Antiracism is a continuous process that requires fighting for equitable systems and policies for all

How to foster antiracist learning environments in schools

Antiracism is a continuous process that requires fighting for equitable systems and policies for all

Over the last two years, far too many people in education have acted as if antiracism is a new thing. It is not. Going back to scholars and activists like George Dei, Angela Davis, Mica Pollock, Louise Derman-Sparks and Carol Phillips, educators have situated antiracism as a transformative process…meaning we are always on the journey. While contemporary scholars and educators have brought antiracism to the forefront amidst the racial reckoning associated with the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there still seems to be some debate about the utility of antiracism in schools.

As educators with more than 30 years of combined experiences in schools, who also deal with racism in our personal and professional lives, the utilization of antiracism as a framework to understand race in schools and society is not debatable.

The fact that so many people have decided to push back against antiracism, but also suggest that we are teaching Critical Race Theory in schools, is not a surprise but reflective of a general resistance to having real conversations about race. Baffling and confusing, perhaps…disheartening, absolutely.

As an educator currently working in a school in Washington, D.C. with mostly African American students, and as a scholar of antiracist praxis charged with preparing the next generation of scholars, schools play a critical role in not only preparing students to understand the history of race in America, but also understanding antiracism as an instrument to dismantle the many racist policies and systems that have governed our schools, and society, for years. As such, educators in schools have the ability to influence practice and policy, while providing our students with the tools to be critical scholars and intellectuals about race and racism.

To that end, we have proposed antiracist strategies that can be implemented on the individual level (for both the teacher and the student) and a more holistic classroom level.

The most significant level of influence in antiracism: transforming oneself. As educators, our students often follow our lead. They look to us for advice and guidance. For that reason, if we are genuinely going to practice antiracism in our classes, we have to become antiracists ourselves.

Our first recommendation would be for educators to introduce the theme of implicit biases. Implicit biases refer to our subconscious beliefs, thoughts, and stereotypes that we have towards other people. Implicit biases are vital to address because we often do not recognize we have them and how they influence our daily decisions and interactions. Once teachers have thoroughly taught implicit biases, students and teachers should individually identify implicit biases that they subconsciously have. In addition to identifying implicit biases, we would also incorporate discussions and lessons regarding white privilege and privilege in general that each student and teacher has that gives them an advantage over others. By dissecting the concepts of privilege, and implicit biases, students are ready to mentally begin “unlearning” oppressive beliefs and ideas.

Our next recommendation is to install a culture of proactive vs. reactive antiracist work.  Educators and students should continuously challenge themselves to do the work needed to become antiracists. Antiracism should not only show up when a problem arises or when a blatant, overt form of racism occurs; rather, it should be ingrained in daily conversations, structures, and assignments. Being proactive also looks like teachers and students being comfortable holding others accountable in power that they initially may not have been comfortable with addressing (i.e., adults, leaders, administrators, and peers).  Teachers and students should intentionally seek opportunities to share power with those who typically get overlooked. In a school setting, sharing power may look like giving students from historically marginalized groups the opportunity to speak first, lead a project, or make the final decision. This may also include expanding student choice in how students submit an assignment and encouraging student and teacher advocacy.

Now that we have explored a few tools to become antiracist individuals, let’s explore ways in which educators can create antiracist learning environments.

Let’s first examine the curriculum and resources that are currently being used. Regardless of the content being taught, it is the educator’s job to make sure the curriculum is inclusive and diverse for all students, especially those students whose voices and experiences are oftentimes overlooked in curricular design. Currently, many curricula and resources are taught based on one way of thinking and learning. We challenge educators to think outside of the box when creating lessons and activities. Normalize asking students how they best learn and then adapt accordingly.

Next, it is essential to identify and discuss racist or implicit biases that are evident in the current curriculum. Once there is an awareness, the process of “re-teaching” through an antiracist lens can occur. We would also recommend educators create ongoing learning opportunities and spaces for discussion around how race and racism influences past and current policies, laws, and systems. By acknowledging institutional racism, students and teachers can consciously begin making choices to fight future policies that intentionally oppress persons of color.

In addition, we would encourage teachers to purposely share and highlight the work of persons of color in their content (i.e., referencing a person of color’s [POC] expertise in a subject, including written work of POC, inviting a POC expert to the class during a related topic, etc.).

Finally, integrating ways for students to advocate for change, (i.e., teach students how to protest or fight for the rights of the oppressed strategically, or teach students how to write letters to lawmakers and policymakers when they disagree with a policy or law).

Antiracism is a continuous process. It is a lifestyle that requires using your voice when others cannot, relentlessly fighting for equitable systems and policies for all, and being proactive instead of reactive. Educators are built for this moment. In fact, educators have a long history of utilizing antiracism in schools. Let’s not shrink in this moment, let’s rise to the occasion.

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