Listen in or watch as Dr. Sonja Cherry Paul and Tricia Ebarvia talk about two upcoming virtual #IREL20 institutes focused on centering racial equity in our literacy practices.
These institutes were developed in collaboration with Heinemann PD Services. Each #IREL20 multi-day institute is a full week of interactive, self-paced multi-media engagement and content, punctuated with a central day of synchronous live online sessions. All activities will be hosted within the event's dedicated online PD platform.
The following links are to articles and resources that Sonja and Tricia mention during the talk. They are listed in order of mention:
- We’re Still Living and Dying in the Slaveholders’ Republic by Ibram X. Kendi
- What if Quarantine Homeschooling is Better For Black Children? by Kelly Wickham Hurst
- Becoming the Architects of School: Building for Liberation by Sonja Cherry-Paul
- When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs by Tre Johnson
- You can't defeat racism with 'reading lists'. Take it from a feminist – we tried this
by Jessa Crispin
- Disrupting Your Texts: Why Simply Including Diverse Voices Is Not Enough
by Tricia Ebarvia
- There is no diverse book by Chad Everett
- Know Your Why [VIDEO] | by Michael Jr.
View the recording of the June 15, 2020 Facebook LIVE session with Dr. Sonja Cherry Paul and Tricia Ebarvia.
Sonja Cherry-Paul, Ed.D., has taught middle school English for twenty years. Sonja’s research and work stem from an unyielding commitment to anti-bias and anti-racist pedagogy and practices. Sonja developed curriculum that centered the work of racial literacy in K-12 schools. She co-founded the Race Matters Committee in the school district in order to spotlight and center issues related to race and racism and provide faculty and staff with the language and tools to facilitate conversations with students about race.
Sonja is the co-founder and co-facilitator of the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy. She is an author, consultant, and senior research associate at TCRWP. Sonja is the co-facilitator of the Heinemann Fellows. She is the coauthor, with Dana Johansen, of the titles Breathing New Life into Book Clubs, Flip Your Writing Workshop, and Teaching Interpretation.
To learn more visit sonjacherrypaul.com or follow Sonja or on Twitter @SonjaCherryPaul
Tricia Ebarvia has spent the last 19 years as a classroom educator with a student-driven approach to teaching reading and writing. Through her career, Tricia has applied the philosophy of the teacher-as-researcher while applying best practices to “cultivate independent learners” through independent reading and student choice. “For better or worse, “well enough” doesn’t satisfy me. I approach each school year, each course, each unit with fresh eyes.” Tricia is an english teacher and department chair at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA. Tricia is a Heinemann Fellow from the 2016-2018 cohort.
Tricia is working on a new book that will be published by Heinemann in Spring 2021.
Below is a full transcript of the podcast. This transcript has been machine generated.
Sonja: Hi, everyone. Hello, hello. I'm Sonja Cherry-Paul. I am an activist, an educator and an author from New York. I've been teaching middle school ... I was a middle school teacher for about 20 years. And I'm here today with the full force of all of my blackness, and the history, and the richness of my racialized identity, and I'm bringing that here today to talk to you about this moment in our nation, IREL 20, and liberation.
Tricia: Hi, everyone. My name is Tricia Ebarvia, and I have been a high school English teacher since 2001. I teach in a public school just outside of Philadelphia. I am so excited to be here tonight with Sonja to talk about liberation and how we can get there, and especially how our literacy practices can take us there. Since this is a conversation that centers race and racism, I also want to say that I am a second generation Filipino American. My parents immigrated here in the 1970s. My racial autobiography informs a lot of my instruction in some ways. I've been unpacking that over the years, and I will share that throughout this conversation.
Tricia: But Sonja and I ... I don't remember exactly when Sonja and I met, I just feel like we've just known each other forever. We founded last year together the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy. We had found that there were a lot of conversations around equity, and there were a lot of conversations around literacy, but the intersections of those were something that we found weren't really happening in a lot of conversations. And so we decided to come together, and we had an opportunity to do a summer institute last year, and we are very excited to be able to bring that Institute to you this summer. Not in person as we had hoped because, of course, of our global pandemic, but at least online. This webinar, we hope is a way to kick off that conversation. So whether you are able to sign up for our institute or not, we hope that this conversation over the next few minutes or so is going to provoke some thinking and some conversation for ... within yourself and with your colleagues. So keep it going.
