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Toward an Antiracist Curriculum

“I can’t breathe.” Like so many people across the world, the words of George Floyd echo in my head and heart. This echo has become a worldwide catalyst for action, and has inspired protests, legislative action, and pushed us towards justice reform on a scale not seen in decades. Frankly, action that is long overdue.

This call tugs at me too, and the conversations dominating my household have been centered around deciding on how our family can be a contribution. As a family of educators, my husband and I have decided that our open doorway into this work is through our teaching. While antiracist education has always been a belief in our teaching lives, we have committed to making it front and center in all that we do. To begin, I am sharing my first steps in working towards writing antiracist curricula. Please know that I recognize these as early steps. I am not an expert on this topic. I am a learner committed to deepening my understanding and learning from antiracist mentors. I commit to teaching our children to celebrate their identities and to recognize and stand up to social injustices.

Inventory your teaching text.

The idea of windows and mirrors is not new to our work. Decades ago, in her powerful essay Mirrors, Windows, And Sliding Glass Doors, Rudine Sims Bishop shared with us the importance of building classroom libraries in which every child can see themselves and their families. She wrote, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson on how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” Every child deserves to feel acknowledged and valued in our classrooms. As you begin to look through your listed mentor texts, teaching tools, primary resources, and library offerings, ask yourself if all of your students can see their reflections in your choices. Then, ask yourself if your resources and texts also offer students the opportunity to practice empathy as they try on the perspectives of others.

Here are just a few sites to support your efforts in finding diverse texts:

https://diversebooks.org/

https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/diversity

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/coretta-scott-king-book-award-winners

https://socialjusticebooks.org/booklists/

Add tools and resources that support antiracist teaching.

Part of committing to this work means that you will be taking on tough conversations. Comfort is not a part of the journey towards change. However, that doesn’t mean you have to go in alone. There are tons of resources to support teachers as they engage in classroom conversations around race, bias, and injustice. Add mentor texts, blog posts, and websites into resource sections of your curricular units. Consider creating a study group to investigate them and engage in collegial discussions around how you can bring their work into your classroom practice. Some of my favorite sites and mentor texts are:

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards

Leading Equity Center

Being The Change by Sara Ahmed

We Got This by Cornelius Minor

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (Race, Education, and Democracy) by Christopher Emdin

Create explicit teaching points around justice and equity.

In our team’s units of study, we set out the larger goals of the learning and then create teaching points to support that learning. These teaching points serve as a list of possibilities that can be taught through various balanced literacy components like shared reading experiences or minilessons to upfront the day’s reading workshop, and are chosen day by day based on next steps of our students. You can think of the unit’s teaching points as a menu for the learning.

As we move towards bringing social justice into every unit across the year (and not just our social issues book clubs), we must push ourselves to add teaching points that invite us to look at our texts and our world through multiple perspectives and equity.

Consider this process to help:

  • Reread the goal and the standard that goal is addressing.

  • Think about the goal through the lenses of the social justice anchor standards: identity, diversity, justice, and action.

  • Think about where that goal invites you to bring aspects of social justice into the teaching points.

Here’s an example of just a few teaching points that were added to a goal so that we might be able to explicitly bring justice and real world issues into this dystopian reading unit.

Curriculum work is only one small piece of the movement needed to begin offering our children a truly antiracist education, yet it is an important place to begin. Let’s work together to bring all voices and perspectives into our teaching. Let’s stop fearing the uncomfortable and tough truths that have been part of our schools’ hidden curriculum for so long. Let’s commit to teaching about equity and justice all year long, and raise a generation that will see each other, hear each other, and fight for each other.