In a recent article for The Atlantic, writer Michael Harriot also detailed his experience as a Black child growing up in South Carolina during the 70’s and 80’s. Harriot’s mother homeschooled Harriot and his sisters during their elementary years as a vehicle for them to realize their full potential as Black children growing up in a white world; their young lives were steeped in Black culture and Black experiences. He recounts, even given the vestiges of broader segregation, that the family intentionally had little interaction with white people and were shielded from negative images and depictions in books, films, and other cultural items deemed too white, too demeaning, or downright racist. Recanting this time, he states, “A few years ago, I asked my mother why she put so much effort into concocting this Caucasian-free cocoon. She informed me that our childhood was part of an experiment she had envisioned before we were even born. ‘A Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness,’ she explained. Not a single day has passed since in which I have not thought about that sentence.”
The Divides We Face
Both Contreras and Harriot’s experiences, though quite different, highlight the importance African American history had to their overall development as they grew into adulthood. Their parents recognized this importance and were there to provide their children with their fuller histories, beyond the tragedies to the triumphs as well.
Humans yearn to be known, accepted, and seen by others. It’s in our nature to want these things. When we better know the true picture of ourselves (our histories, our place in the world, our struggles, and our achievements), then it stands to reason we can better understand, appreciate, and accept those around us, including, ultimately, how their place in the world relates to our own. To better realize each person’s unique potential, we need the fuller picture of everyone.
Thankfully today, there is a broader push for schools to provide their students a much more comprehensive and inclusive view of the themselves and others. This approach is commonly referred to as Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) and it is happening across America each day. Educators, through expectations messaged from their districts and states, including opportunities for professional learning, are awakening to the importance of CRE in their students’ development and well-being and are delivering on it for the students they serve.
Culturally Responsive Education (CRE)
Superintendent Contreras puts a fine point on why knowing the history of ourselves and others is important for everyone.
“Culturally Responsive Education is education that meets the needs of all students. It does this by being inclusive, by embedding the history in culture and language of the students that are served in the curriculum and by making sure that teachers understand the culture of the student and are able to respond to students appropriately. Adding cultural competency and adding student history and culture to curriculum has a statistically positive impact on student achievement and will help us close those persistent achievement gaps. So, it does matter to let young people know who they are.”
Contreras understands that not all schools in America are there yet with ensuring their students feel safe and valued and seen. But she does “believe public schools may be the last platform that has a common audience in their community where they can lead this work.” We believe this also.
Want to see more on how districts such as Guilford are doing this important work?
Written By: Tammie Workman, Education Consultant and Former Urban Schools Leader with Stacey DeWitt CEO of Connect with Kids Network.