Sonja: Right. So, Tricia, I just want to say a few words, maybe a little more than a few words, about the fierce urgency of now, and us evoking the words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Which we know these ... Hopefully we know these words come from his "I Have a Dream" speech. And Tricia knows one of my great sources of frustration is the way in which Dr. King's life and legacy has been whitewashed and reduced to these canned narratives. So I think it's extremely relevant that we both frame this discussion with these words, as well as talk about the ways that his work, the work, has been co-opted, particularly now as the country is finally beginning to discuss the racial data around COVID-19, respond to it by opening up the country, almost as fast as we can, now that we understand who it's killing. And as we see continued police brutality, and are beginning to discuss re-imagining what school will look like when we go back in the fall.
Sonja: It was 1963 when Dr. King gave this speech, and within the first two pages, he's calling attention to the political, the economic and social conditions, plaguing black Americans. And these same conditions are plaguing black Americans today, right now. We must call out the way Dr. King, during that time in America, was fiercely hated by white America. His life was threatened. His family was threatened. The government wiretapped his house. His house was set on fire. He was assassinated. Because his activism was not simply about demonstrating peacefully. It was about equality and it was about change. There's a legacy in this country of violence against black people who dare to speak up and claim their humanity.
Sonja: So our country often cherry picks the words and actions of Dr. King. They cherry pick the parts that they feel most comfortable with, foregoing the others. And so as we frame this conversation right from the start about the fierce urgency of now, we need to be centering the lives of an experience as a black man and brown people in our thinking around what you're hearing. Now is the time for audacious demands for justice, and for those who are serious about advancing the work of equity to make those demands unabashedly. So as we're having this conversation with protests and unrest happening around not only the nation, but the world, about the death of George Floyd, and all of the black men and women that have come before him, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, yet another black man, Rayshard Brooks, was murdered by police in Atlanta, Georgia this weekend.
Sonja: So as we frame this discussion with the fierce urgency of now, refusing to center white comfort and wishes to return to normal, it's important that we think about his other words, too, in that speech, which are often up scored. In particular, I'm thinking about, "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness, like a mighty stream." So, Trisha, when you think about what has this moment revealed for you, what's coming to mind for you?
Tricia: Well, I think exactly what you said in many ways. As I've been watching the protest being covered by the media, and being covered by social media, including people on various social media networks, I've seen a lot of memes. Dr. King linking arms, like this is what peaceful demonstration looks like, as a way to criticize the uprisings that are happening right now. And again, it's this very selective memory that I think white America mostly has around Dr. King and his legacy. I worry about the ways in which this moment will again be co-opted. When you were speaking, Sonja, I was thinking ... The word that came to mind was gentrification of civil rights, and what civil rights actually means, and what protest actually means. What does that look like, and what does direct action mean? It is about creating discomfort. That's how you bring people to the table.
Tricia: So this moment is revealing to me a lot of the narrative around this moment. How is this being narrated? How is it being covered? What is the media saying versus what are people on the ground saying? Whose voices are being heard? Whose voices are being excluded? Who are the people in positions of power who are going to make decisions? All of these things come to mind. And then I think, too, again, about how this is affecting our kids. Because the way that this is going to get narrated for posterity is also the way that our children, your grandchildren, my grandchildren, they're going to learn about this in school, and what will they learn is the question. Fifty years from now, what is going to be the legacy of this moment?
Tricia: Is it going to be the way we look at Dr. King today? And I would be severely ... I would be disappointed if that's what our textbooks told us about this moment. So I have that urgency right now to think about how can we ... How can we face this moment honestly? I've used the word and heard the word a lot around my colleagues, this idea of the word reckoning, that there needs to be a reckoning. It's past time that there's a reckoning. And part of a reckoning means really looking in the mirror, and you're not going to like what you see. I think this pandemic has revealed what systemic inequities have always existed. And so yeah, I think that it's going to be hard, but it's work that must be done. Otherwise you're going to be caught in a loop. We're just going to be continuing to do this forever. What about you, Sonja? Anything else about this moment right now for you?
