As teachers, we see the effects of systemic racism on people of color, particularly on the black community, everyday. Schools with higher populations of students of color spend less money per student than predominantly white schools. Black children are twice as likely to be out of the classroom for disciplinary reasons than white children. Black students are likely to have a lower score on national reading tests than white students. By high school, students of color are less likely to have access to college ready courses, are vastly underrepresented in AP courses and are less prepared for college than their white counterparts. These statistics are not new. We need to examine and address them for what they are; a representation that systemic racism is a profoundly serious issue in our school system.
In addition, teachers and principals in U.S. schools are much more likely to be white. Coming from a different background than students of color can create a barrier to truly understanding the complexities of these inequities. This means white teachers in particular have some work to do. It is essential to unpack privilege, seek to understand the effects of systemic racism and work toward dismantling it everyday. Working to provide inclusive, culturally sustaining classrooms can provide a safe space for students of color as well as benefit the larger community.
Teachers work hard. There is no question about that. Teachers deeply care for their students. No one is debating that either, but times like these beg the question, how can we do better? While there are a lot of things that are out of our control, teachers have a unique opportunity to create real change. What we can always do is continue to educate ourselves, reflect honestly on our own teaching practices, and create space for skillful and productive conversations with colleagues and students about race and social justice. We have the power to effect meaningful change in our classrooms every day.
Reading is a great place to start this work. I have compiled a list of books that deeply impacted my own teaching practice and helped me both unlearn problematic behavior and learn how to be a more effective anti-racist teacher. I encourage you to share these books with your colleagues and friends to open up a discussion about how we can impact lasting change.
Hammond’s book examines the relationship between culture, cognition and education. She demystifies the complexities of the opportunity gap for children of color and helps educators design engaging and empowering learning environments for all students. It is a must read for every teacher.
Delpit’s book discusses how the implicit codes of a school system designed and dominated by white culture has perpetuated the marginalization of children of color and widespread systems of oppression. She illuminates the cultural mismatch between white teachers and students of color and provides practical advice for teachers to better honor their students’ cultural identities and knowledge.
For anyone, but particularly white folks, trying to learn how to have meaningful conversations about race, this is a must read. Discussing race and oppression is essential if we want to create lasting change and build more equitable systems in our schools and communities. Especially for educators who plan to discuss race in the classroom, DiAngelo breaks down how to get comfortable being uncomfortable and have conversations that are both skillful and productive.
To better understand the school to prison pipeline and the relationship between our school system and criminal justice system, Alexander’s work is essential reading. You will come away from this book with a clear picture of how systems of oppression toward people of color, and particularly Black Americans, were created and sustained. Before we can change the system, we must first understand where we are and how we got there, this book will help with that.
Originally published in 1968, this classic book has been a staple for educators interested in social change and dismantling systemic oppression for decades. If you have never read this book, now is the time.
A cornerstone text in the culturally responsive teaching movement, Ladson-Billings’ work is an essential read for all educators. If culturally relevant pedagogy is new for you, this is a great place to start. Throughout the book, Ladson-Billings proves that teachers who work to deeply understand and respect the cultures and experiences of the students in their classrooms, and truly believe all children can learn have the greatest impact.
Tatum explores the profound importance racial identity and how to communicate honestly about it in order to create change. It is an especially important read for educators looking to create safe learning environments that are truly inclusive.
Emdin expertly weaves his own educational experience as a young balck man as well as relevant research and practical tools to help educators understand the challenges and injustices that children of color face everyday in school. He provides strategies that teachers can implement to work against systems of oppression and damaging stereotypes that are all too common in schools.
With contributions from leading anti-racist educators, this book grapples with some of the most challenging questions about racism in our school system. This book will help teachers reflect on their own teaching practices to both unlearn problematic behaviors and incorporate anti-racist teaching into their daily practice.
Reading is a great place to start with this work, but it is just the beginning. With more information, it’s easier to make wise and meaningful choices that effect change. Donating, volunteering, listening, amplifying marginalized voices and participating skillfully in conversations are essential next steps. For more information, here are some great websites that offer resources and ways you can contribute to the movement: