Working Towards a Culturally Competent, Antiracist Curriculum

As a white educator, I have focused on buying, featuring, and teaching texts with BIPOC authors and characters with the goals of inclusivity and representation. But that’s not enough. So how do I move through inclusive towards becoming a more culturally competent and actively antiracist educator?

This spring, our school required us to digitally document our curriculum in a new way. At first, it felt like a frustrating time to invest so much energy into something so intangible – Can’t you see I’m trying to survive teaching during a pandemic here? – but then, I realized that it gave me the opportunity to sharpen old units and lessons with a more critical culturally competent and antiracist lens. This work will undoubtedly improve my teaching and my students’ experience.

I’m starting by adding long overdue changes to my documented curriculum. My library curriculum is broken down into five major categories: library skills, literacy skills, reader identity, social emotional skills, and digital literacy skills. Within each of these units or frameworks, I document essential questions, enduring understandings, content, essential skills, habits, and assessments. It’s probably not surprising to hear that much of my academic planning takes the place of exploring questions, which my students and I fondly call wondering, sharing wonders, or investigating wonders.

It is now documented that in my classes, students will explore questions like these:

  • Whose voices and perspectives are we hearing in this story?
  • Whose voices and perspectives are missing?
  • Who are the heroes, villains, and victims of this story? Why?
  • How do these power dynamics relate to history, and to life today?
  • How do representation and power dynamics impact the story?
  • How do they impact our thinking? How do they impact the way we view the world?
  • What does an author look like?
  • Who are the stories in our library written by, and who are they written for?
  • What does an engineer, roboticist, and computer scientist look like?
  • Who is technology built and programmed by, and who is it built and programmed for?

These questions aren’t new, and I’m certainly not the first educator to ask or share them. They will certainly look different in kindergarten versus in eighth grade, and at every developmental stage in between – but they will be purposefully embedded into the foundation of every story that I share and every class that I teach.

I’ve noticed that there is a lot of focus on purchasing books to create library collections that are inclusive and anti-racist. (And, as Nic Stone has argued recently, “Read books about racism, but also about black people being people and doing people sh*t.”) This is critical. And we also know that so much of the power of books comes from the experience of sharing, discussing, and living them together.

Librarians are teachers. Teachers are changemakers. Is the same anti-racist attention and determination that goes into our collections, purposefully making its way into our lessons and conversations? What do you think?

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