, Ohio. A few of the staff clearly held with racial prejudices towards their students. Others were sublimely unconcerned with race. Many more (including myself), were confronted by the realities of institutionalised racism facing our students and found ourselves on a journey – with these young people as our guides – learning (in a very limited sense) about what it was like growing-up black in southern Ohio, and also about our privilege as white, largely middle-class educators in America.

I was reading a lot of academic work on critical race theory and education at the time, with contributions from Gloria Ladson-Billings (and this!), Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks and many others.

While the issue of race in education had shifted prior to me being a teacher, much of the talk about race and curriculum when I was teaching focused on either being colourblind (e.g. I don’t see colour) or by not being racist (e.g. I’m not racist, I have black friends or I’m not racist, but…). Although many teachers were coming to grips with white privilege, much of the progress in understanding and addressing race in school was halted by an emphasis on inaction, of “being” rather than doing, of disposition rather than imposition. This is the key difference between not being ‘racist’ and being ‘anti-racist.’

Anti-racist means not only rejecting the premise of race as a biological reality and the supremacy of institutionalised racism, but that we also proactively address instances of racial prejudice and discrimination. Moreover, as teachers, we must examine our own assumptions, biases and actions regarding race, and educate our students on the factors contributing to the establishment and continuation of institutionalised racism in society.

Anti-racist curricula have strong sympathies with critical pedagogy (check out this, this, this and this for more information) in that they adopt radical (as in the Latin Radix, suggesting to “uproot” or “get to the root” of a problem), approaches to teaching about race and racism. Where critical pedagogy aims to transform society so that inequalities (i.e. material, race, gender) cannot exist, anti-racist approaches to curricula are not only concerned with enabling individuals to identify, critique and reject claims of privilege and superiority based on notions of race, but that individuals are also empowered to be active agents in combating racial prejudice and discrimination. This is intended to lead to the overall disestablishment of institutionalised racism. It’s true these are lofty aims, but the deaths of George Floyd and countless others highlight the importance and urgency of striving towards these ideals with an “impatient patience” (to quote Freire)  infused with a critical hope for the future.

Critical approaches in education

Critical perspectives in education have championed attempts to diversify school curricula and to provide insight on the social realities teachers and pupils experience in their everyday lives. While some dismiss critical pedagogy and “radical” perspectives, it’s possible the growing ally-ship offered to Black Lives Matter from all over the globe may be an indication efforts to educate young people about the biological-myths and social-construction(s) of race has provided them with the knowledge and power necessary to undertake social action in the hopes of eradicating racism.

Anti-racist resources

The following are excellent resources people have put together to help educators develop “anti-racist” curricula. They not only include substantive curriculum content, but also include various ways for teachers, pupils and others to support racial justice. Many of these compilations provide links to anti-racism activists, theorists, reading materials for young adults and more. Take a look!

In this post, Corinne Shutack lists “75 things” people can do to support and promote racial justice. This is a “live document” that will be updated regularly.

This INCREDIBLE resource posted by Eric Juli, a principal at a school in Shaker Heights, Ohio and compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein, is the BEST compilation of resources I’ve seen that parents, pupils and teachers can use in creating anti-racist curricula. It is simply fantastic.

Finally, the Anti-defamation League also has very good resources for talking to young people about race, and especially important for us in Wales, how to discuss race with mostly white pupils. Additionally, Teaching Tolerance has a wealth of information, including classroom resources.

Since my departure from the US, African American students I taught in school have been killed by police. Many others live with constant feelings of anger, anguish and fear. We can not defeat racism by not “being” racist, but we can defeat it by being “anti-racist.”

Reflective Questions

The following questions are intended to help us personally reflect on our experience and understandings of ‘race,’ but they’re particularly useful when discussed with others in an environment of trust, respect, and a desire to learn from each other.

  1. When was the first time you aware of your ethnicity or race?
  2. When was the first time you realised people of other racial identity groups are treated differently?
  3. What were the messages you heard growing up about people from different races/ethnicities, including your own?

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh was an effective and popular piece demystifying the concept of white privilege. Although it’s a bit dated, and is culturally specific to the United States, it is a really useful tool for thinking about privilege.