How (and Why) to Talk About Holidays and Religion in Your Classroom

How (and Why) to Talk About Holidays and Religion in Your Classroom

In this blog, we revisit how to talk about the holidays and religion. While these tips are especially applicable right now, they can be used to help us understand cultural celebrations any time of year. Cue singing children:            It’s that time of year… Christmas is so near… Wait! Can we say that in a public school?! The holidays are a time for tradition. For instance, it’s the annual time of year when educators grapple with questions of faith and inclusion in their classrooms and schools. What is appropriate to celebrate? What decorations are allowed? Can the choir sing “Silent Night” in the Christmas—oops!—holiday concert? To avoid potential controversy, some schools ban the mention of holidays or religions altogether. Yet, in this divisive atmosphere (hate crimes against Muslims were up 67% in 2015, and hate crimes of all kinds spiked after the election), it’s even more important to know how to talk about this and not just sweep it under the (prayer?) rug. With the fire (from the Yule log?) burning so hot, it is understandable to not want to add any fuel. However, in an increasingly diverse society, schools have an obligation to help students collaborate across cultures and religions. We can’t learn about other beliefs by pretending they don’t exist. Give students the gift of understanding this holiday season, and let them help guide how we handle these questions. Three of our favorite strategies for real learning—not just feel-good gestures—when discussing holidays and religion in school: Give students a voice: What do you know about the traditions and celebrations that are important to your students? Provide opportunities for students...
Shifting the Story: Getting the Metaphorical Rock Up the Hill

Shifting the Story: Getting the Metaphorical Rock Up the Hill

Just three days after the presidential election, with raw nerves and a lingering feeling of aftershock, I gave a presentation at the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) national conference in Cleveland. My presentation partner, Dr. Shari Saunders (Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Teacher Education at the University of Michigan School of Education), and I were not sure what to expect. The NAME 2016 national conference theme focused on amplifying “the voices of those who suffer marginalization in various forms; and in doing so expose inequities that are ignored and silenced.”  To address this, Dr. Saunders and I focused our session on teaching institutional discrimination in secondary classrooms, and offered clear and effective instructional methods to move beyond posters, holidays, and “diversity days.” Our core objectives were to: Illustrate methods for connecting multicultural education to required standards (Common Core). Demonstrate how this can support curriculum depth and educational equity in an era when schools are narrowing curriculum due to testing. Demonstrate methods for sequencing in-depth instruction on race that gradually and effectively builds students’ understanding of institutional discrimination. We were blown away by the high-caliber of educators who awaited us. Their eagerness to apply what we offered was validation that our work is not just about bringing diversity lessons into the classroom, but to ultimately change the story of the educational system. We are inspired by our colleagues and allies working in K20 classrooms across the country. Keeping the Momentum The timing of the conference —  just days after a divisive, controversial candidate was elected to the highest political role in the world — was a powerful opportunity to...
Community Transformation through Social Justice, Sustainability and Education

Community Transformation through Social Justice, Sustainability and Education

Students of Detroit Community Schools in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood were faced with a challenge. All across the city, as well as in their own neighborhoods, the water was getting shut off – leaving residents to collect rain water from roofs using rain barrels. However, the water was not safe for drinking. The students, guided by their teacher Bart Eddy and a team from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, looked for solutions. The students have been converting industrial tricycles that transport water purification units to residents who have had their water shut off. The Water Cycler units run on solar power to purify the water collected in the rain barrels. As part of the Water Cyclers project, Creative Change Educational Solutions (CCES) is linking together the real-world experience with classroom content through a well-developed curriculum. “This curriculum will help students address issues surrounding climate change, and will all be woven into the youth employment and leadership.” – Bart Eddy, Educator We have united the different parts of the project, showing how science, sustainability, and social justice are connected. Through their work and our framework of lessons, students are learning not just what it means to be part of a community where we help each other, but also hands-on skills to convert the bikes, teamwork, leadership among peers, creativity, the science behind the Cycler units, and the importance of local and global...
Relevance and Equity in Next Generation Science Standards: 3 Little Words

Relevance and Equity in Next Generation Science Standards: 3 Little Words

Science educators across the country are rolling out the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and equity is top on their minds. The teachers and administrators we work with ask us one thing: How can we make these standards relevant in ways that engage diverse learners? The urgency is real, especially in districts serving low-income students and students of color–those whose experiences are often unheard and unseen in the curriculum. Three little words can turn this around. Three little words can infuse relevance and equity into cells, soil structure, the periodic table, and other yawn-worthy topics (at least from the kids’ perspective). In a new blog series, we’ll introduce the power of ethics, wellbeing, and community to transform curriculum. We’ll share strategies for helping teachers use these words to (re)designing scientific inquiry to answers the questions kids really have: Why are things this way? How can we explain this? How can it change, and what can I do?  These are real stories from real classrooms and on-the-ground professional development programs. Read the first post here: Next Generation Science Standards Under the Equity Microscope New posts will be shared via Twitter with links to in-depth resources. We also want to hear from you. Get in on the action. Follow us and share your Tweets using the hashtags including #ContentThatMatters, #ContentMatters, #NextGen, #edequity, #CurriculumMaker, #UnitMakeover, or your...
Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

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...
Democracy Leaves No Room for Colorblindness in the Classroom

Democracy Leaves No Room for Colorblindness in the Classroom

This post continues our #NewTeacherVoices series featuring pre-service teachers. Today’s guest blogger is Clamentia Hall Jr. He is a double major in elementary education and language arts in elementary education. Along with being an advocate for democratic education, Clamentia hopes to create more opportunities for students to experience the arts with his music education & academic support project called My Gift From Above.   Diversity is a fact of life and schools are not exempt. Race is not a negligible concept within the classroom. Teachers cannot afford to take a colorblind approach to teaching because race absolutely does have an impact on educational and economic opportunity. Educators that teach or promote colorblindness counteract the focus of democratic education and standby to the repetition of cultural misrepresentations and stereotypes. A democratic education is one that goes beyond just helping students to develop the skills necessary to be successful. A democratic education fosters self-worth and purpose within the student, teaches active communication skills, and encourages civic and community involvement. A democratic education should allow students to challenge and discuss topics; especially those that directly relate to the demographics of their own school and community. Community involvement gives students the opportunity to discover their possible calling while also developing a purpose for their lives. David Orr, author of Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, states that “a calling has to do with one’s largest purpose, personhood, deepest values, and the gift one wants to give back to the world.” Educators should give students as many opportunities as possible to have these types of experiences and by practicing colorblindness in...