Episode 21: Anti-Racist Art Teachers: A Panel Discussion: Anti-Racist Teaching During A Pandemic

Anti-Racist Art Teachers: A Panel Discussion: Anti-Racist Teaching During A Pandemic (part 3)

Rebecca Potts: [00:00:00] All right, so then getting into the nitty gritty of anti-racist teaching, how would you like to see teachers adjusting their pedagogy beyond just including more like I think it’s important to include more Black, indigenous, people of color, more artists in the curriculum and sort of the idea of decolonizing curriculum. But is there anything else that you would want to see teachers doing to adjust how they teach?

Being anti-racist in the classroom is about using current events. It’s about just talking about people of color and their experiences…. it’s about the class culture as much as it is about the content.

Abby Birhanu

Abby Birhanu: [00:00:25] I can answer and then – I’m sorry, I don’t want to talk too much – but I think that antiracist teaching is not always about the content. In fact, I think it took, like I said, it took me a long time to even acquire… Art21 really helped me, I have to say, big shout out to Art21. Thank you, PBS! Because I finally found Brown and Black artists that I can teach in the classroom and using their voices. Right. It’s a 15 minute video about them talking about their ideas and their process. So I started there. So if you don’t know where to start, just start with some of those artists and that will organically lead into great conversations about their experiences, their lived experiences, which sometimes have to do with their experience with race. Right. But I think the big thing is finding the teachable moments, like when you see something happening in the media that you know doesn’t sit well with you, it’s not even about politics, but you see racism. How can you bring it into your lessons? You know, we were doing Native American art, specifically Maria Martinez, when the Native man who was singing his song was being made fun of by students who looked like my students, you know. So that was an opportunity to bring in what we learned about the sacred nature of song and masks and art and native communities and how they’re not to be made fun of or taken, you know, and not understanding the sacredness of that.

Abby Birhanu: [00:01:50] And it was like something that I had to discuss in my classroom. And I always start with, this is not political. So let’s come and really talk. What do you see here? And I saw, especially my students of color come to life and really start engaging with that question. And so being anti-racist in the classroom is about using current events. It’s about just talking about people of color and their experiences. When you hear something in the classroom about a stereotypical thing or a notion that people have about someone of color, like addressing it in the moment and talking about what was said. So it’s about the class culture as much as it is about the content and then culturally responsive teaching, like making sure you have posters in your classroom that represent a spectrum of people, not just dead white men. Right. And things like that. So you can access it anywhere is what I’m saying. So it doesn’t even have to be just through your content. And it does take a lot of courage and that courage is not easy to come across. It hasn’t always been easy for me. So…

…really focusing on empowering students with stories of power, resilience, resistance, and not to reduce Black, indigenous, people of color to struggle because that’s not their sole experience or existence.

Tamara Slade

Tamara Slade: [00:02:55] I wholeheartedly agree with you, Abby, especially about the teachable moments. I think it’s really a cop out and an easy way out to just kind of avoid when something is is happening, either in the world or something is said in the classroom. And so it’s really important to protect those students who are being affected by those comments and addressing it right away and really honoring them. I would also say expanding to anti-bias, so queer artists, artists with disabilities, et cetera. Just like having that social justice lens and really focusing on empowering students with stories of power, resilience, resistance, and not to reduce Black, indigenous, people of color to struggle because that’s not their sole experience or existence. And so I’d also say self reflection and doing the reading to examine one’s own biases and knowledge when it comes to not just the content, but also the style and the way you’re presenting your teaching and your interactions in the classroom, because we’re swimming in a society that is upholding white supremacy and colonialist values. And so that’s like seeping into our brains, our students’ brains. And so we should be questioning why do I feel this way? Why do I think that? And really I mean, I have to do it all the time. Like, wait, is that a fact or is this like a false narrative that I have just been taught so many times over and over? And so I think that that is a lot of the work I really want to see teachers doing. Yeah. And then really honoring home life and VABBing students – so validate, affirm, build, and bridge – so validate and affirm home culture and build and bridge that to what you’re teaching in the classroom.

…we’re swimming in a society that is upholding white supremacy and colonialist values. And so that’s like seeping into our brains, our students’ brains. And so we should be questioning why do I feel this way? Why do I think that?

Tamara Slade

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:04:42] Yeah. Excellent, Tamara, that’s exactly the – and Abby – some of the same things that I’m trying to do that work with these pre-service students. And it’s always a challenge. But I, I think I start right where Tamara was just talking about with examining and unpacking your own biases. I actually start out the semester with having my students do an identity mind map and figuring out where their ideas and belief systems come from and then unpacking that to find where actually are those false narratives or where is that sort of hidden message or the thing that’s not being acknowledged, what’s missing. I think that’s real essential for teachers to really start doing that hard work.