Sonja: Yeah, no, everything that you just said. The selective memory of this country, this willful amnesia that has just been perpetuated over and over again. When we look and we see the folks that are in the streets and they are just refusing to die down, they are not there to placate. They are there to disturb you, to jumpstart the collective consciousness of this country in order to create change. So, yeah. Yeah.
Tricia: I think, too, what heartened ... what I feel a little bit hopeful about, it's a lot of youth, just like it was in the 1960s and 70s. Youth. The youth will lead us if we're willing to listen to them.
Sonja: That's right. That's right. Yeah.
Tricia: So I think when we think again about this moment right now, and Dr. King said the fierce urgency of now in 1963, when will now be ... When will we actually pay attention to now? What will it take to disturb us enough to actually make a difference? And so when we look at what's happening right now, I think that our pandemic, I think the uprisings, the civil rights uprisings that are happening today ... I always think about, again, another one of those memes on social media, if you ever wondered what you would have done during civil rights, you can just look at what you're doing right now.
Tricia: You don't need to wonder. You can just ask yourself, well, what am I doing right now? And understanding, of course, we are in a global pandemic, and there are restrictions in place for the collective good, understandably. But there are things that we can do. And one of those is to reckon with our role in how our system has played out, especially our role as educators. So yeah, thinking about right now, systems, inequities in our healthcare system. Sonja mentioned who is getting sick, who are ... who's considered essential? Sometimes I can't help but hear when I hear the word essential, sometimes I hear the word disposable.
Tricia: The racial health disparities, economic injustices. And of course, schools. Schools is a system. I think these last three months teaching through a distance learning model has been very revealing as far as what our kids need and don't need. When we think about what is essential learning, it's interesting how so many state tests, of course, have been canceled. That's interesting that state tests have been canceled. Suddenly those aren't necessary. It makes me wonder, well, have they ever been? Yeah. So all these things right now are ... The current pandemic and our crises right now are really revealing.
Sonja: Yes. And I love that you said what's revealing is who is considered disposable. It is a hard word to reckon with, but it is the word. Who is considered disposable? And I feel like what has been revealed in these months is a collision. All of the institutes, healthcare, education, economic, policing, colliding together in ways that are finally visible to some who have willfully or unintentionally not seen what has been happening in this nation, and the consequences of this emerging from the wreckage and flames. Time and time again are black and brown bodies treated as disposable.
Tricia: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep. And in our schooling, too. When I think about the disparities that are going to come out as far as the learning-
Tricia: We need to be ready when we see that. And we shouldn't be surprised by that data, either.
Sonja: We should not. And we should be prepared to start seeing a flurry of the usage of the gap word again, the academic gap, which is a racist term, and folks are ready to just pull that right out of their back pockets to justify the kinds of solutions they're going to come up with for how we educate kids in the post COVID-19 ... era of post COVID. So we all should be prepared for this.
Tricia: Yeah. Without recognizing that any quote, unquote, gap that we're seeing is really by design.
Sonja: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tricia: Right? That there is not anything inherently wrong or deficient about children, but everything in our systems.
Sonja: That's right. Yeah. Yeah.
Tricia: So again, crises reveal character. So we have to think about ... I think in moments of crises, we tend to fall back to our biases. That's what research has shown over and over again. It's almost a survival instinct, and we can't get rid of our biases. They're baked into us. That's how we've been socialized. And so the question becomes, when we think about the purpose and function of schools ... and our audience right now is a lot of teachers. Think about the last few months. To what extent did you spend time really thinking about the purpose and function of schools, and then your role in it? And in thinking about the actions ... And again, I understand that this is an emergency remote learning situation. This is not something that any of us signed up for. This is just how things ... These are the cards that we were dealt. But how many decisions were made, and who was centered in these decisions? When we're thinking about falling back on what we know is good for kids, or what was comfortable for us.
Tricia: That's the question.
Sonja: And I think what you're saying is so true, this willingness to just really think that through and interrogate it, because certainly in times of uncertainty, as you said, and also times of stress, we revert to this default ... these default ways of knowing and being in the world. We can see that in the history of healthcare. Doctors who don't interrogate their biases and assumptions, continuing to ignore black pain, to treat black and brown people as if they have higher thresholds for pain and trauma. Left unchecked, this becomes the default. There's a history of medical institutions using African-Americans unwillingly for their research that extends beyond Tuskegee, beyond Henrietta Lacks, that absolutely shaped the way that doctors right now are treating black and brown people today.
