post by LaMar Timmons-Long, The Educator Collaborative Fellow
Decolonizing Your Curriculum After a Summer of Protests and Pandemic
As we navigate a new school year, teachers are in a position to do some deep thinking about our classroom practices and how our classroom spaces should be a space that explores the truth and reality of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). However, this new school year brings a freshness like never before; for far too long our English classrooms have centered white stories with a Eurocentric lens and taught with oppressive pedagogies. With the murders of Black folk like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the uprising of protest focused on the racial injustices happening in America, and the advocacy for Black lives, teachers are in a crucial position to make a move towards decolonizing their curriculums.
Educators place a crucial role in the development of a student; we have the power to make decisions about text selection, activities, discussion questions and writing prompts that invite students to think critically about the world around them. However, with this power comes great responsibility to shift our thinking and pedagogical practices to create classrooms and/or spaces where teachers can decolonize their curriculums and begin to center BIPOC stories and ways of knowing. When thinking about how do this successfully, ask yourself:
- Whose voices do my units of study, lessons and library center?
- Are my units of study inclusive of all racial, ethnic , gender, and sexual identities?
- Whose agenda am I pushing in this work?
- What do my students want to read and need to read?
Oftentimes, it can be a scary place when you are starting from the beginning or you are forced to use a ‘suggested’ curriculum. You must ask yourself, “How can I amplify voices of color with a curriculum centered around whiteness?” and “How does the institution’s mandated curriculum reinforce harmful ideologies that have led to violence in this society?” Decolonizing your curriculum is not only about what you teach. You have to change how you teach to anti-racist practices. Teachers have to be mindful of the language being used towards students, stories, and different groups of people, text and materials presented and the overall curriculum. Dr. April Baker-Bell reminds us that the dominant linguistic practices schools force on students have long been used to enact anti-Black racism. Our job is to think of ways to make our pedagogical practices anti-racist while working to decolonize our curriculum.
In doing this work, teachers have to be intentional about how they are decolonizing their curriculums. Furthermore, this work requires you to become and use anti-racist practices daily in your classrooms and throughout your school community. Lorena Germán, the author and creator of The Anti-Racist Teacher: Reading Instruction Workbook (2019), lays the foundation for how we can use anti-racist reading instructional practices that will amplify and push our students to become better critical thinkers. She states:
When you pause, you want to intentionally build students’ consciousness and critical thinking about what they are reading, what is missing, and what they need to draw out. Here are some questions to guide that discussion:
What voices are pervasive in this text and why do you think that is?
Does that voice represent dominant ideals in our culture?
What perspective is missing and how is it impacting the plot? The characters? The conflict?
How do issues of race, ethnicity, and identity directly and indirectly present themselves in this text?
How are People of The Global Majority treated in this text? If absent, what might that suggest about the text and the author?”
How does the text operate to uphold the current power dynamics in our society?
This guide offers the perfect example of the kinds of questions that teachers can ask their students while moving away from the traditional plot development questions and ways of teaching English that reify whiteness. With this guide, students are now able to think about other perspectives and think closely about the author’s intentions, thus offering a different route through which to teach literature and decolonize our curriculum.
Understand that the process of taking a real deep look into our curriculum is important and necessary work. Students deserve to have teachers who are willing and able to go against the norm and challenge their thinking. Students deserve to experience a curriculum that is inclusive and centers BIPOC and traditionally marginalized gender identities. Now, as you go off to do this necessary work of decolonizing your curriculums, the reckoning can begin!