Rebecca Potts: [00:05:28] And it is hard work, digging into yourself, finding those biases. And like you said, Tamara, it is sort of never ending. Like you have to keep checking yourself every day, all the time.

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:05:38] Be willing to speak up, be willing to admit when you’re wrong. You know, I’ve misstepped. I’ve made mistakes and, you know, and apologize. You know, don’t be too proud to be humble sometimes.

Rebecca Potts: [00:05:50] And I feel like that also doing that in your classroom, in front of your kids can be really powerful to them to share, you know, I am on this journey and I mess up. And when I messed up, I can just talk about how I messed up and like what I’m doing now. Kind of modeling that process for them. And then for teachers, this is another kind of tough one, teachers that don’t have admin or parental support who are kind of pushing against you know, we talked about how a lot of teachers had been posting things that were kind of either from a place of caring but ignorance or from a place of like, no, I don’t believe in all of this. So teachers that are in a situation where their admin or their parents are coming from that place, what are some ways that they can apply anti-racist practices and curricula or even frame discussions to kind of shift that support without losing their jobs?

Tamara Slade: [00:06:48] It’s really hard when you don’t have the admin support because then you lose your job. Right. And then it’s no longer, you’re not able to to do that. And so I can understand how where people are coming from. When I was not tenured my first year teaching and I was not in a school that really wanted me to talk about queer issues. And so I feel like I kind of was mild about my approach. And I ended up moving to another school where I felt more comfortable, but I definitely got parent pushback. And so if your admin supports supports you, then parent pushback is not as much of an issue. Right. But my advice is really check your standards for your state. California, Colorado, New Jersey, Illinois are all ones that I know of that allow teachers, not just allow but expect teachers to be talking about LGBTQ history. And so that’s something that’s really important to do. And it’s just remembering that you’re the teacher, you have the professional degree to prove it. Right. And just remind families that you are coming from the same place they are. You’re trying to really make their child a better learner. Right. And so when we’re talking about these sort of social justice issues. It really is important for them to be aware of this. Right, because we’re living in a global society and so they need to be culturally competent. So this is really preparing them to work professionally in the future. And so for them to have this level of knowledge it can be useful in many ways. Right.

I’m not trying to have students think exactly the way I think or think exactly the way the parents think. I want them to be making those decisions. So what I’m trying to do is give them just the tools to do that.

Tamara Slade

Tamara Slade: [00:08:15] Even in a business deal, to just be able to understand someone else’s cultural perspective or like, you know, not to be offensive to someone else, like that is very essential in this society. And it’s not about, I’ve heard people say like indoctrination. And that’s not what it’s about. The existing school system is really what is kind of doing that. And so what we’re hoping to do is break from that and kind of make students critical thinkers and think for themselves. So I’m not trying to have students think exactly the way I think or think exactly the way the parents think. I want them to be making those decisions. So what I’m trying to do is give them just the tools to do that. And I’ve even had kids come up to me and say, oh, I don’t know what to think. I’m hearing this at home. I’m hearing this at school. I’m hearing this from friends. And I always tell them, well, what do you feel in your heart? What do you think? And I’m not trying to put on any kind of mindset for them other than just being critical and really like in presenting with art, this is a primary source document. And so as far as an art historian, what are you taking from that? And so that is objective. This is a person’s perspective and this is their art. You are just coming in and analyzing it and that’s really setting them up for actual professional life because they’re not going to have someone like a teacher as an adult telling them, well, this is what you’re going to have to do when you analyze this art, because that’s not how it works.

Rebecca Potts: [00:09:30] Right.

Tamara Slade: [00:09:30] So, yeah. And then also, if you’re having issue with admin or parents sometimes or especially admin, bringing research to prove that the work will work. So I would just Google it because there is research out there saying that this kind of anti-racist anti-bias work is helpful and beneficial. And so just coming in with the facts like a stack of it.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:09:49] I know for me,  I believe that I would have support from my admin. I’m not really sure about parents because I just don’t know the community that I teach in. But for me, I do have the support from, I’m sure, my admin, but being the only African-American teacher at both schools, I don’t want to come across. I don’t know how. I don’t even know how I feel I would be coming across. But I know a lot of teachers at my schools, they are being anti-racist, but they’re quiet about it. And then I’m the only one who is vocal about it. So I feel like it would be very beneficial just to find ways to kind of ease your way into having those conversations with your classroom and with the people at your school.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:10:32] So just I know someone mentioned earlier like just simply hanging certain posters up to get the idea across, and then maybe you could slowly start having conversations about it. And then once you start having conversations about it, you can start having lessons about it. And I think that – is it Tamara. I don’t want to say it wrong.