Sonja: I say all this to say, when we think about schooling, another institution, and folks say they're so anxious to return, what is the normal that they are so anxious to return to? Because that normal is grounded in whiteness and committing educational violence against black and brown students. This has been happening since the beginning. To evoke Dr. Ibram Kendi's words, it's been stamped into schooling from the moment black and brown children stepped foot through the doors. So yeah. Where do we go from here?
Tricia: Yeah. It's interesting to think about when people are ... I understand it, but that phrase. I just want to get back to normal. I want everything to reopen. I want ... That urge to go back to what was comfortable. And I think a lot of people are looking around, myself included, I think ours included, that what ... I don't want to go back to normal. And I'll be very honest speaking from my own experience. This is not ideal. This is not an ideal learning environment in my house, and it's not an ideal teaching environment. And I have three children, and I'm not sure how much academic learning that they've done. They've done some. I'm fortunate that they tend to do school well according to those measures. But I also know that I've ... This time has also been a gift in other ways. I think about the ways in which they've been able to bond.
Tricia: Right. I think about the ways in which they've been able to bond. I think about the ways in which they have learned other lessons about what it means to be a human being, how they have been not under the grind of competitiveness that they see and feel in schools, going from one class period to the next, to the next, to the next. The flexibility that they've been able to experience right now. So, there are lots of things about right now, as terrible as it is in most ways, that I think we can learn from. So that we don't just go back to the grind that was wearing us all down, and that has been designed to systematically have a negative impact on black and brown children.
Tricia: So, thinking about how have our schools been normed? They've been normed according to the people who have had power, which in this country, have traditionally been white men. Right? And so, we have to think about those, unearth and unpack those values that are really the underpinning of our public school system.
Sonja: I agree with you. I think that unearthing an unpacking of the underpinnings of school is exactly where we must go immediately, because schools are the most critical site for change for me in our institutions, among our institutions, because it's here where kids are indoctrinated in these kind of belief statements that have brought us to where we are right now in this moment. And oftentimes I'll hear from folks, educators will say about kids, "Oh, well, they must have learned that at home." And what we need to do is shift the conversation to, they must have learned that at school. They learned it through silences around race and racism, and this unyielding devotion to whiteness, from what kids are asked to read, to how they are asked to write, they are swimming in whiteness.
Sonja: And for black and brown kids in particular, they're drowning in it. They're drowning in it because our educational system again, and again, tells them that something about them is fundamentally wrong. I think about your boys being home with you Tricia, and how under these unfortunate circumstances, how that bubble you've created for them... Just, it's so nurturing and powerful for them to not have to face that message constantly when they walk through school, that who they are and what their beliefs are, there's something inherently wrong with that. So, we have to be willing to, in terms of where we go from here, we have to be willing to recognize the steady spirit killing intentions of our curriculum and instruction on black and brown children, and then dramatically, not gradually, make substantive changes.
Tricia: Yeah. And I think again, if schools are a mirror of society, ask yourself, well, what does society look like right now? Right? And so when we think about what's going on right now, and what our children, all of our children are seeing in the news, they might see this, right? They might see people who in April were out protesting. And these protests were of course all about individual freedom, right? Freedom to open up businesses. And I do want to say, I'm very empathetic towards people who want businesses to open because their livelihoods depend on it. Right? That is a real issue. I get that. At the same time, I can't help but wonder, what if our society was one that there was a safety net for crises, like a global pandemic, so that people wouldn't have to choose between putting food on the table and their health, and the collective health of people in their community.
Tricia: Maybe we need to imagine a little bit beyond that. And so Dr.Kendi here, he wrote this essay for The Atlantic. And I just love the way that he frames this, that some Americans are, right now, want to live in a society that frees them as individuals by subjugating the community. That was the psyche of the slave holder who believed he was free, only if the community was enslaved. And I think about that idea of individualism and how much individualism is so baked into our school systems. Kids are measured, they are their success. Quote, unquote, success is quantified. They are ranked, they are tested. They are... Think about the level of competition, right?
