This beautifully drawn and expertly crafted book of poetry presents the triumphs and tragedies of African Americans in the United States. It pulls no punches on the cruelty that Africans faced in their journey across the Atlantic and years in the U.S., but it is presented in a way that students can take in and begin to understand. The reference citations allow students to conduct research reports on individuals they know well or are just learning about. The book provides hope by showcasing determination, self-actualization, and perseverance. You can watch Carol Jago’s reading of this book on the Lead the Way to Literacy webinar here.
2. Equity and School Culture
At the 2020 LearnLaunch edtech conference, many of this year’s topics included equity. I heard from administrators, educators, and researchers about the power of identity and acceptance. A student must feel welcome and included in his or her school and community in order to be successful. In the session “Data, Dashboards, and the Whole Child,” Elizabeth Homan, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for Waltham Public Schools, shared that in her district, students are polled twice a year about their school climate. Many questions about school climate center around issues of representation and inclusion. Homan noted that the schools with the highest school climate scores are also those that have the highest achievement. These same schools are very diverse in socioeconomic status and race. They are not among the most affluent. Thus, equity in culture has great outcomes on achievement. How to achieve this in schools? Examine the content.
A second LearnLaunch panel, “How Are Educators Using Edtech to Close Equity Gaps?”, had panelist Kevin Clark, Professor at George Mason University, share media statistics. According to the 2016 research article “The Digital Lives of African American Tweens, Teens, and Parents: Innovating and Learning with Technology,” in 33% of media experiences, race is portrayed negatively. In 24% of media experiences, gender is portrayed negatively. If children of color are spending up to 13 hours a day on media, what lasting harm is this causing? In today’s world, it’s difficult to pull the plug, and disassociating from the world is not the answer.
As children are members of their family, school, and community, each is responsible for cultivating an environment to make them feel safe, welcome, respected, and supported. Explore what’s on the bookshelves and in the media. Don’t look for equality. Look for equity.
One of my favorite tools is the use of biographies to teach stories of the past and show how to support social-emotional learning (SEL) through real-life models of people who are self-aware, make responsible decisions, and foster relationships. These models can be incredibly useful, particularly in the elementary grades, and highlighting the stories of influential individuals is one of the most powerful ways to teach history to our students. Bottom line: provide materials with equity at the foundation to show how real people, not superheroes, are superstars because they made a difference in their communities.
For older students, think about media discussions. Harriet (rated PG-13), starring Cynthia Erivo, has been nominated at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild. While we don’t yet know the parental rating, so many educators and consumers are anticipating the upcoming Netflix series Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, featuring stars Octavia Spencer and Tiffany Haddish.
Madam C. J. Walker was an amazing entrepreneur who worked through significant challenges to become a multimillionaire. She also embodied the character traits of perseverance, caring, and responsibility in her community by providing jobs, training, and charity. Other examples could include teaching:
3. Current Events
Sometimes, history can seem far away and remote for children. Teaching current events can be a powerful way to bring the past to life by connecting it to today’s issues. While the medium may differ—Twitter, online news, news shows, and so on—integrating current events into your curriculum is a critical way to spark important conversations and help students connect their lives to the history lesson.
The sudden and tragic death of Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant reopens public debate of the legacy of a famous and talented athlete. One cannot help but think of other athletes in the spotlight and how they are portrayed to—and judged by—the public.