Op/Ed By Jessica Lewis, ROC the Future Communications Specialist –
Academic learning standards created by state education departments serve to direct what students should know and be able to do in each subject area. Most often, however, these academic learning standards do not address what students should know about themselves as it relates to their heritage, communities, and culture. We know that the Rochester City School District (RCSD) is predominantly made up of black and brown children. In order to successfully move the work we are doing with RCSD, our approaches must be culturally relevant. To this end, we must ask ourselves, what are the “essential knowings” for educators, parents and community builders?
In 2007, the Rochester Teacher Center developed Cultural Learning Standards as a resource for educators and families who seek to develop and deepen their cultural knowledge through learning experiences created and presented to children. These standards, which can be read here reflect African and African descended peoples’ ways of thinking, being, and knowing. The Cultural Learning Standards reflect the kind of learning that supports the development of persons who seek excellence in every aspect of their lives. The three sets of standards are “What Students Know,” “What Students are Able to Do,” and “What Students are Like.” These standards represent the cultural backgrounds of the majority of children in our district, and are relevant to enhancing life’s meaning for all children by speaking to individual and collective living, responsibility, and most importantly, purpose. Examples of the standards include, Students have self-love through self-knowledge, agency, and high expectations for themselves and others, students listen for meaning, communicate, and produce knowledge with others in the classroom, students know the purpose of education, and why and how they learn.
Educators should be positioned to make changes to improve teaching and learning outcomes for students. Students should be connected to their learning, and supported in seeing themselves as scholars and community builders. Families should feel valued, and desire to be a part of the school community. School and neighborhood leaders should come together to form productive relationships that are meaningful and impactful. It is imperative that we learn how to effectively build in the historical and cultural knowledge that has been consistently omitted from teacher preparation programs about what works, and will work, for students and communities of the African diaspora.
If we are to make the greatest impact on Rochester’s children, we must do so intently, from a culturally informed approach that not only influences policy and practice, but transforms the community to improve conditions and circumstances for Black people. For more on the Cultural Learning Standards visit www.rocthefuture.org.
About: ROC the Future is an alliance of leading Rochester-area institutions and community partners that promotes alignment and focuses community resources to improve the academic achievement of Rochester’s children. More at www.rocthefuture.org.