Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is here and no doubt many schools will observe the day with instruction on diversity and Civil Rights. Perhaps it will be a speaker, a cultural heritage celebration, or posters prominently displayed in the hall.

These activities can help students become more aware of race and other dimensions of diversity. But is “awareness” enough to create a more just society—the one envisioned by Dr. King?

Realizing this vision requires culturally competent citizens. Renowned multicultural scholar James Banks conceptualizes a “citizen” as an agent of social change – an active, engaged, and caring individual able and willing to advance democratic goals (2001, 2007).

To get our kids there, curriculum should help them acquire the knowledge, dispositions, and skills needed to:

  • Participate in personal, social, and civic actions that will help make our nation more democratic and just.
  • Interact positively with people from diverse groups, whether based on ethnicity, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, gender, or other social groups.
  • Develop a commitment to act to make their communities, the nation, and the world moral, civic, and equitable.


How can we make this happen?

Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) offers a framework to reach the above goals. CRT uses the cultural knowledge and experiences to make learning more appropriate and effective (Gay, 2010). Becoming a culturally responsive educator involves a range of skills impacting curriculum, pedagogy, and school climate. Here are a few:

A culturally responsive educator can:

  • Identify their own biases and recognize their impacts.
  • Challenge the deficit thinking that assumes students of color are less capable and motivated.
  • Identify how biases and deficit narratives manifest in disciplinary practices, such as the disproportionate suspensions of Black children.
  • Challenge other forms of institutional discrimination within the school.
  • Create an inclusive environment that leverages the strengths of students’ cultures, languages, experiences, families, and communities.
  • Integrate citizenship, critical thinking, and social justice into the core subject areas.
  • Deliver effective learning experiences about race, class, gender, culture, etc.

It’s a big job, and I believe curriculum can be a leverage point for change.

In coming posts, I’ll be sharing ideas for curriculum “makeovers” that support culturally responsive teaching and the development of the skills our students need to thrive into the future. I’m very excited about this work and hope you’ll join the conversation.

Stay tuned, or contact me for additional resources. I look forward to hearing from you!

Santone at



Banks, J.A., & Banks, C.A.M. (Eds.). (2001). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (4th ed.). New York, NY: Wiley.

Banks, J.A. (2007). Educating citizens in a multicultural society (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


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