There is considerable research regarding prescribed curricula and how these curricula are based on the language, culture, and history of white European descendants, while not acknowledging the history and culture of other racial groups in the United States. I prepared and implemented a unit around identity in my classroom with my students. First, I gave an overview of intersectionality, specifically looking at the facets of race/ethnicity, mental/physical ability, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and nationality. Students then picked two books to read from each facet and wrote an “I am” poem. Through this process, I learned the importance of critical race theory, identity, and intersectionality, how to have meaningful discussions around identity & intersectionality, and the importance of building relationships with students and between students.
I was motivated to share my work for a couple of reasons. I believe that we have to work together in the field of education to create curriculum that is relevant for all students. I wanted to share some recent work I have done on relevance in the hope that more curriculum designers start creating culturally relevant curriculum.
The Standoff Against Curriculum
This Curriculum Theories course helped me realize just how much the current prescribed curriculum in our educational system is truly based on a white European approach. For example, when looking at the books that are taught in schools, many have white main characters and themes that relate to white Europeans. During the Critical Race Theory group path experience in the course, I realized how important it is that we start having discussions around the history of racial groups and start having the difficult conversations around the privileges and disadvantages our students face. Baker Bell and colleagues (2017) sum up this idea: “In teaching toward racial justice, educators must also become comfortable with being uncomfortable and vulnerable when engaging in conversations about racial injustice. Even the most well-intentioned educators avoid this topic in their classrooms for fear of misspeaking, sounding racist, not having answers, or causing more harm than help” (p. 148). This statement reminded me of the importance of confronting racial justice issues inside the classroom (even if uncomfortable), critically analyzing the curriculums that I teach to my students, and looking at how I could start supplementing those curriculums with critical race theory and culturally relevant pedagogy lenses. I also wanted to start using my voice more to advocate at the district level to include and review the curriculums that are being taught to our students. I decided that I wanted to start going to the math and literacy district meetings that are held every other month to start pushing the district to look at how we are teaching with the prescribed curriculums, especially looking at the explicit, implicit, and null curricular lenses. I also wanted to have a variety of books in my classroom library because it is important for students to find and read books that they can relate to. I also hoped to do a lesson around identity and looking at different literature to incorporate different identity facets.
Methods and Materials
I decided that I was going to create a unit for 3rd grade around identity and diversity. I want to incorporate the idea of intersectionality into my classroom. I think what I struggled with the most was trying to incorporate some advanced facets into my classroom. Some of my students know nothing about gender identity and sexual orientation. I also struggled talking about nationality with some of my three graders because of their life experiences. Some of my students are refugees and some of my students are undocumented immigrants, so there were more emotions that I needed to be aware of when teaching this section. Crenshaw (1989) states, “On day one of the unit, I gave students an overview of intersectionality defining it [the network of connections between social categories such as race, class and gender, especially when this may result in additional disadvantage or discrimination” (Oxford Dictionary, n.d.-d)]. Crenshaw and the group then looked at why we are learning about it (help better understand our unconscious prejudices and fight to alleviate our biases), and what we can do about it [recognize difference, avoid oversimplified language, analyze the space you occupy, seek other points of view, and show up (YW Boston, 2017)]. Following the overview, my class and I spent time defining the five facets we were going to study in the unit: race/ethnicity [a group of people who share the same language, history, culture, etc. (Oxford Dictionary, n.d-b)], mental/physical ability [a physical or mental condition that makes it difficult for somebody to do some things that most other people can do (Oxford Dictionary, n.d-a)], sexual orientation [person’s identity in relation to the gender or genders to which they are sexually attracted (Oxford Dictionary, n.d-f)], gender identity/expression [way somebody considers their own gender (whether they are male, female, etc.), which may be different from the sex they were said to have at birth (Oxford Dictionary, n.d-c)], and nationality [legal status of belonging to a particular nation (Oxford Dictionary, n.d-e)]. I then gave students a list of books which related to the different facets:
- Mixed Me by Taye Diggs
- Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller
- Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen
- The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
- Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown
- Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor
- We’re All Wonders by RJ Palacio
- My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best
- The Alphabet War: A Story about Dyslexia by Diane Burton Robb
- My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete
- Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets by Barbara Esham
- David and the Worry Beast: Helping Children Cope with Anxiety by Anne Marie Guanci
- The Color Thief by Andrew Fusek Peters
- Mommy I Feel Funny! A Child’s Experience with Epilepsy by Danielle Rocheford
- Dancing with Daddy by Anitra Rowe Schulte and Ziyue Chen
- Love is Love by Michael Genhart
- And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
- Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman
- Worm Loves Worm by JJ Austrian
- Will You Still Love Me? by Shirley Ringo
- Payden’s Pronoun Party by Blue Jaryn
- Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman
- Jacob’s Room to Choose by Sarah and Ian Hoffman
- Sam is My Sister by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
- Ho’onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale
- Children Around the World by Donata Montanari
- What is a Refuge? by Elise Gravel
- Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat
- We Came to America by Faith Ringgold
- From North to South/Del Norte al Sur by Rene Laínez
Students picked two books to read from each category. After students had examined the different facets of identity, students then filled out an identity wheel for themselves or a popular book character. Students then turned their identity wheel into an “I am” poem. Students then got to share the “I am” poem with the class if they wanted to. All of my students ended up sharing their “I am” poem. It was interesting and exciting to see how invested students got in each other’s poems. Many students had some strong emotions come up from their poems that helped fuel them to start looking at the societal issues that their classmates faced.
