Tackling the topic of racism in education one book at a time

Commitment:  the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.

Have you ever committed yourself to something in education that took a lot of reflection to become a better educator?

I made a commitment to myself that I was going to understand the students in our school better and why they are succeeding or struggling. Year in and year out our white students are outperforming our students of color. There are always excuses – they are lazy, they don’t care, their parents don’t care,  etc. I was guilty of these excuses more often than not.  If they would just work harder, they would be more successful.  It was always the students fault and never my fault.  That didn’t sit well with me once I realized how hard my students really work and how much they really do care.  The more I looked into it, the more I needed to learn.  I began to read about race and haven’t stopped in the past three years.

Teachers ask me all the time where to start on this journey. What should they read?

Start by reading books that can open your eyes and give you a new perspective of the world.  Here are a few that inspired me to keep reading:

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates – a letter from Ta-Nehesi Coates to his son about growing up black in America. I don’t normally love audiobooks, but this one should be listened to.
  2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson – true stories about Bryan Stevenson’s work as a lawyer fighting for the rights and justice for those who need it most.  A must read about mass incarceration and the death penalty.
  3. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele – powerful story of how and why #blacklivesmatter began and the story of one woman behind its creation.

I moved from reading personal stories to books about reflecting on my own whiteness and systemic racism:

  1. We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson – This should be recommended reading for all high school students in US History courses. It is eye opening read that has helped me educate myself about the oppression that POC have faced repeatedly from the beginning of time.

  2. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown – the author shares her truth on what it is like for her to grow up black in a world made for whiteness.

  3. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo – I led a staff book club last year with this book.  Oluo breaks down different topics in each chapter of her book:  white privilege, police brutality, microaggressions, systemic racism, etc.  This is easy to read and a powerful book to reflect on with others.

  4. The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism by Rosalind S. Chou and Joe R. Feagin – It is not just our Latinx/Hispanic students and our black students who face daily racial discrimination. The authors explain how Asian Americans are discriminated against as well and how they are used to continue the divide between whites and other people of color.

  5. White Privilege by Robin DiAngelo –  This was the book we read for our staff book club this fall.  I don’t recommend using this without any additional staff training prior to the book club.  DiAngelo takes on the topic of whiteness and if staff aren’t ready to really reflect on their own whiteness and privilege, it is a hard one to read.

From there I began reading more about making changes in the classroom. 

  1. Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School by Mica Pollock – this is filled with essays and questions to help adults critically think about their behaviors and the systems we have set up to keep POC out of power.
  2. Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms by Joe Feldman – the author explains how many grading practices create inequities for students of color and offers alternative practices that are more equitable to all students.
  3. We Got This.: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor – this book is filled with practical strategies that reflective teachers can implement tomorrow in the classroom.

  4. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Lynn Hammond – be warned, this is a dense book, but using neuroscience research, the author shares ways to create and implement brain-compatible culturally responsive instruction.

My to-read list for 2020 continues to grow.  Here are a few I am anxious to start and share with others:

  1. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  2. We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Bettina L. Love

  3. Unconscious Bias in Schools: A Developmental Approach to Exploring Race and Racism by Tracey A. Benson

What books have you read that changed you as an educator that I should add to my to-read list for 2020? 

Melissa Sethna has spent the past three years co-leading staff equity professional development at her high school in Mundelein, IL.  She believes in the work and is passionate about helping others reflect on their own beliefs and biases. Students deserve it.   

 

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