In a previous article, I charged educators with spending time self-reflecting on their successes and failures at enacting critical multiculturalism in schools and classrooms. As part of this process I suggested administrators and teachers create an Action Plan that identifies short-term and long-term goals for growing their critical consciousness for better leadership and practice in schools. This type of work is primarily for individual growth as an educator. It is necessary work as a first step in having a larger conversation as a content-area team, school staff, administrative team, or even district staff as to how educators can create and maintain anti-oppressive teaching and learning climates for all children. This is necessary if we are going to be most effective in educating all children. The disheartening statistics regarding low literacy and math skills of many poor children and children of color throughout this country (particularly in urban and rural contexts) present educators and the larger society with a moral obligation to "do right" by each child that is served in the public school system. However, educators cannot be effective in the work they are doing in culturally diverse learning spaces without ongoing professional support that engages them in personal and collective reflection, goal-setting and action that supports high academic and life success for our neediest children.
Reform types of professional development (PD), such as study groups, mentoring, coaching, professional learning communities, and teacher academies provide principals and teachers with consistent and sustained opportunities either within the school day or outside the school day to hone their efforts at being more culturally relevant and responsive in their daily work, while simultaneously helping students achieve and exceed academic benchmarks. To increase access to what are blocked opportunities in learning for many poor children and black and brown youth (e.g., knowledge about and enrollment in advanced placement and college preparation courses, career trajectories in STEM-related disciplines, etc.), schools and districts must incorporate goals in their school improvement plans that support growing teachers' skills for embodying and implementing equity pedagogies and practices in classrooms. These goals should not only facilitate efforts for staff to engage in a cycle of continual self-reflection but also require that educators have the necessary professional support through yearlong PD that enables them to achieve the pedagogical and instructional goals that have been set personally and collaboratively.
Kevin Kumashiro (2000) offers a framework for educators to use in examining their mindsets and practices as they work toward being effective multicultural educators. Kumashiro argues that educators need to constantly be working against multiple forms of oppression in schools by understanding the nature and dynamics of oppression and its complexities in teaching and learning, and by articulating ways to positively change curricula, pedagogies, and policies that prohibit equity in schooling. Here Tuesda Roberts and I briefly describe the four approaches to anti-oppressive education for consideration as leadership teams develop district-level and school-level improvement plans for the upcoming school year. We note that each approach is limited if considered in a vacuum. But when taken in their totality, attention to the goals of these four approaches will move educators closer to achieving educational equity for all students and increase their effectiveness as multicultural educators.
Education For the Other: In this approach, educators and educational leaders zone in on the ways certain groups in society have been marginalized, either through the actions or the inactions of those in power. Unfortunately, in their attempts to address what they see as the needs of these 'Other' students, skewed views of what counts as normal are left untroubled. Furthermore, those making decisions about which reforms and initiatives are most appropriate in response to social inequities evident within schools are often far removed from the experiences needed in order to more justly attend to marginalized communities. In a nutshell, the focus falls too heavily on the treatment of Others without sufficiently questioning how biased social norms, and educators' biased dispositions may contribute to educational inequities.
Education About the Other: When educational and professional development goals are oriented towards this approach, the goal is to combat oppression by addressing what all students and teachers supposedly should know about the Other. Here, educators want to increase the visibility of groups and histories that historically have not been justly included in the educational process or in the formal curriculum. That's not exactly an easy task because it's tempting to include snippets or celebrations that boil the Black or Working Class experience down to bite-sized pieces. And even though the goal may be to increase empathy by increasing awareness, this approach may unintentionally lead to a false sense of intercultural competence because the knowledge that is gained favors momentary, freeze-frame voyeurism rather than the actual development of community.
Education that is Critical of Privileging and Othering: The first two approaches to anti-oppressive education have hinged on how we think and treat the Other and what we know about them. What's missing is an actual critique of the dispositions and structures that simultaneously privilege some while oppressing others. To do so, would require educators to become engaged in dialogues and sustaining/sustainable practices that help them unlearn previously held convictions about who and what is acceptable. Going far beyond the individual level, this unlearning calls for critical considerations of educational structures, policies, and histories that lead to inequitable educational experiences and imbalances in the access students have to the resources we, by common sense, know to be necessary for their success. Perhaps, though, what sets this approach apart is the act of making measurable, concerted, conscientious efforts to transform education into a social institution where social privileging is not tolerated.
Education that Changes Students and Society: But what would happen if, as educators, we didn't boil our understanding of oppression down to attitudes, actions, policies or structures? Oppression looks and operates differently over time. Different forms of oppression intersect and overlap in ways that make it impossible to generate a list of best strategies that could address the issue at hand. With that in mind, this approach encourages and facilitates educators' asking themselves about their philosophical stances, their social commitments and the beliefs they hold about society. True and meaningful changes to educational structures, teachers, students and society can happen when this approach is employed because anti-oppressive education isn't reduced to a workshop or handbook. Instead, it becomes the over-arching guide that invites educators and educational leaders to question in which ways their notions of self, of "Us," of "Them," perpetuate oppression even in our diverse, flag-lined hallways. This approach encourages educators to see that learning how to avoid oppressing others requires them to grow and change at every intersection of oppression, at every historical iteration of discrimination, and at every stage in their professional career. Schools and districts, then, must provide the physical and professional spaces for these types of changes to occur in ways that allow educators to be vulnerable, informed, active and courageous. Without those spaces, the buzzwords we use may change, but the nagging pull of oppression in our schools will continue to be present.
Figure 1 (to right) provides a framework for consideration when leadership teams are setting action items for each of their goals in the improvement plan. Questions to consider for each goal include:
- Do our action steps venture beyond a focus on education for and about students who are historically and consistently marginalized in our district/school? (This question assumes improvement plan goals already have a focus on education for and about marginalized groups). If not, what action steps can we identify that will spur necessary critiques and transformations?
- What are the implementation steps related to the actions for question #1?
- Who is responsible for ensuring we enact the aforementioned actions?
- What are the milestone dates for each action and implementation step?
- How will we measure success toward completing the actions? What are our progress indicators?
As a reminder, this framework provides a starting place for district and school leaders to intentionally create action steps for developing and maintaining anti-oppressive teaching and learning climates. Continual, yearlong professional development focused on issues of culture, power and privilege is key in order to ensure that teachers and leaders glean foundational knowledge about the conditions under which students become Others and are Othered, as well as the role they play in privileging some students and Othering other students. Ultimately, work toward educators and students becoming change agents in society is a desired outcome.
This article was written with contribution from:
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Kumashiro, K. (2000). Toward a theory of anti-oppressive education. Review of Educational Research, 70(1), 25-53.