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The “Dis-ease” of Intolerance & Hate

These are challenging times in our country—a time when there is much racial, gender, class, and political division in our communities. While schools are deeply affected by these times, we can continue to remember what our commitment is to young people—and how we make a positive difference by creating environments where all students are served and valued—and where equity and excellence are primary.

Our work supporting equity and diversity in policies and educational practices has been powerful and moving. In our professional learning experiences with schools around the country, we invite teachers and staff from diverse backgrounds to come together to share their own cultural stories and to learn more about prejudice, discrimination, bias and systemic oppression.

As faculty and staff of PassageWorks, we are continually touched by the power of story—as story humanizes us all, reveals our commonalities and essential differences, and supports us to meet each other with less interference from our biases and ideologies. When we sit across from another person and hear their experiences, our eyes begin to open to the reality of what it is like to walk through the world in their skin. As we unpack our own stories, we are better able to understand all that has shaped our worldview and perspective. This awareness then influences our interactions and relationships with students and colleagues.  Knowledge of our own personal cultural histories is essential to creating safe and hospitable schools where difference is welcomed.

We recognize that it takes courage to have difficult conversations about oppression and inequality—and to come together around issues of racism, classism, sexism and other isms. When we have these discussions—we will inevitably hear different experiences, perspectives and biases than our own—and this can feel challenging, painful, and healing all at once. And, we feel these conversations are essential to have–as we live in a time where there are ever more blatant expressions of hate, intolerance, and dominance in our schools and communities.

One of the core principles of our cultural responsiveness work is that it is essential for each of us to continue to do our own inner work to understand the impacts and realities of oppression. In our work with schools, we focus on building safe, diverse learning communities where we can work together to raise our own awareness, engage in self-inquiry, and understand how we can take thoughtful and skillful action to interrupt bias in school and beyond.  We see this work as a life long path of learning and growth.

This month, we invite you to consider the following tips– and to consider reading the following articles to inform your self-awareness practice and work in schools. If equity and excellence are to become a reality in schools, we must engage these critical issues more deeply in all teaching and leaning environments.

Tips for Self-Inquiry around Cultural Responsiveness:

Developing our own capacity for cultural responsiveness gives us the foundation to cultivate this with our students. Taking a deep look at our own worldviews and beliefs and biases allows us to see how we might foster a more inclusive classroom.  Below are some reflection questions to support this inner work:

  • Growing up, what did I learn from my family and community about my culture and cultures different from my own?
  • What messages did I receive from society and the media about race, class, culture, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation?
  • Which of those messages did I believe or internalize, and how might this affect my behavior and teaching?
  • What aspects of difference scare me or trigger me, and why?
  • How might my worldview and bias impact how I engage or don’t engage certain students and who and how I tend to “discipline”?

Self-inquiry can be an important first step, as it raises our awareness about ourselves and about our own perspectives and worldview. The next steps along this path call us to have the courage and discipline to act on this awareness—to speak up, take risks, and reach out even when we are uncomfortable.

Activities for Using Personal Storytelling to uncover and eliminate bias:

  • As part of a unit, invite students to write stories about their cultural background and to share those in class with one another.
  • Initiate a council or community circle in which students share one important tradition or way of being from their family or community.
  • Invite one student to volunteer to share at the beginning of class each Friday about a song, poem, book, or movie that connects to a class theme or topic.
  • If developmentally appropriate, read Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman and have a discussion about the gifts of culture and different cultures coming together. Or read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and have students write their own versions of these stories– using the vignettes about family, community, and culture as prototypes. Both of these books can be directly connected to activities inviting personal storytelling from students.

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