Tamara Slade: [00:10:47] Yeah, Tamara. 

Khadesia Latimer: [00:10:47] Ok. Yes. She mentioned the idea of critical thinking. I think that’s really smart because the way of thinking about this whole issue is very critical. And that’s something they always want us to teach kids how to do is how to be critical thinkers. And that’s extremely important in this situation. So definitely pushing that as much as you can with your admin. We just have to, I know for me, even for me, I’m not perfect. And I’m a part of this group and we’re trying to teach other people how to do this. But even for me, I kind of feel like I don’t want to be pushing against what everybody else is doing. But you just have to be brave and find ways that, ways to support what you are doing so people can realize that it is actually very important. So she brought up a lot of really good points.

I think you need support outside of yourself for these things. You know, when you’re the lone wolf doing all this work… And what I’m learning is that I’m not always a lone wolf. I just have to seek people out and bring them into the camp.

Abby Birhanu

Abby Birhanu: [00:11:28] I know that not everybody has this privilege, but to find an alliance of teachers and parents in your community to address equity and diversity issues, even just to create a – committee’s not the right word – but kind of a team of people to address those things. So at least you have people supporting you. And it’s not just about that one admin. Even trying to get your admin into it, if possible, I think could help, because I think you need support outside of yourself for these things. You know, when you’re the lone wolf doing all this work… And what I’m learning is that I’m not always a lone wolf. I just have to seek people out and bring them into the camp. You know, they’re there. They might just be like three or four other people, but they’re there. And also the time right now, I mean, I don’t know if I want to see capitalize, but people are becoming a little more aware of these issues. And it’s actually, I think, taboo at this point to stand up against a teacher who is trying to promote anti-racist philosophy. I just think it’s taboo. Are people going to do it? They are. You know, but this is a time where people are waking up to it. And Tamara, you had hit it out the ballpark with the content. And like most of the time, all I have to do share the artist and their perspective. And all they have to do is analyze it. It’s not even my voice. Right. So that was spot on. That’s a great place to start.

Paula Liz: [00:12:58] I agree with everything everyone else just said. And the only point I want to add is that the schools that are going to give the most pushback or where you’re going to have the most pushback are the schools where the work needs to be done more. And I would feel like if you’re if you know you’re going to be running into pushback from parents, then that’s almost a sign that it’s work that you need to be doing and it’s something that needs to be addressed. So just because you’re going to receive pushback, don’t shy away from it.

If you know you’re going to be running into pushback from parents, then that’s almost a sign that it’s work that you need to be doing and it’s something that needs to be addressed. So just because you’re going to receive pushback, don’t shy away from it.

Paula Liz

Khadesia Latimer: [00:13:27] I like Abby’s idea of reaching out to people who you may, who may have the same idea process you are have the same views and values as you do, because it would be extremely hard to approach this situation alone.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:13:39] And I think that’s been one of my problems. Like I can conquer it by myself. It’s a lot easier, even with this group, and you know finding people at my school to gather together and say, hey, this is important and we think this is important, not just me.

Rebecca Potts: [00:13:51] Yeah, absolutely. And I love what Paula Liz was saying with it being sort of a sign that it’s vital in that place. I’m connecting it in my head to when I’ve been doing this, you know, anti-bias work within myself, that the moments of surprise, the moments of like, oh, I never really thought about that. Like, that’s a sign that that’s a place I need to look. That’s where there’s a problem. Yeah.

Rebecca Potts: [00:14:17] So the next thing is another place where I’ve seen some kind of pushback and you have touched on this already, but this idea of approaching anti-racist and anti-bias – Tamara, thank you for bringing that in too – teaching with the youngest students, even as young as preschool, pre-K. I hear so much of that pushback. Oh, but they’re too young, which we know from research is not the case. So approaching that, any tips on not necessarily like getting past the pushback, but just real tips on how to talk about these issues with the little tiny ones?

…the youngest students are almost the easiest to teach and… they’re the ones we really need to be getting to first, because they do understand.

