Want a More Culturally Just Curriculum: Start with the Self

Last week, I had the immense pleasure of presenting a powerful session at ASCD Empower18.  Educators from the classroom to the state level came together to grapple with issues of curriculum and supervision in our schools. In my session we addressed the many challenges and possible solutions for negotiating the cultural differences between adults and students.  Some of the many differences we discussed included: language, gender identification, definitions of respect, the value of oral language, how learning occurs, the universality of some traditions, ideas about power, cooperation, and other “so-called” obvious truths.

For all human beings, these norms in our lives provide a sense of safety, belonging, and confidence.  But it is our various life experiences that define the unspoken truths of our lives and beliefs about what is normal.  However, what happens when the things that make us feel safe, confident, and included are different than our students?  This is when educators must have open and honest conversations with students in order to co-author a set of learning experiences that address the invisible biases.  These invisible biases are most often assumptions that do not come from a place of malice or negativity.  But many well-meaning educators can also unknowingly deliver curriculum and establish classroom expectations that can put up powerful barriers that impact the educational access, engagement, membership to the social network of school, and high levels of learning for their diverse students.

The first step in ensuring a socio-culturally just educational experience was to recognize the hidden bias of our assumptions by looking inward.  As educators, what are our experiences, our appearance that informs how we move through different communities, our norms, and our privileges? Once we acknowledge these aspects of ourselves, we can then look to learn about our culturally and linguistically diverse students.  Who are they and what are their experiences that define their beliefs and how they see the world beyond just a data point?  Once we know there story, what makes them safe, how they define respect, how they process and apply learning, then we can evaluate curriculum materials more objectively and in a way that truly changes the trajectory of success for our students.  Only, then should we consider the framework for such a task as shown in the figure below.

If your district would like more information about curriculum material or program evaluations, please contact us at alexandra.guilamo@tajulearning.com or 1 (312) 800-3477.