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A Holmes Scholar Reflects on Advancing Anti-Racist Teaching through Educational Research

Denise Michele LewisKeith Brooks of Chosen Path Consulting, LLC, opened the second Holmes Summer session on the afternoon of July 21 by asking participants to reflect on a video. I quickly recognized the animation from the Schoolhouse Rock! America Rock series. “Elbow Room” focuses on our nation’s expansion west and south from the 13 original colonies. Initially, this video brought to mind fond memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons with my sister and brothers as children. Those memories faded as I watched the images with a critical lens and listened intently to the lyrics with critical ears. Participants began to type their reflections into the chat space, and it was clear that our histories and perspectives were not reflected in this mini-lesson. Only one perspective was portrayed—that of whiteness, of white males in particular. There was little diversity, no regard for the brutal violation and experiences of BIPOC, and no mention of the contributions of Asian or Mexican Americans toward the expansion. There was a lot to unpack in the 3-minute vignette.

During our session, Brooks elaborated on his personal experiences as an educator with over two decades in schools and community-based and higher education settings.  There were a few key takeaways from our discussion on advancing anti-racist teaching through educational research that will benefit us in our scholarly journey.  Brooks emphasized the importance of articulating our own narratives and educating ourselves about cultural responsiveness and other research paradigms that seek to address systemic racism. We need to position ourselves as scholars for long-term impact through anti-racist teaching. He reiterated that our narratives and our context are everything, and that context must be clarified in our quantitative and qualitative research. Efforts proliferate to ban critical race theory, a theoretical perspective that is not taught in K-12 schools and has been around for over thirty years. Critical race theory seeks to unmask and expose racism in its various forms. As scholars, we must be critical. We must examine history from multiple lenses, exercise empathy and pursue solutions to “wicked” problems based on our intersectionality and criticality in order to build our cultural competency. We have a choice: we either add value through our teaching and research or become parasites to society.

A quick search revealed that the false narratives revealed in the “Elbow Room” video still prevail. Furthermore, these episodes were developed without input from educators or historians“We the People,” a series executive produced by former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama is a refreshing and promising resource on civic education, but the truth is that the original Schoolhouse Rock! Series is still used in classrooms today. How can we add value, scholars? 

We add value by becoming more culturally competent. Quoting David McConkie, Brooks reminded us that “a teacher is also a student.” Cultural competence recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of teaching and learning. Becoming a culturally competent scholar is a continual process, and we should be working to improve our practices and clarify the context of our research. Brooks concluded our discussion by explaining that we will encounter resistance and that our scholarly efforts do not have to be framed as anti-racist. Whether we practice radical empathy (Wilkerson, 2020) or work toward becoming anti-racist (Kendi, 2019), seek education relentlessly, add value to the field and connect to context. We all can do better.

Brooks offered a wealth of resources and literature on anti-racist work that we should be reading and implementing in classrooms and research.

Gloria Ladson-Billings
Christopher Emdin
Pedro Nogurea
Lisa Delpit
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
Zaretta Hammond
Yvette Jackson
Curtiss DeYoung
Michael Emerson
Joe Feagin     
James Baldwin
Paul Kivel
Jeff Duncan-Andrade
Gilman Whiting (Scholar Identity Institute)
Racially Conscious Collaboration
Sonia Nieto
Beverly Daniel Tatum
Glenn Singleton
Linda Darling Hammond
Michelle Alexander
Bryan Stevenson
Christena Cleveland
Jane Elliott
Tim Wise
Janet Helms
Nell Irvin Painter
Paul Gorski
Isabell Wilkerson

Denise Michele Lewis, is a Ph.D. Student – Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership – Curriculum and Learning Design, and Holmes Scholar a William & Mary School of Education.


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