SCET Journal 2020/2021

« Race Matters

eracy to foster reading, writing, and thinking in active and reflective ways with the goal of understanding power, inequality, oppression, and social justice. Lewison et al. (2008) describe critical literacy as having four dimensions: 1) disrupting the common- place, 2) interrogating multiple viewpoints, 3) focus- ing on sociopolitical issues, and 4) taking action and promoting social justice. Critical literacy encourages students to read from multiple perspectives and keep front and center whose voices are being heard and whose are missing. We need counternarratives to challenge dominant narratives and provide students with multiple perspectives as an act of avoiding the “single story” (Adichie, 2009). Critical literacy also encourages students to engage in racialized reader responses where they examine their racial identities within the context of a text. As English/Language Arts teachers, it is our civic and moral duty to teach in the “contact zone” the place where “ideologies clash and move our students out of their comfort zones’’ (Pratt, 1991, as cited in Wallowitz, 2008, p. 4). We must embrace a critical pedagogy that allows teachers to establish an inter- active dialogue with students. In the words of Paulo Freire (2005), we want to avoid the “banking model” of education where students act as “receptacles to be filled.” Banking models do not engage students in critical thinking or questioning of the status quo, they serve to preserve the existing Eurocratic norm. Abso- lute truth does not belong to the teacher, and upon entering a classroom, teachers should be open to the new ideas, questions, and curiosities of their students. Ehrenworth et al. (2021) suggest that “Teaching is a political act because we live in the world, and all our decisions and actions, what we say and what we don’t, implicitly empower some and disempower others, whether we mean it or not.” We must consider how we are co-creating space for students to grapple with our times, their own biases, and how we are pre- paring them to be citizen-ready. For example, we can- not avoid discussions of current events. Silence is not neutral. Silence props up existing power hierarchies and does nothing to protect vulnerable students. Curricular Justice Our current system has created biases for certain books and authors and convinced us that some, but not all, texts are worthy of study. We must consider

who created this system? Who perpetuates it? By reckoning with the gaps in our curriculum—and in ourselves—we can finally address the inequities per- petuated by the very real choices we make as edu- cators. Students of color are not treated as the main characters in the curriculum, even in their own stories (Matias et al., 2016). We do not have an achievement issue; we have an opportunity issue. Students of cul- turally and linguistically diverse backgrounds deserve the opportunity to see themselves represented in the curriculum. They deserve the opportunity to learn in ways that reflect who they are and their lived experi- ences. They deserve the opportunity to have teachers who set high expectations for their academic achieve- ment and not water down the rigor and curriculum. It is time for a complete overhaul of the curriculum and texts used in classrooms. Our classrooms can be spaces that uphold white supremacy or ones that confront and dismantle it, specifically through the texts we read. We cannot be afraid to engage in cou- rageous conversations about books that expose us to the experiences and oppression of others. Students should have expanded perceptions of the intellectual legacies of people of color. We must provide our students with mirrors, windows, and sliding doors (Sims-Bishop, 1990). Students are often disengaged from reading in school because they have little to no say in text selections, texts are exclusive of their cultural identities, or they do not find the text meaningful to their lives. Providing students with “mirrors, windows, and sliding doors’’ creates feel- ings of affirmation and validation for all students. The mirrors allow students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, the windows offer a view into the lives of others, and the sliding doors allow students to step into the world of others imaginatively. When selecting diverse texts for classroom use, we need to closely examine representation, authorship, context, and content. When considering representation, we must ensure that books affirm the cultural identities of char- acters without generalizing or stereotyping. In examin- ing authorship, we must consider the author’s position in telling the story, considering whether the author has the right to tell the story. Context and content force us to consider the relevance and whether the text is worth reading. Students can learn to be agents of change in the ELA classroom through a social justice curriculum. A

South Carolina English Teacher



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