Tricia: I remember when this pandemic began, there were discussions among many teachers in my school and other schools and other teachers I've talked to, teachers were like, "Well, how are we going to grade? We can't really... How do we do these?" And these are good conversations. And some people expressed this nervousness that kids weren't going to do the work that we assigned or provided, if they weren't getting grades for it. That tells you a lot.
Tricia: If kids are only doing things because there's a number attached to it, then that's feedback for us. They don't see that there's something there. I think about the way that individualism is part of that grind that I was talking about.
Sonja: Yeah. I think you're so right, Tricia. America loves to tout its individual freedoms and to take great pride in them. And lest I be accused of being unpatriotic, I'm not. But I also need to point to this ideology, because it has absolutely everything to do, in terms of leading us to where we are, to this moment right now. This idea that we don't need to care about anyone but ourselves and we can stand at the sidelines and watch the terror inflicted on communities, as a result of that stance. This rush to open the country is absolutely a form of racial terror. It's the nation, again, saying loudly and proudly exactly who is, I'm going to come back to that word that you used, disposable.
Sonja: And folks expressing gratitude for being able to get a haircut, and dining in restaurants. And we've got armed men storming the State Capitol. White men, I should say, storming the State Capitol. The story, we know, would absolutely be differently if these were hundreds of black men storming a State Capitol armed, to demand their freedoms in response to these stay at home orders.
Sonja: So, we're going to have to get to the point where we talk about morals and our core values, and we have to name this. And we have to face it in order for things to truly change. We have to recognize that these citizens are the students in the seats of our classrooms, have been shaped and encouraged to think this way, throughout our educational practices, as a result of our educational practices.
Tricia: Yeah. I think about... I mean, it's not on the slide here, but I go back to Charlottesville. And I go back to Charlottesville in 2017. And I think about those young men with their torches, polos and khaki pants, and I could not help but think to myself that these are kids in our classrooms.
Tricia: And it horrified me. I remember that moment thinking... I mean, I understand. I hear what people are thinking right now. Well, it comes from their parents, all those things. Yes, you're right. Parents are... And community members and family, they are a powerful socializing force in our young children, as they should be. Schools also play a role. And to be very honest, schools for some kids are a place where they can be exposed to ideas that are also outside of their family, so they can test and tease. This is not about indoctrination, it is about getting the full sense of what our, I think our... A collective society could be and could look like. And yeah, I just can't help but think about the role that teachers and schools play here.
Sonja: And I'm glad you brought up Charlottesville, because I remember that August, Tricia. And I remember walking back into school and it was superintendent's conference day, and all the faculty had come together for the first time since we're getting ready to launch the school year. And I remember not one person talked about it. It was the same year as the... What was the ice bucket challenge? Do you remember that?
Sonja: I can't remember what it was, but it was the ice bucket challenge and everyone was posting their ice bucket pourings on each other and having fun. And it was coming up on the slides in the auditorium of my school, as it was being shown to all of us to sort of welcome us back in. At no point did Charlottesville come up.
Sonja: So, we can continue to talk about kids learning stuff at home. But as I said, we have to talk about, no, they are absolutely learning this in school. They're learning this in school. And yeah, when we think about our collective freedoms, we can be thinking about how do we move toward a focus on community and the collective? How can we understand that such a focus does not take away from the individual? And I think as an African American woman, what has been a core value in my upbringing, is to think about the collective. I was taught that my actions mattered not simply on my own, but as a part of the whole, and to have a sense of humility, right?
Sonja: Too often, this is not what we see valued in schools. As you said, you're taught to compete against your peer. Your focus is on yourself and not on others. We have to acknowledge that that has been what's driven schooling, this idea of who is the best, and determining that by quantitative data.
Tricia: Yeah. I think about the ways in which we look at test scores and we think about, what does high performing mean? And high achieving? And rankings and ratings and all these things. And I think we have to ask ourselves, what is the metric? And I think if we change the metric for what is a good person? What is a responsible citizen? Like, if we had a report card on those kinds of things. If we had, let's say for example, the teaching tolerance, social justice standards. If those were our standards, I think a lot of places that are considered high performing would not be so high performing. Maybe even failing, according to those different metrics. And so, I want us to think about, again, this idea of collective freedom. And Dr. Kendi here, "I want to live in a society that frees me as an individual, by freeing my community. That was the psyche of the enslaved knew she was enslaved, only because her community was enslaved."
