SCET Journal 2020/2021

« Race Matters

Literacy and Justice for All: Disrupting Silence Around Race and Racism to Foster Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in the English/Language Arts Classroom Erica Leach

The landscape of education in the U.S is rapidly changing, creating a demographic and cultural divide between students and teachers. As the number of students of color increases across schools in the U.S., the racial achievement gap continues to rise. Due to the multifaceted ways in which racial dispari- ties manifest in schools, there is a need to bridge the gap between home and content taught in schools. According to Hinojosa (2009), many teachers hold stereotypical beliefs about students of color and use cultural deficiency models for explaining their aca- demic performance. As a result, many students are not receiving an education that humanizes, affirms, or validates them. To accomplish this essential and hu- manizing task, we must be in pursuit of the following justices: racial, pedagogical, curricular, and linguis- tic. These forms of justice all pertain to creating an inclusive school environment where all students are represented, supported, and provided with the tools for success regardless of race, gender, or socio-eco- nomic status. It is not until we eradicate injustice in these areas that humanizing literacy instruction and justice for all will be served. Racial Justice Race matters in teaching and learning because, for decades, African American students have lagged be- hind other ethnic groups in the core subject areas of reading, math, science, and social studies. Race mat- ters in teaching and learning because an increasingly large number of students of color are not faring well, and the achievement gap is still not closing. Howard (2003) poses the question, who is benefiting from school and who is not? African American and Latino students are overly represented in special education classes and underrepresented in gifted education programs. Clearly, the data shows a need to rethink pedagogical practices if our underachieving student populations are to have an equal chance at academic success. While reflections on race are becoming more wide-

spread in teacher education programs, they seldom exist in P-12 education among practicing teachers. By engaging in courageous conversations about race, teachers and school leaders will learn the importance of interrupting the culture of racial silence and engag- ing in discourse that challenges curricular and peda- gogical inequities to improve learning for all students. Before we can begin the equity work and achieve jus- tice in education, we must self-examine and discover who we are racially, socially, and culturally. Talking about racism means that we must recognize and ad- mit how it manifests in our curricular and instructional choices and whose voices we value in the curriculum. How can teachers meet the needs of students that they either don’t understand or view from a deficit lens? In many cases, teachers are unconsciously modeling a racialized social structure in their class- rooms due to their internalized beliefs about students of color. (Hinojosa & Moras, 2009). White teachers make up the majority of the education system; still, they are the most “residentially isolated group hav- ing little or no contact with people of races that are different from their own’’ (p. 42). Their experiences are often limited to just a glimpse of what they may see out of the window of their car on the drive to school. The cultural mismatch between students and teach- ers creates a barrier that does not allow teachers to fully understand their students’ lives and experiences; thus, teachers cannot adequately meet the learners’ needs. Educators must embrace the idea that “silence around race maintains and legitimizes racism, thus constructing hostile racial climates for students of color” (DiAngelo, 2018, p. 189). Deficit views brought into the classroom fail to acknowledge how systemic racism has permeated the institution. High-stakes testing is one of the most significant factors in dis- playing inequity in education as it attempts to push a race-neutral agenda for the benefit of corporations. The meritocracy that aligns with high-stakes testing is masked as an “accountability narrative for achieving

South Carolina English Teacher



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