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CJSF 2019 Summer Rewind: Free Minds, Free People

A dispatch from our Education Anew Fellow, Cierra Kaler-Jones:

In partnership with Teaching for Change and Education Justice Alliance, Communities for Just Schools Fund facilitated a workshop entitled Conversations on Race as Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy: How Organizers & Educators are (Re)imagining & (Re)writing the Curriculum at this year’s Free Minds, Free People conference in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.

The Communities for Just Schools Fund’s Education Anew Fellowship brings together organizers and educators for the purpose of aligning strategies to advance liberatory education. To bring the fellowship to life, the workshop focused the conversation on teaching histories of resistance to students, while providing space for educators and organizers to work together to think deeply about strategies of resistance in communities, schools, and classrooms. The workshop explored what culturally sustaining pedagogy looks and feels like in our classrooms and movement spaces to leave participants equipped with model lessons and engagement tools to support communities in writing their own anti-racist curriculums rooted in local victories.

The workshop started with a community centering activity, inspired by S.O.U.L Sisters Leadership Collective. Each participant answered questions to three prompts: One value I embody/practice when I'm at my best, one way I take care of myself, and one thing I wish I learned in school. If someone else in the group related to something they heard someone else say, they would go up to them, and ask consent to link arms until everyone in the room was connected. Common threads throughout the group included wishing they learned more about their ancestors and they way their ancestors resisted, learning truthful and accurate accounts of historical events, and learning more about historical figures that looked like them. The centering activity highlighted the importance of relationship-building, especially between organizers and educators who are committed to dismantling oppressive structures to fight for equitable education.

From the centering activity, we moved into a short, moderated discussion between Rosalie Reyes, Coordinator of Teacher Engagement and Professional Development at Teaching for Change and Letha Muhammad, Director of the Education Justice Alliance. Cierra Kaler-Jones, Education Anew Fellow, posed two questions: What does it mean to have and use pedagogy that is culturally affirming/sustaining? What does it look like for educators and organizers to do this work together?

Following the moderated discussion, Rosalie and Letha each led a mini workshop. For the first mini Workshop, Rosalie facilitated Teaching for Change’s Resistance 101 Lesson. The lesson introduces participants to activists throughout history, including many young people, who fought for social justice and civic change using a range of strategies. Each participant is given a historical or current activist and their bio. By stepping into the role of different activists throughout current and history, participants not only learn about the figure they are given, but learn about other figures by interviewing one another.

For the second mini workshop, Letha shared information about the Introduction to Racism in North Carolina Education project and facilitated a conversation with educators about the ways attendees responded to racism in their respective communities. Further, she highlighted how local wins could be transformed into a dynamic curriculum. Muhammad asked, “What are teachers’ thoughts on how we can use this gathering of information in the community to enlighten classroom practices?”

One of the key take-aways from the workshop was that educators can incorporate lessons about community organizing into their classrooms, including highlighting local organizing efforts to center the strength and the power of communities. As Dr. Bettina Love stated in her book, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, We teach students about their oppression, but we don’t teach students about how their ancestors and their communities resisted.” Organizers and educators can work collectively to dream up and fight for a culturally-sustaining curriculum where community is at the heart of what and how we teach.

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