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February 09, 2021

What January 6, 2021 Teaches Us: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Diversity are Needed in Schools

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 is a day that will live in infamy; the day in which insurrectionists attempted a coup at the US Capitol to stop a democratic and constitutional election. The events that transpired came as a surprise for many, but not for some — mainly, people of color- because many of us are regularly engaged in conversations about race, power, and privilege. As an educator, I believe we can start begin to address this by teaching the next generation the true value of citizenship and diversity, which can happen if we do the following: train teachers in Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT); ensure that teachers are committed to teaching with a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lens; and teach honest, authentic historical narratives in our classrooms.

In schools across the nation, classrooms lack diverse staff and staff trained in necessary cultural competencies. While 52% of public school students identify as students of color, 80% of public school teachers are white. And of these 80% of white teachers, few have taken courses or professional development in Culturally Responsive Teaching and/or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion competencies. As tools, CRT and DEI development helps teachers promote multiculturalism in the classroom, honoring and celebrating diversity as a way to respect the cultures of students in those spaces. It enables teachers to teach with tolerance, understanding, and equity to the next generation. At schools like the Urban Assembly School for Design and Construction, students in a 9th grade ELA class read current non-fiction articles around Black Lives Matter as well as books like Ghost Boys, which explores the historical and sociopolitical realities of being a young Black teen in today’s society.

We must embrace factual history curricula that not only confronts our transgressions but works to dismantle the power structures behind them. America’s sins have been brushed under the rug in favor of a false narrative of a nation that has always been a beacon of equality. The practice of sanitizing history and not exposing what actually happens in schools has dangerous consequences, as exemplified by the storming of the Capitol last week. People all around the country were shocked to see this behavior on display unaware that this behavior isn’t new, or surprising; in fact, it is repetitive. The truth is, we as a nation have never come to terms with or taken responsibility for our beliefs and actions. It is time for this to change, and it begins with instruction in schools.

When the Constitution was written, people of color were not part of “all men are created equal.” As cotton became king and slavery firmly rooted itself into our nation’s fabric, Black men, women, and children were considered by law to be less than human and became property.. Police forces were created to capture and return slaves with the impunity to use violence freely. Reconstruction was a period strife with racist interference against Black progress, soon ushering in Jim Crow and segregation. Unfortunately, many teachers across the nation are not teaching these realities, linking real historical happenings to the notions of privilege and injustice that prevails to this day. We can begin to dismantle this level of white supremacy and institutionalized racism by engaging in Culturally Responsive Teaching, training educators in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and teaching legitimate and accurate American history in our schools.

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