How Race and Sexuality Laws Could Conflict with Culturally Appropriate Teaching

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Culturally relevant education and critical race theory are not the same thing. But laws banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools, and other related efforts, could spell out logistical challenges and questions for educators engaging in culturally sensitive work. .

Culturally appropriate teaching, a pedagogy invented in 2000, uses the customs, characteristics, experiences and perspectives of students as tools for better teaching in the classroom. This involves contextualizing issues of race, class, ethnicity, and gender and helping students develop critical awareness, where they are empowered to critique and analyze social inequalities.

Some politicians have confused this educational approach with the academic concept known as critical race theory, researchers said. The central idea of ​​this concept is that race is a social construct and that racism is not only the product of individual prejudice or prejudice, but is also embedded in policies and systems. Since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or makes other efforts to restrict the teaching of critical race theory in schools and, more broadly, to limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom. Seventeen states have imposed these bans and restrictions through legislation or other means as of April 14.

Here are three ways recent restrictions on teaching about race and sexuality issues can potentially impact the work of culturally sensitive educators.

Limit resources through book bans

Culturally sensitive teachers have classrooms full of books featuring characters and images that represent a variety of ages, genders, ethnicities and other types of diversity to help students better see themselves and see their communities in what they read.

For example, when schools have a lunch for mothers, but a student has two fathers, “having a book in the classroom that really resembles your family is an affirmation,” said Teddi Beam-Conroy, associate professor at the University of Washington.

But a new report by PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization, found that between July 2021 and March 2022, more than 1,100 unique book titles were banned from schools across the country. Many of these books featured protagonists of color, explicitly dealt with LGBTQ topics or featured LGBTQ protagonists, or dealt with race and racism. Parents and community members have complained that these books contain explicit or inappropriate content, and administrators preemptively removed the books to avoid controversy and publicity, according to the report.

In Florida last year, publishers of math instructional materials were advised not to incorporate “unsolicited strategies” into textbooks, including culturally appropriate instruction. This led to more than 50 math textbooks being rejected from the next school year’s curriculum.

Bans can make it harder for a school to be culturally sensitive because teachers can no longer provide — or, in some cases, easily point to — the very resources used to help students see reflections of themselves. and their lives, said Fabienne Doucet, the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University.

Yet students of color and LGBTQ-identifying students are still living their lives and seeking to speak about their experiences despite the banning of books that reflect this, Doucet added.

Confusion around teacher training, professional development

All states include a mix of culturally appropriate teaching skills in their professional education standards, according to a 2019 analysis by the New America think tank, though their degree of integration may vary.

Most teacher training programs have also incorporated culturally appropriate teaching into their courses, experts said.

Yet Doucet heard from colleagues in teacher education programs across the country that when there are discussions about culturally relevant teaching, questions arise about whether those entering the teaching profession in states with anti-criticism race theory laws might actually practice this or if they’re even allowed to use these words.

If the term culturally appropriate teaching were to be banned in schools or the practice discouraged, there is concern that schools could lose a retention lever for teachers of color who see culturally appropriate teaching as a way to both to affirm their own identity in the classroom and that of their students. identities, said Beam-Conroy in Washington state.

“Our foundation for teacher preparation has a component of cultural responsiveness,” Beam-Conroy said. “And so what do we do with that, if we’re asked not to do that – not to teach our future teachers or future teachers to think about who they are and to think about who the kids are in their classroom ? “

In Virginia, “Culturally Appropriate Teaching and Equitable Practices” is one of eight performance standards by which teachers are evaluated. This means that a teacher “demonstrates a commitment to equity and provides teaching and classroom strategies that result in culturally inclusive and responsive learning environments and academic success for all students.” This standard was put in place following 2021 legislation requiring assessments to include cultural competence.

On January 15 of this year, in its first executive decreeGov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, has directed state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow to identify and address “intrinsically divisive concepts like critical race theory and its offspring” in education public.

As a result, “Superintendent Balow has canceled web content, videos and other resources developed under her predecessor to promote now-discontinued departmental initiatives,” said Charles B. Pyle, spokesman for the Department of Education. Virginia.

This included the ministry’s EdEquityVA website and its culturally responsive section, with one staple being “the resources contain concepts that may be divisive and need to be considered by stakeholders,” according to Balow’s interim report. . to Youngkin and Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera.

However, Pyle added that “discontinued initiatives did not include standards and guidelines imposed by law or regulation.”

Complicate critical awareness

Laws commonly referred to as anti-critical race theory laws often cite prohibitions on teaching “dividing concepts” in the classroom, such as that one race or gender is superior to others.

Culturally sensitive teaching specifically teaches that there is no inherent superiority in any group, Beam-Conroy said. It’s a response to how for years schools have operated as if anything outside of the heterosexual, nuclear, white family is an aberration. Rather, it teaches that all different types of families and identities are part of the norm.

A key element of culturally responsive teaching is the development of students’ critical awareness, which involves an awareness of power in society, how it works, how it creates hierarchies, etc.

The concern shared by Doucet and Beam-Conroy is that because of these anticritical laws of race theory and their prohibition of divisive concepts, there may be a chilling effect on teachers who no longer wish to encourage their students. to critique and analyze power structures and how they benefit and oppress different groups for fear of defying a law. For example, would teachers want their students to engage in a conversation about why, for years, history lessons have focused the perspective of one racial group on others? And as another example, the idea of ​​addressing environmental justice issues in communities of color in science classrooms may no longer be explored.

“I’m concerned that many teachers, especially where they are in states where they don’t have union protection due process, will decide they’re just going to shut their mouths and comply,” Beam-said Conroy.

These concerns are not new, nor is the idea that teachers can find creative ways to still inspire their students to ask critical questions about the world and come to their own conclusions. For example, instead of focusing on race, a teacher might talk about how certain social structures don’t meet the needs of people with disabilities, Doucet said.

“Sustainable and culturally appropriate education is about meeting students where they are, validating student identities, supporting student experiences, acknowledging the strengths they bring to the table,” said Sweet. “So, fine, we wouldn’t say culturally appropriate teaching, but we would say caring about your students, seeing your students, acknowledging them, validating them, loving them. It’s all culturally appropriate teaching.

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