SCET Journal 2020/2021

Race Matters »

racial equality in schools’’ (Kohli et al., 2017, p. 188). Yet, these testing practices “affirm racial hierarchies of student success” (p. 188). Specifically, students of color are measured on a standard or merit system that was never designed for them. When they fail to meet a standard that is not aligned with their needs as learn- ers, they are labeled as unmotivated low achievers. The system never gives a second thought to how they failed these children because it is not about race but merit in their eyes. The education system is “color- blind,” but to whose detriment? This colorblindness invalidates individuals’ experiences with racism and oppression and shuts down important conversations that are necessary to interrupt the status quo. Milner (2003) identifies the following issues to be considered when reflecting on race in schools: (a) the necessity of race reflection in cultural contexts for both White teachers and teachers of color; (b) racial and cultural mismatches between teachers and students, which could stifle learning; and (c) the need for ped- agogical tools to enhance discussions and activities around complex topics such as race. Teachers must engage in reflective practices that challenge them to see how their attitudes and beliefs influence how they view and interact with their students. To achieve racial justice, educators must engage in an excavation of self and unpack their own biases, assumptions, and tensions with race and racism. We must root out biases and explore the ways in which we may be privileged or simply unaware. Understanding how our identities and where we come from influence how we perceive others is critical work. School leaders and teachers must understand that culturally relevant pedagogy, social justice teaching, and their students’ lived experiences are not separate entities from literacy standards. Race plays a huge role in our curriculum and pedagogy and centers voices that have been tra- ditionally valued since the founding of this country. Pedagogical Justice Although classrooms across the U.S. are becoming more culturally and linguistically diverse, our curric- ulum and pedagogies remain unchanged. Pedagogy is influenced by teachers’ values, beliefs, prior expe- riences, ideologies, and mindset (Pinar, 2004). It is necessary for teachers to peel back those layers and examine the deep thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions they bring into our classrooms and schools about our

students. Teachers must acknowledge and act against deficit-based thinking, view students’ cultural capital as an asset, and be aware of how traditional teaching practices typically center on whiteness. Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) coined the term culturally relevant pedagogy to include marginalized students whose cultural identities are typically ex- cluded from the White mainstream prevalent in the educational system. Her work seeks to create relevant and engaging pedagogy for students whose cultures have been traditionally excluded from the classroom setting. This inclusion of marginalized students through culturally relevant pedagogy validates and affirms stu- dents through instruction, ultimately leading to a more humanizing pedagogy. Culturally relevant pedagogy is divided into the following components: academic achievement, cultural competence, and sociopolitical competence. Academic achievement focuses on main- taining high expectations for students and building re- lationships with students by getting to know them and their communities. Cultural competence is the ability to help students appreciate and celebrate their cul- tures of origin while gaining knowledge of and fluency in at least one other culture. Critical consciousness refers to the process by which individuals apply critical thinking skills to examine their current situations, develop a deeper understanding of their concrete reality, and devise, implement, and evaluate solutions to their problems. Regarding race, critical conscious- ness encourages students to engage in social justice work, challenge the status quo, and understand power dynamics in society. Ladson-Billings (2009) address- es the idea that “In culturally relevant teaching, the specific oppression of racism becomes a central unit of analysis.” Thus, teachers must be equipped with the knowledge base and skills to appropriately address issues of race and racism with students and empower them to engage in social justice work. Our goal in the English/Language Arts classroom is to hook students into reading powerful texts, but the power lies in what we inspire students to do with the text. Literacy is action and extends far beyond reading words on a page; it involves understanding and critiqu- ing how those words relate to the world around us. We must strive for a critical pedagogy that moves students to critically explore, question, and challenge the power relationships between authors and readers (Freire, 1998). Teachers should engage students in critical lit-




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