The main learning of this part will center on the different aspects of students’ social identities. This will be the very first unit in the Fall, after the first few days where schedules, classroom changes and everything else falls into place. Doing this sets the foundations for the rest of the year. Students will reflect on each of their individual identities, sharing stories of each, and analyze how each of these plays a factor a students’ lived experience. They will learn about each other and the different perspectives we bring to the table. Engaging in this will build the foundations of how we operate in the classroom, building a safe and comfortable space for sharing,4 ground the class in shared language and practices, and also centering human experience at the forefront.
Each process is an experience students will engage in, the recommended time frame, and also brief summaries of each.
1. Opening: Read/ Analyze, The Complexities of Identity by Beverly Daniel Tatum. (2 Day)
In her essay, Tatum approaches identity through explaining the through two major sections titled, “Who Am I? Multiple Identities.” and “Domination and Subordination.” She speaks of the idea that our identity is broken up into multiple parts, the systemic advantages that exist, and also the then discusses ways in which specific identities are oppressed and which hold power.5 In reading and analyzing and debriefing this, students will gain language around their individual identities, and also the concept of domination and subordination in this country.
Note: The most important aspect of this reading is the major concept of the individual being comprised of into different parts, and also, introducing the idea of individuals inherently having advantage or disadvantage within this country. In a step towards transforming the dominant narrative, which tells a specific one-dimensional story6 on specific social identities, it’s essential for individuals to reflect on who they are and this reading will give them access to communicating this.
2. Reading/ Discussing, The People in Me, by Robin Kelley (2-3 Days)
This essay is a reflection on Mr. Kelley’s experience growing up black, but having his membership questioned due to various factors. In reading this, students will understand an even deeper nuance of identity, and understand to what extent each individualized one influences the next. In reading this, they will be asked to make explicit connections to the previous text in engaging in discussion.
Note: The star of this reading is to move students understanding as dimensions of identity in complete isolation, in contrast to influencing / working off of each other. It also provides language for the depth that each piece of identity holds.
3. Where I’m From Poem (2-3 Days)
After reading and reflecting on the essays that touch on the complexities of race and identity, students will write a creative reflective piece in reflection of their own. Students will use the framework of George Ella Lyon’s, Where I’m From poem, but with experiences closely related to their selected social identities, and the experiences that they associate with them. First, students will read and annotate the poem for understanding of structure. Then in creation, set the following parameters:
- Must be 10-14 lines
- Intentional usage of imagery and metaphor
- Centering around 1-3 social identities.
- A significant object that tells a story.
- Pieces of an important conversation
- Important quotes, lyrics, or anything else.
- A significant place.
- A vivid description of a significant place.
- Any other specific descriptions of memories that bring you pride, confusion, joy, sadness and an array of emotion.
Each of these can be more than one line. Be creative, rearrange in a way that makes sense.
Note: After writing, students can share in small group debriefs, different from the ones before. Invite students to also share whole group. Be intentional in how you group students, put students together who know each other the least, and be unapologetic about this being your intent. The importance of this poem is the reference points students choose. This poem is a more rigorous and personal adlib, and a subtle yet intentional structure for deep reflection. In satisfying the academic and writing component, this is a rigorous exercise in the usage of poetic devices. Again, just like the identity chart, it’s important to include your own example, modeling vulnerability and breaking away from the dominant / authoritative structure of the teacher.8
4. The Story Exchange (1-3 Days)
This is the final activity of this unit. Students have spent much of their time self reflecting, sharing and listening to the lived experiences of others, and now this activity makes active listening, empathy and storytelling at the forefront. This activity is inspired by Narrative 4, an organization that creates platform for story exchanges globally and nationally. The major parts are broken into three phases: writing and drafting, sharing and listening in partners and finally, presenting. The following is an outline for each:
Students will create a structured story with a beginning middle and end centering on one of the following prompts:
- A day that changed everything.
- A difficult decision.
- The day I experienced discriminiation.
- A time I was resilient.
- A time I experienced raw emotion.
- A day I witnessed or experienced courage.
- A time I experienced kindness/ friendship
- A time I experienced failure.
- A time I experienced genuine happiness.
Students will each individually pick a prompt to answer to, and prepare a story with a beginning, middle and end. They will break off into partners, and engage in an active listening protocol. They will listen to their partner’s story, ask clarifying questions, and anything else. Ultimately, they will come back into the larger group, and tell the story as if they are their partner.
- Each student will sit in a circle next to their partner.
- Each student will have a copy of their partners identity chart taped to themself.
- Each student will tell the story as though they are their partner.
Note: Again, it’s essential to model vulnerability. Be ready to either engage in a story exchange with another student, or pre-record/ ask a teacher on a free period, and or guest, to exchange with you. In facilitation, depending on numbers and timing, it may be worth splitting this into two different classes. Some stories will be silly, and some students will open up immediately, both are OK, its essential to ground the class in norms for sharing and responding to each other.
Summative Connection to Seminar:
A major theme and recurring conversation in our group were the tangible ways to counter colorblind ideology, colonialism and dominant narratives. In order to unlock consciousness within students, and setting parameters to engage in this curriculum, it is an absolute necessity to decolonize the classroom space, and the dominant structure of teacher as authoritative figure in contrast to co-learner. The process and product of this part of the curriculum is grounded in the tenets of Critical Race Theory, including: becoming more comfortable with the process of not knowing, problematizing our thinking in times we think we know what students need to do/ think, positioning ourselves as co-learners, searching for ways to invite traditionally silenced voices into the classroom.9 Giving students access to language around identity, and turning reflective practice into the focal point of the class, their lived experiences become a product of learning. Also, according to research, when creating inclusive spaces, research shows four major factors include child-centered teaching, cultivating diversity, classroom relationships, and caring environments.10 True learning will not happen unless our students develop skills in listening and learning from each other. After engaging in this opening,students will have had many interactions and opportunities to learn from each other, making true collaboration moving forward the norm.