Findings and Discussion
While teaching this unit, there were three main things that popped up for me. First, I learned the importance of critical race theory, identity, and intersectionality. Because I identify as a white male (the only facets I looked at), I had never looked deeply into all the different facets that play into identity and intersectionality. I always just thought of myself as having inherent privilege and ending the discussion and learning there because I thought that I could not have deep and meaningful discussions because of my limited white male gaze. I learned how I can and should have those deeper discussions around identities and intersectionality not just focusing on race but all facets of identity. Lastly, I was reminded about the importance of relationships with students and between students. For students to be able to learn in the classroom, they need their basic needs of safety and love met.
As I have taken this course (done the readings, critically analyzed my teachings, and taught a unit around identity/intersectionality), I thought about why this work mattered for me, my students, and other teachers. I believe this work and learning has mattered to me because it has built me to be a more empathetic, open-minded, and culturally relevant teacher who implements social reconstructionist and learner centered practices (Schiro, 2012) in my classroom. This work and learning has mattered for my students because it has given them the opportunity to explore and learn about their identities. Through the unit I taught, my students also got to learn about the importance of self-identity and have an experience of critically evaluating the world around them. This work matters for other teachers because they are given actionable steps and ideas to start acknowledging, problem solving, and advocating against the racial divides that exist in our education system and world.
Echoing a similar theme, Baker Bell et al. (2017) declare that, “The same racist brutality toward Black citizens that we see happening on the streets across the United States mirrors the violence toward Black students that is happening in our nation’s academic streets” (p. 131). This is also true for indigenous people, the Latinx populations, and immigrants from Africa and Asia. In the United States, prescribed curricula are based on the language, culture, and history of white European descendants only, leaving out the history and culture of other racial groups in the United States. People believe that these curricula are teaching the foundational skills students need to know to be successful. Unfortunately, these curricula are actually hurting all students. Students of color are not being represented in curricula and are not learning about their history. All students are not being taught history through a multitude of points of view, which leads to an incomplete understanding of history. As educators, we need to start teaching prescribed curricula in ways that are more inclusive, that is, ways that have a collaborative, inquiry-based, and culturally relevant thread woven into the curriculum that supports all students, not just the privileged groups. As administrators, we need to start giving teachers the knowledge and resources to teach collaborative, inquiry-based, and culturally relevant curriculum. As curriculum designers, we need to start creating curricula through a collaborative, inquiry-based, and culturally relevant lens. As a teacher, after going to the district meetings, I was able to talk with district leadership about how we can bring a more culturally relevant curriculum into our classrooms, and to raise awareness regarding how the current curriculum is very white centered.
Baker Bell, A., Jones Stanbrough, R., & Everett, S. (2017). The Stories They Tell: Mainstream Media, Pedagogies of Healing, and Critical Media Literacy. English Education, 49(2), 130-152.
Crenshaw, K. (1989) Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum.
Schiro, M. S. (2012). Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns (2nd Ed). Sage Publication.
YW Boston. (2017, March 29). What is intersectionality, and what does it have to do with me? https://www.ywboston.org/2017/03/what-is-intersectionality-and-what-does-it-have-to-do-with-me/#:~:text=Intersectionality%20is%20a%20framework%20for,complexity%20of%20prejudices%20they%20face
To cite this work, please use the following reference:
Neumann, C. (2023, May 23). The standoff against curriculum. Social Publishers Foundation. https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/the-standoff-against-curriculum/