Today, the need for a teaching force prepared to handle and address issues of race, equality, and pedagogy is more urgent than ever. Ongoing racial turmoil between law enforcement and communities of color, political rhetoric, shifting migration patterns, global migration patterns, and increase in student population are some of the reasons for the demand in CRE-PD. The excerpt below defines and explains the approach of CRE-PD training.
Professor Michelle Knight-Manuel will discuss her new book, Classroom Cultures: Equitable Schooling for Racially Diverse Youth. Please join us on November 27th in 305 Russell.
WHAT IS CULTURALLY RELEVANT EDUCATION?
Culturally relevant education is a conceptual framework that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural backgrounds, interests, and lived experiences in all aspects of teaching and learning within the classroom and across the school (Ladson-Billings, 1994, 2009; Milner, 2017). Culturally relevant education is viewed as critical in improving student engagement and achievement, and college readiness and success for all youth, particularly for youth of Color. Specifically, CRE is a comprehensive teaching approach that empowers all students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impact knowledge, skills, and attitudes (Ladson-Billings, 1994, 2009). We purposefully take up the three interconnected tenets of CRE identified by Gloria Ladson Billings that emerged from understanding the practices of successful Black and White teachers of African American students. These tenets include an emphasis on (1) student learning and achievement, (2) the affirmation of students’ cultural competence, and (3) the facilitation of a sociopolitical/critical consciousness that facilitates students’ understandings and critique of inequities within educational and social institutions.
Student Learning and Achievement
Student learning opportunities reflect teachers’ expectations, beliefs, values, and norms of learning within classrooms and across schools (e.g., curriculum, standards, and extracurricular activities). Culturally relevant teachers clearly explain what achievement means in their classrooms and how students can obtain it through a variety of measures, especially as they believe all students are capable of learning, achieving academic success, and being prepared for college and careers after high school. In addition, culturally relevant educators understand the importance of making explicit their high expectations for the academic achievement of all students, and demystifying the processes of enrolling in college and pursuing careers. For example, one high school we collaborated with was recognized by the New York City Department of Education for a particularly promising practice: In order to better prepare their students, 90% of whom were Black and Latinx, to compete for college admissions and jobs in STEM fields, the educators chose to increase the academic rigor of their programs by adding computer science classes and opportunities for youth to learn from the real-world experiences of volunteer industry professionals.
Student learning opportunities reflecting cultural competence build on the cultural knowledge and experiences that youth and their families bring to school. Culturally relevant teachers affirm students’ cultural backgrounds as assets, building on knowledge students possess to assist them in learning new concepts, while supporting their academic and college-going identities. For instance, an administrator at the High School for Investigation and Inquiry noted that the Danielson framework used for evaluating teacher performance across schools in New York City created opportunities for teachers to be recognized for including culturally relevant curriculum in their classes. The sharing of personal experiences of bigotry and bias by teachers and students before a lesson about Brown v. Board of Education could be considered an example of culturally relevant curriculum. Another school, Founders High School, was recognized by the New York City Department of Education for their partnerships with community-based organizations and other community stakeholders. A fraternal organization of African American professional males answered the call, and together they created a civil service career pathways program to create a school environment that promoted excellence, leadership, and personal responsibility.
Critical Consciousness/Sociopolitical Awareness
Student learning opportunities that foreground the development of critical consciousness and sociopolitical awareness are linked to understandings and critiques of educational and societal inequities. Culturally relevant teachers support the sociopolitical consciousness of their students, so that students are able to develop a critical stance toward inequities in their schools, in their communities, and within the larger society. For example, a principal we collaborated with at Civic High School discussed the purpose of a 1-day retreat for Black males that the school offered, which included an examination of the Black Lives Matter movement. Specifically, students were guided in considering obstacles they might encounter to their academic and social development due to their appearance, language, and physical movements. One educator at City Leadership Academy was concerned about having a discussion on wearing hoodies, especially in light of Trayvon Martin’s death. She shared, “We need to tell them the truth. We need to teach them how they are perceived and the need for them to code-switch. [We need to] talk about wearing a hoody in certain environments” (5/29/2014). Youth also discussed their experiences with and considerations of police brutality, racism, identity, and self-worth, highlighting their outrage and anxiety over the untimely deaths of Black men, including Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the countless silenced Black women and girls, including Sandra Bland, Alberta Spruill, and Shelley Frey, at the hands of police throughout the United States.
These three tenets of culturally relevant teaching are crucial in supporting students’ productive daily interactions with teachers and peers, providing a rigorous and relevant curriculum, and promoting the development of youth as socially conscious and civic-minded individuals. Research has shown these tenets may be enacted by teachers of Color and White educators. For example, Milner (2017) argues that an essential finding of Gloria Ladson-Billings’s (2009) research on culturally relevant education is that “teachers from any racial and ethnic background could be successful with any racial group of students when they possessed or developed the knowledge, attitudes, dispositions, beliefs, skills and practices necessary to meet students’ needs” (p. 2). As teachers who previously taught middle and high school students and currently teach pre- and inservice teachers, our work with teachers and school leaders across the CRE-PD was based on this belief. In addition to the three tenets of culturally relevant pedagogy defined by Gloria Ladson Billings, our work also is informed by emerging educational research highlighting the importance of creating and developing culturally sustaining educational opportunities for youth navigating inequitable schooling experiences (Paris, 2012; Paris & Alim, 2014, 2017). We use primarily the term and stances of culturally relevant education throughout this book, as this is the stance that the New York City Department of Education asked us to use in our work with educators in the CRE-PD and was the term participants were most familiar with. However, we recognize the importance of considering culturally sustaining pedagogies as drawing attention to the multiple global, cultural, and linguistic identities continuing to emerge from today’s youth culture, including art, literature, music, athletics, and film (Ladson-Billings, 2014; Paris & Alim, 2017). We therefore build from recent work on culturally sustaining pedagogies throughout this book, as appropriate, to further understandings of how such pedagogies may be incorporated into educators’ practices in addition to culturally relevant practices more explicitly discussed.
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