Almost 1 year ago, I wrote an Oped titled, Black History Month Ended. And it Shouldn’t. My reasons for writing this piece were to highlight the critical need for a cultural reboot in all of our schools. Students of color should be reminded every single day that they come from greatness.
A lot has changed since last spring.
There were calls to cancel Black History Month in Indiana.
In Louisiana, there were rallying cries from parents to reteach American history without the presence of racial and social-class components.
In Texas and Tennessee, schools banned books and classic novels that told stories of the Holocaust.
And that’s just to name a few.
Caring and competent educators, teaching with cultural relevancy in our schools have never been more needed than they are right now.
Building cultural expert knowledge about the contributions of Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) and teaching it all year round should be an expectation because Black and Brown history is American History.
What we know:
America’s teaching population is considered quite traditional— white, middle-class, and female. Our schools, however, are becoming increasingly diverse.
This mismatch between the culture of teachers and their students’ culture, directly impacts the classroom experience. Any incompatibilities experienced between a learner and their teacher can impact achievement.
White teachers, whose culture is different from their students’ culture, can create a contradictory learning environment. A learning environment that devalues Blackness and minimizes diverse social norms, linguistic expressions, and cultural conventions— all of which are experiences that are necessary to empower Black and Brown students to achieve personal success in life.
Research has long suggested that culture is an inescapable component of the learning process. Our cultural belonging, whether we are aware of it or not, determines how we think, behave, and learn. And in turn, our culture affects how we teach and treat others. Knowing who you are, what groups you belong to, and how you fit into the mainstream culture are essential, especially when teaching and leading diverse student populations.
Here’s an example
The relationship between language and literacy and culture is interconnected. Our culture influences how we communicate. However, how we teach literacy and language in our classrooms dictates what’s mainstream, appropriate, and professional. Additionally, this explains why the communication patterns of Black and Indigenous people are often deemed less valuable within white dominant mainstream culture. To this point, understanding how students of color fit into the mainstream culture is paramount to helping them see the purpose of what they are learning and how it impacts their future.
Ample studies have shown that the challenges Black students face in schools are highlighted by the difficulty educators have in ensuring their academic and social success. Reinforcing these challenges are stereotypical images of Black people as unintelligent, wild, untrustworthy, and powerless. These images have been propagated for generations and have been sensationalized in media, politics, and other popular discourse.
Teachers implementing cultural relevancy recognize how Black and Brown students are portrayed in society. In opposition to stereotypical images, they use positive and racially affirming identities that challenge monolithic views of minorities and prepare our youth to inspire a new vision.
So how do we get there?
“Without the appropriate training and support, even the most well-meaning teachers can unwittingly provide instruction that is irrelevant, ineffective, and even antagonistic to today’s diverse learners.”
To implement culturally relevant teaching practices you have to develop a carefully constructed curriculum. You must take pride in intricately weaving choice options and unconventional opportunities that best showcase what your students know and can do.
Use poetry and hip-hop lyrics to discuss topics of oppression, or have students design social media campaigns as a replacement for your stale debates and writing prompts. These examples rev up engagement, provide insight into your student's strengths and struggles, and they eliminate a one-size-fits-all experience.
It’s all about creating socially meaningful connections that intentionally string together rigorous and relevant skills to build upon student learning all throughout the day.
Taking big and controversial ideas and then stretching them across multiple cultures represented in your classroom, helps your students build their sociopolitical consciousness. It inspires them to see themselves as change agents, and it empowers a new generation of diverse thinkers to take over a multicultural world.