“Why we always learning about Martin Luther King, slavery and jail? I swear it’s always the same thing!”
Listening to the words of a disgruntled teen, I remember asking myself the same question as a New Haven Public Schools student. In elementary school, I learned about King George’s greed versus the courage of our forefathers. America fought for independence, threw some tea in a harbor, and through non traditional war formations and guerilla combat, won independence. In middle school, I learned about the Civil War, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans, through resilience, grit, and peaceful protest, won their freedom and equality. In high school, I learned about ancient civilizations around the world, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement; this time with more detailed documentaries of Dr. King and the SCLC.
Whether it be following the North Star to freedom, refusing to go to the back of a bus, or winning a football game, my education taught me the same narrative in everything to do with race: peace, harmony and resilience are always the answer. Our national anthem celebrates rebellion and the blood of the patriots, yet at the same time, our news outlets and history books preach for peaceful protest as the modality for racial equality, deeming any instance of chaos as savagery. We’re told to dismiss hundreds of years of slavery and internment, yet are told to “never forget” 9/11.
The effects go far beyond the classroom; the narratives that are told are internalized as truth, shaping the identity and orientations of who we become, and how we see the world. This design is intentional and position people of color as subordinate, furthering the white dominant culture baked into our society.
In our seminar, Teaching Race Across Disciplines, we engaged in informed discussion and self reflection of the extent white supremacy lives within academia, and also, tenets of Critical Race Theory1 , exploring what this looks like in practice. In conversations surrounding race based within public K-12 classrooms, there is typically discomfort. The immediate thought, especially within literature, is that curriculum will be less rigorous , with a sole focus on the struggle of marginalized populations. In this curriculum,I have two specific focuses. First, I use specific strategies and mindsets to create a classroom culture of safety and trust, allowing moments of discomfort to become learning experiences. Secondly, I will create a reinvigorated humanities curriculum that allows students to engage in authentic conversations in identity and society, without straying away from the skills students need in engaging with traditional curriculum. We will study the conditions surrounding injustice through varied perspectives, and students will walk away with a nuanced perspective in conversation surrounding society and race.