How can I use language to engage the community in discussion of social justice issues?
How can we use language to enact and initiate social justice?
How can I use the Courageous Conversation compass to engage different perspectives?
As a white teacher navigating conversations addressing the historical and contemporary impact of race and social justice in a classroom of primarily Black and brown students, I need to not only be aware of the frameworks I teach but also convey and create space for racially conscious learning. Before engaging students in conversations about race, that students may inevitably respond to in a diverse spectrum of reactions, I must first ensure that my class and I, myself are prepared to engage in conversation. Racial equity leaders and educators turn to protocol and structures to facilitate conversation.
Glenn Singleton’s Courageous Conversations protocol acknowledges the ways in which individuals arrive to participate in racially centered conversations and provides support for navigating individual and group responses. Singleton’s framework includes the use of user-friendly tools, such as the Courageous Conversation Compass. The compass depicts four quadrants indicating four ways in which one may enter into conversation: intellectually, relationally, emotionally, and morally (Singleton, 29). Isolating the ways one may enter into a conversation before engaging in the content asks participants to first acknowledge their own response patterns as well as serves as a reminder to the different ways in which individuals may respond when confronted with the racial injustices that underlie a colorblind curriculum and perspective.
Singleton also outlines six main conditions for engaging in racially positive conversation that begin with the need to establish a racial context that is personal, local, and immediate; isolate race while acknowledging the broader scope of diversity and variety of factors and conditions that contribute to a racialized problem; develop understanding of race as a social/political construction of knowledge; and engage multiple racial perspectives to surface critical understanding. The conditions evolve to include monitoring the parameters of the conversation by being explicit and intentional about the number of participants, prompts for discussion, and time allotted for listening, speaking, and reflecting; establishing agreement around a contemporary working definition of race, one that is clearly differentiated from ethnicity and nationality; and examining the presence and role of Whiteness and its impact on the conversation and problem being addressed. (Singleton, pg 28)
Singleton’s framework responds to the need to uproot colorblind pedagogy in curriculum, builds upon the work of Critical Race Theory, and answers the call for an accurate portrayal of history. The work of racial equity leaders such as Singleton also allows classroom educators to first acknowledge the social and emotional response of students before engaging in racially charged conversations and curriculum. By practicing protocol, a classroom can progress in normalizing conversations that seek to uproot dominant cultural narratives and practices.
Milton Reynolds similarly acknowledges the role racial conversations can play in impacting the emotions and well being of a group. Reynolds states, “racial stressors such as engaging openly about issues of difference often result in defensive behaviors… Teachers’ primary role as arbiter of classroom norms necessitates they develop the ability to navigate such conversations” (Reynolds, 366). Milton offers methodologies for navigating racially charged conversations such as emphasizing deep listening, inquiry over advocacy, building upon each other’s thoughts, and providing structure to speaking roles. Milton also urges for expanding understanding of content by building on the shared knowledge of the group and democratizing voice, so that no one voice or perspective dominates the exchange. In addition to the need for structured listening and speaking opportunities, also help participants learn to hold dissonance that might otherwise be mitigated by speaking over, misdirecting the conversation, or challenging those surfacing alternative viewpoints.
While Singleton’s and Reynold’s work seek to better provide frameworks for entering into racially charged dialogues and conversations, both also provide a way for researchers to improve their outreach in the communities where they are conducting their learning. Using their framework, researchers can better understand how they may enter into a topic and may bring their personal understandings and emotions into their work. Researchers may also use social and emotional knowledge to better communicate their findings to a larger audience by understanding the ways in which individuals in an audience may respond to social justice or CRT based research topics.
Activities to Engage Community Through Dialogue
Activity: Understanding and engaging audience through the Courageous Conversation Compass
The Courageous Conversation Compass is a tool created for individuals in the community to assess how they respond and enter into a racially charged conversation. The tool can also be used to identify how other individuals may enter into a conversation. As students look to articulate racially charged social justice concepts in an effort to engage and educate an audience, students may also use the tool to identify how to use language to make an impact and to bring audience members into the conversation.
This activity first calls for students to become familiar with the compass. As a class, read and annotate each part of the compass handout. Hold discussion about what each part of the compass means. Practice using the compass. Select a mentor speech text or video. First, have students practice holding a conversation using the compass to identify how they are personally feeling or thinking when entering into conversation about the speech. Have students discuss how a person may address the speech using each quadrant of the compass.
Next, notify students that we will try to get inside the head of the speech writer. Read the speech transcript in chunks allowing for students to pause and consider the perspective the writer is embodying. Annotate the transcript using different color markers to indicate which phrases appeal to each quadrant of the compass. After reading the speech, have students review their annotations and using the Methods of Speech Organizer, have students record phrases into each quadrant. Have students analyze each phrase and explain why the phrase was placed into the selected quadrant. Discuss how each quadrant can appeal to individuals in an audience and the importance of considering different perspectives in engaging an audience.
The activity leads to students developing their own written speech on their chosen social justice topic. Have students practice writing their own speeches incorporating appeals related to the Courageous Conversation Compass. Students will write to appeal to an audience’s beliefs, emotions, intellect, and agency. Remind students to review the annotated speech, compass, and organizer for help. Students will practice reading their speeches in small groups while classmates work to identify the quadrant in which the writer was making an appeal. Speeches may be incorporated into their culminating project or shared on the collective website.
Ongoing and Culminating Activities Towards Social Justice
Activity (On-going): Student Organized Website
As a means to actively collect student on-going knowledge, production, and collaboration, the class will work on developing a student organized website. Each small group with the similar social justice theme will be given the opportunity to create a page dedicated to their continuous learning process. The page will contain each groups’ goals for their projects, interviews with community members, recommended community organizations, personal narratives, speeches, art, photography and other pieces that provide an account of the learning process but can be shared with a larger community and may serve a purpose for future classes or community organizations.
Activity (Culminating): Social Justice Symposium
To celebrate, honor, and educate members in the community, the unit will culminate in a Social Justice Symposium. The symposium brings the school and local community together and gives each student an opportunity to share their research and further educate their community about new perspectives, understandings, and knowledge associated with their social justice topic. Students will present with their fellow classmates who also focused on similar topics. Each will individually contribute to the presentation but will collectively engage in discussion after the panel’s presentation.
Students will play a part in formally inviting family members and community organizations that they collaborated with through the project to honor their contributions and to demonstrate how their knowledge impacted the outcomes of the project. Audience members will be invited to share in conversation and discussion at the end of each panel's presentation.
Students will have the ability to present incorporating academic research, community cultural wealth, and Indigenous practices in varying modes such as TedTalk, video documentary, art showcase, performance art, and so forth.