by Erin Herda

Our Work is Movement Building

Saturday morning, a day for sleeping in, a day many of us dedicate as a non work day, yet hundreds of educators made there way to Chief Sealth High School to engage in a day of workshops to develop and reinforce their skills as transformative and disruptive educators. Teaching for social justice can be lonely work, so days like the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice (NWTSJ) conference are essential to keeping the work alive. Creating that critical community of support that is sometimes, or often, lacking at our schools. Every time I attend I am reminded why I keep fighting for ethnic studies and systemic change through policies, curriculum in my district, and most importantly that I am not alone. We are not alone. There are educators and preservice teachers who are dedicated to eradicating white supremacy from our educational systems. 

Build a Better World

The morning started off with the keynote, Barbara Madeloni, reminding us that our work is movement building to disrupt racism and white supremacy in our schools and community. It is through  collective leadership that takes on the structures of power that we will start to see change. This message came just at the right moment for those of us who have started to feel beat down by the inaction around us in our building and our school districts.

Ethnic Studies Now

Enter Washington State Ethnic Studies Now. The collective efforts of students, educators, and organizations dedicated to seeing Ethnic Studies (ES) as a pedagogical shift in K-12 education across the state and nation. This year attendees of the Northwest Teaching For Social Justice Conference had the opportunity to spend the whole day immersed in ethnic studies from a 101 workshop designed to introduce educators to what ethnic studies really is and the conceptual framework they use to decolonize the classroom and curriculum. A second session dedicated to working with educators who use the ES framework and students explaining the pedagogical shift necessary to truly implement ES. And in the last session we were invited to hear a panel of educators: Tracy Castro-Gill, Jeff Stone, Jesse Hagopian and Lisa Rice, moderated by Wayne Au, about their own experiences with ES from implementation to self care.

Here are some of my takeaways from this session.

Educators role in pushing for ES pedagogical shifts to implement ES.

  • Ethnic Studies is a pedagogical shift, not just curriculum. You have to be willing to unlearn being an expert and hand over some of the control to the students. Exploring the pedagogical shift before content.
  • It centers the whole child first. Understanding each student and the difference between them.
  • Bring the student voice into the classroom, check in. Peace circles.
  • Disrupting the things that have been taught that reinforce the power structures.
  • White educators must explore their own whiteness.

How do you find resources?

  • The News, use the principles of Black Lives Matter to guide curriculum. Project based, TALK TO PEOPLE and READ! (emphasis added)
  • Seattle Framework, Collaborating with other teachers. Own experience with activism. Hip hop artists to disrupt the master narrative. Draw on the community.
  • Anything can be turned into Ethnic Studies curriculum

How do you protect  BIPOC while creating critical growth for white students?

  • You must be your authentic self if you want the students to be theirs.
  • Talk across differences, talk to students ahead of time to lessen impact, its messy work dig in and repair. 
  • Don’t run away from discomfort.
  • Teach that whiteness is a racialized existence, example from Bacon’s Rebellion. 
  • Teaching intersectional identities and have students explore them through projects and poems.
  • Students need to analyze their own identity.

How to build networks of communities of care? THIS WORK IS HARD

  • You have to decolonize your brain.
  • Work with and collaborate in the community.
  • Get over the idea of leaders.
  • No meaningful change happens individually. Join together.
  • Build your community by calling the meeting…and keep calling the meeting.

Moving forward

I still struggle with how to keep that buzz of the work alive when I enter my building and hear staff mock restorative practices, or that a coworker said that a teacher was in the wrong for teaching LGBTQ+ history, or that talking about race and racism is divisive to the staff. Does it really matter that there is a tiny island of us teaching with the ethnic studies framework and challenging the power structure if everyone else is reinforcing white supremacy through their curriculum and actions? Yes it does, It matters because it is clear that we are not just “first year teachers who want to save the world” (said to me by an administrator in the beginning of my career) rather we are professional educators who continue to grow into our critical pedagogy and disrupt systems that hurt our students and communities.

Ethnic Studies is not just a curriculum it is a vision of the future we need for a just and equitable society, it is what we owe our students in a system that harms them and their families daily. It is the only path for education I can see.

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