In the realm of education, the quest for inclusive classrooms is a noble one. Teachers across the globe are striving to create learning environments where every student feels valued and respected, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. The key to achieving inclusive classrooms varies depending on your city, your resources, your cultural make up, your history, and the needs of the students you’re teaching. The one thing we do know that is built on inclusive values and founded in diverse perspectives is CRT. How can we incorporate foundational Critical Race Theory (CRT) principles into education systems and teaching methods in a way that benefits all kids? In this blog, we will explore how educators who embrace CRT principles are more successful in building inclusive classrooms.
What is Critical Race Theory (CRT) in Education?
Before delving into the benefits of CRT or its success stories, it's essential to grasp the foundational principles that have been applied positively in educational settings. CRT, a field primarily discussed in higher education, centers around recognizing and addressing systemic racism. In the classroom, this involves acknowledging the historical and ongoing racial disparities and injustices and actively working to dismantle them.
In order to dismantle something you have to be willing to confront it, unpack it, understand it and resolve it. That takes commitment, curiosity and care.
One of the core CRT principles is encouraging open dialogue about race-related issues. Educators who embrace this principle create spaces where students can engage in meaningful conversations. For example, a social studies teacher in Texas, David Ring, incorporates CRT by providing a safe environment for students to ask questions about race and racial injustice. By fostering these discussions, he empowers students to think critically and gain a deeper understanding of complex issues, ultimately fostering inclusivity.
Embracing diverse perspectives fosters empathy and belonging
Inclusive classrooms celebrate diversity and incorporate diverse perspectives into the curriculum whether it's the type of books or stories you read, or the angles from which to analyze an issue. This aligns with CRT's emphasis on recognizing the importance of different experiences and viewpoints. English teacher Shawanda Bonner in Florida, despite encountering resistance to teaching Black history, seizes the opportunity to discuss the significance of listening to diverse stories. By doing so, she ensures that her students are exposed to a more comprehensive and inclusive range of perspectives.
Empathy and a sense of belonging are integral CRT principles, and teachers can instill these values in their classrooms through the type of curriculum they teach and the type of questions or activities they propose. Nelva Williamson, a social studies teacher in Houston, draws on her personal connection to the Civil Rights era to teach her students about the historical struggles of Black Americans. By sharing her experiences, she fosters empathy, the ability to care about what someone else is experiencing despite you not experiencing it first hand, and creates a sense of belonging for her students, when traditionally they didn't see themselves represented in those spaces.
How can teachers develop culturally responsive practices?
Culturally responsive teaching is a vital component of CRT principles in education. It involves recognizing and respecting the cultural backgrounds and experiences of students. While not directly engaging in CRT discussions, educators like Jenni Meadows near Dallas assign diverse readings by authors from various backgrounds. This approach allows students to explore different cultural perspectives, promoting understanding and respect. Exposing students to belief systems, practices and ways of life different to theirs is more education than any book could teach.
The impact of incorporating foundational CRT principles into education is profound. Students who experience these principles firsthand leave classrooms with a broader worldview, enhanced critical thinking skills, and a deeper understanding of racial issues. They are better equipped to confront the moral wrongs of the past and actively work towards a more equitable future. They respect and like each other more because they understand each other better, and the environment around them and how it affects people differently.
Teachers embracing CRT
Teachers who embrace CRT principles are at the forefront of creating inclusive classrooms where all students feel heard, valued, and respected. They understand that systemic racism is a reality, and by acknowledging it and addressing it in their teaching methods, they foster an environment that promotes empathy, inclusivity, and cultural understanding. In no way does acknowledging that racism exists and that our institutions have been built upon them equate to intentionally making people feel guilty for the actions of their forefathers or feeling less proud to be a citizen. Instead, it empowers people to right the wrongs of the past and make their country better than it ever was.
Educators, parents and community members who do their part in learning how CRT actually benefits their children, their community and the global workforce are instrumental in building inclusive communities where all young people can excel. Next time you ask your child’s teacher to encourage them to speak up when something uncomfortable happens, or to discipline a child who is bullying someone because of a different opinion, or to teach them about respecting boundaries and being considerate of others, recognize that these are all essentially foundational CRT principles that benefit all kids.
It’s not out of the ordinary for a group of people to want to feel like they belong in the society in which they live, be acknowledged for the injustices they experience, be heard even if their views are unpopular, be seen especially by those who ignore them and be able to share their realities without condemnation. If you’re informed, empathetic and active contributors to your community this will make sense to you too.
Inclusive classrooms, workplaces and societies begin with a commitment to embrace values that create an environment where every student, family, and ethnicity can thrive. And the journey to equality can’t happen without it. So figure out how you can help your community and what role you should play. We have lots of ideas and tonnes of experience to make it happen so fear not and reach out.