Tricia: This idea, what is freedom? Right? Freedom is one of those words that's tossed around. And we can't really talk about freedom if we don't talk about individual versus collective, or really, not just individual versus collective, but individual and collective, individual and community. I think right now, when you look at these pictures here, you can see there is a moment of a kind of reckoning, or a kind of moment of truth here. What is going to be more important? And I think that the pandemic, as far as our collective health... I can say, "Well, I'm just going to do my own thing, and Sonja's going to do her own thing." Except that we can't, we've agreed to a social contract, where we live with one another.
Tricia: And what I do, whether I choose to wear my mask or not, whether I choose to teach this book or not, it does affect Sonja. And it does reflect how her children are going to move in the world. Right? And we have to think in the ways that we are all part of the larger tapestry, right? And similar to Sonja, I think black and brown communities, many black and brown communities and indigenous communities, there's an ethos of community, collectivism, of cooperation, that is not just about the individual. Growing up, my parents, it was very clear to me that I, when I stepped out into the world, I wasn't just me. But I was also representing my family, I was representing my community. Not so much that I was a spokesperson, but that... Not that I spoke for, but I was a reflection of, right? And so that I moved in the world thinking about that, and then thinking about how then I could always be in community with other people. Right? That was constantly the way that I was thinking about things.
Tricia: And I think that there's a wisdom there, right? Like Dr. Kim Parker and I, some of you might know, we organized a 31 days IBPoC, which is 31 days of writing from indigenous black and educators of color, in the month of May. And one of the central messages or takeaways from that, is the collective wisdom and excellence. This is a time where we're looking for solutions, where people are looking around thinking, what are we going to do? Right? In any crisis, people look around and say, "What are we going to do?" Whether it's a crisis like climate change, whether it's a crisis like gun violence, whether it's a crisis like right now with the pandemic, what are we going to do?
Tricia: And I think we have answers. There are answers. And those answers have largely been ignored. And those answers oftentimes are in the wisdom and excellence of brown and black communities, if we're willing to hear. It's time to hear.
Sonja: And that ethos of care and collective good, that are part of the wisdom of indigenous black people of color that you and Dr. Kim Parker were thinking about, in 31 days, it is that ethos that is violated when our kids go to school, right? It's another example of educational violence, by essentially schools working to break that, to force indigenous black people of color and our students to succumb to these white ways of being and knowing in the world.
Sonja: And I think about everything that you're saying, like the solutions, the solutions and how the message is heard. And yes, indigenous people in particular have been telling us and telling us and telling us and telling us forever and ever, and we can't hear the message about, for example, the environment until Leonardo DiCaprio says it? I mean, I don't understand. It's just this dismissing of collective knowledge and care that is, again, it's a violence. In my community, you're a part of the village. You've heard it, right? You're a part of the village. And yes, you matter individually, but it is collectively that we work together, and the village is here for you and you work for the village. So, I do think that dipping into that richness, into that well of collective good, is essential in terms of where we go from here.
Tricia: Yeah. So again, thinking again, we started this thinking about what are your beliefs about the purpose and function of schools in our society? Do you think that schools are simply a mirror of our society, or do you believe as I do, that they can be transformative? That schools don't have to be a place where kids are inflicted with the kind of social, emotional, intellectual violence, right? That schools can be a place for liberation. That we can actually be free. I think about the ways in which, growing up... And I did go to predominantly white schools. I think about the ways in which parts of my own identity, I knew I had to cut them off when I walked through the school door.
Tricia: I mean, to some extent that is true for every child, right? Because you show one part of you in one context and another. So, I don't want to like, all students this. But I will say that there is a specific kind of contortion that brown and black children have to learn when they go to school, because they learn very quickly that the parts that nurtured them, and held them tight, and really developed core sense of who they were at home, that those things have to be tucked away in a box the minute they go into school. And that message is received over and over again, by not just the ways of being that they have to be in school, but also when we think about how they are represented in curriculum, or really not represented in curriculum, right?
