By Miguel Lopez
The Greater Rochester Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) recently held an event at the Rochester Public Library, designed to inform the parents of RCSD children and suburban school districts about ‘culturally responsive teaching’, and sought to encourage parents to have difficult conversations with their children about the some of the uglier parts of American history, they say have generally been overlooked in classrooms.
Culturally responsive teaching is a theory of instruction developed by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, president of the National Academy of Education, who said it is an approach that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural associations to impart knowledge, skills and attitudes.
A group of panelists, all with important but different positions to Rochester’s educational leadership, discussed what the goals of culturally responsive teaching are and what they will look like in the classroom.
Wade Norwood, Rochester’s member of the New York State’s Board of Regents, and one the panelists of the night, shared a piece on his experience switching from the RCSD to Rush Henrietta’s school district, and how crucial it is that students see themselves in what they are learning.
When discussing critical race theory, and some of the misconceptions around it, he gave those in attendance an example about just how much American history can be misconstrued. He told the story of what his grandmother was taught in school, that slavery was not as bad as some said, and that slave masters treated their slaves with respect.
“This set the tone for how viciously segregation was fought for by those who supported it. It was because they learned it at school,” he said.
An underlying theme of the discussion was the belief that conversations about topics that concern overtly racist eras of the United States, which can be difficult and uncomfortable to discuss, can lead to growth and understanding.
These era’s, including but not limited to the history of slavery in the U. S., the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights era, presenters said are being taught in classrooms, but not to the same extent as some generally more discussed events in American history, such as the American Revolution and major wars.
“This is what culturally responsive teaching seeks to change, and although there are some that oppose anything similar to critical race theory, and unfairly blame its existence for the political division in this country, its goal is in fact the opposite,” said Deborah Hammer.
Hammer, the Initiative Director of the PLTI, brought to light that some school districts in the greater Rochester era suffer from a shocking lack of diversity. “Some school’s districts have no minority teachers,” she told the panelists.
“We think this a major issue… teacher’s have so much power in transforming lives for students, and the fact that there are none that are represented that look like them, it’s hard for a kid to believe they can be something when they never see it,” she said.
“They never see themselves in positions of power and leadership around the school… We would just like to see some more urgency behind this particular issue.”
When asked about some of the challenges surrounding Culturally Responsive Teaching, and how much of a problem misinformation can be for education, she explained that looking through history from only one perspective can be damaging.
“I think Wade Norwood said it best, when it starts to push against people’s idea of what they think this country is, not the reality. I’m an American. I can be proud in one light, and sad and reflective in the next, but you have to understand the full truth and breath of it, and everyone just hasn’t been taught that, so I think the controversy (surrounding Critical Race Theory) will continue.”