Khadesia Latimer

Khadesia Latimer: [00:14:51] I’m in grad school right now and I recently did some research. I found an article. There was a professor and I don’t remember which school, she was working with, pre-service teachers, and she was basically researching how willing are students to go into the classroom as pre-service teachers and teach younger students about issues like this. And she found that several several of the students were uncomfortable and they didn’t want to do it because they felt like the kids were too young. And another comment they made was that the issue was too sad to talk about with the students.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:15:26] And I thought it was a really interesting article to read because I feel like the youngest students are almost the easiest to teach and almost as if they’re the ones we really need to be getting to first, because they do understand, you know. If you have that conversation with them on their level and that’s the key you have to do it on their level, there is a lot a lot of conversation to be had about that.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:15:50] And I know for me it can be as easy as a picture book, reading a book to the students and then having a conversation about what would happen with these characters or how would you feel if this happened to you or… You know, I don’t think they’re too young. I don’t think the situations are to sad. They see really sad stuff on TV all the time. It’s definitely interesting when I hear people say that because there’s so much you can do with the younger kids. But I think the best way is definitely using books.

I can remember growing up and wanting to have baby dolls and toys that look like me and you couldn’t find it.

Dr. Lori Santos

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:16:18] And toys. I can remember growing up and wanting to have baby dolls and toys that look like me and you couldn’t find it. And of course, that was years and years ago and it’s more accessible now. I grew up in Kansas and the first time we went back home to Hawaii to see relatives was the first time that I saw people that look like me. Students, if students can’t see themselves in other things in your classroom. And, you know, that’s that’s essential. And so having my own children, I made it a point to have diverse toys and things and and for not only my students, but my own children. And, you know, it needs to be the norm. It shouldn’t be the exception.

Rebecca Potts: [00:17:02] Absolutely.

Paula Liz: [00:17:03] And speaking of books, one really great book that I think is perfect for pre-K is “All the Colors We Are/Todos los colores de nuestra piel” by Katie Kissinger. So it offers a simple, scientifically accurate explanation of how skin color is determined by our ancestors, the sun, and melanin. So the book might help free children from the myths and the stereotypes that are associated with skin color so that they can begin to build a positive identity that they accept, understand and value the rich richness and diversity in the world. And also asking questions. So I have a kindergarten lesson that I do where I have them mix their own skin color. And when they do that, I ask them questions. What is color? What is skin? What is skin color? Why would people think that’s important and why is it not important? Why do you think people find it hard to talk about this?

Paula Liz: [00:17:55] So just opening up that dialogue, I think you can totally do that with the younger students because, as everyone mentioned before, they’re completely aware of it. So ignoring it isn’t going to change anything.

Rebecca Potts: [00:18:10] Right.

Tamara Slade: [00:18:10] You know, that’s actually something I feel like I find myself constantly trying to challenge other people’s perceptions on. I don’t teach pre-K and I don’t have any colleagues at my school who teach pre-K. But we started kinder and TK and they’re doing this work. And this past year I taught first and second grade combo. And I have had a second grader who learned this information at home and taught the class about the Middle Passage and brought that up. So, like, some of these kids actually have the background knowledge and it’s just inviting that, I think, to the classroom, is is important.

…the kids are often very aware. And so it’s really about how you discuss it… it doesn’t have to be sad, necessarily, because you can discuss it through a lens of resistance and resilience, and power, because those stories are there.

Tamara Slade

Tamara Slade: [00:18:44] But we’ve also had heavy discussions on Japanese incarceration during World War Two, police brutality, specifically talking about George Floyd. They’re the ones who brought it up that week. I was hoping someone would and they did. They had things to say. All of them knew what was going on and exactly how he was murdered. And so the kids are often very aware. And so it’s really about how you discuss it. And so if you’re discussing it doesn’t have to be sad, necessarily, because you can discuss it through a lens of resistance and resilience, and power, because those stories are there. They might not have been taught, though, to you. They weren’t taught to me. I had to… I really had an awakening in grad school because the UCLA teacher education program really emphasizes this. And so I learned a lot. But yeah, like making sure that those stories of power and that it really keeps it positive because then it’s like, well, this isn’t, this isn’t sad if we can fight it and do something about it. And so I think that’s really important.

Tamara Slade: [00:19:41] And also remembering that that’s something that as adults we’re bringing into the classroom, that we have a lot more background knowledge in the gory details of these histories. The kids don’t have that. And so it sometimes can be almost more abstract to them. And so they’re not thinking about those sad details as much and so it’s very doable. And kids are resilient, so give them credit. And, really, like we don’t have to baby them. I teach my second graders like they’re upper grade students. And I tell them that because I started in upper and they rise to the occasion.

Rebecca Potts: [00:20:15] Yes, I love that.

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