Tricia: ... or are really not represented in curriculum, right? So again, if you're a teacher who's thinking... Recently there's been a lot of teachers, they've acknowledged that racism has existed, but I think recent events have really clarified for them. I think the extent to which it continues to damage kids, especially with the pandemic, I think also, has really shone a light on these inequities. But I think if you're surprised and disturbed, that's a moment to reflect on yourself and ask, "Why am I disturbed?" Because the system is working exactly as designed.
Sonja: That's right.
Tricia: All the inequities that we have seen that have come out because of school closures and distance learning, every system that we see where there are racial inequities, that's how they were designed. They are the logical consequence of practices, policies, or lack of policies that have led to our moment right now.
Tricia: If you've really been paying attention. And so if you haven't been and were surprised and disturbed, and I'm sometimes surprised that I'm still surprised. I constantly think about "I can't believe this". And I think, "Well, why didn't I believe this?" And I have to unpack my own privilege and my own like sense of "Why didn't I know that?" And then I have to ask myself "How come I wasn't taught this", too. So again, it's like a kind of reckoning with understanding systemically how all this has been working and also my role in it. And then my role moving forward.
Sonja: That's right. Racism in education, it's not coincidental. As you said, it's designed this way. It's functioning efficiently so it's not coincidental. It's not isolated, it is endemic. It is stamped into the foundation of schooling. And when I think about the beliefs and purposes and function of schools in our society, this draws me back to really learning and implementing anti-racist critical race theory, culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies, not as a list of practices that we can just check off occasionally and throughout the year, but as part of the blueprint that we design and the foundation that we build.
Sonja: So anti-racism education is not about repairing cracks in the foundations. It's about our realization, reckoning if we will, evoke that word again, that we need to tear down the foundation and rebuild it in ways that does not silence everything that we've been talking about. And to see this work as not exclusive from the curriculum, it is the curriculum. It's the bedrock upon which we build so that students understand the larger social and historical context of racism. If we are to really have this transformative approach to education that we're looking for.
Tricia: Yep. And again, I think as we're looking for what, where, how are we going to get back to normal? And you know, this is a piece by Kelly Wickham Hurst that Sonja and I both love so much that she posted when school closures started and this idea that, what if quarantine homeschooling is bad for black children, right? What if, like when I shared with you, I kind of knew, and maybe this is what you accept as a person of color when you walk into school is that there are parts of you that you just have to like cut off when you go into the door, you'd have to cross those parts of your identity off, imagine the excellence that we could all achieve and benefit from, if kids could come to school whole.
Tricia: You know, and I think about, there was a line in this piece where she wrote, and it's not only just black children, but I mean, thinking about the racism around COVID-19 against Asian people, the spike in racism, against Asian people, there are kids right now who because they've been forced to stay home and Asian children, they have not had to go to school and to contend with the microaggressions and really outright aggressions that they might be facing otherwise. And so we have to think about again, like where, and in what ways, were our schools like being in the actual building, being damaging for some of our kids and how do we, when we go back, how do we make sure that, that's not part of the normal that we go back to and that whole transforming model that Sonja was talking about?
Sonja: Yeah. Yeah.
Tricia: Sonja, did you want to talk, you had such a great piece here. I just wanted to give you a chance to talk a little bit about this.
Sonja: Yeah. So yeah, for 31 days, indigenous black people of color and this amazing movement that you and Dr. Kim Parker have started. I wrote this piece Becoming the Architect of School, Architects of School Building for Liberation, to just sort of very quickly without being too dense, trace the legacy of racism across the history of this country. So that we can see again, that there are no accidents. It's not coincidental what we're seeing in our practices and in our curriculum. This has always been the plan. And so, as we are beginning to reimagine school, I want us to think about all the times that folks have reimagined school, what has been steady is to oppress black and brown children, to commit acts of educational violence against them. And so, as we move into this moment of reimagining school, in the wake of COVID-19, it's going to take the collective of us who are anti-racist educators coming together and demanding change and creating a new blueprint so that we can achieve liberation.
Tricia: And as you were speaking, Sonia, I was just thinking about people who might be sitting here thinking, or maybe not people sitting here tuning into this, but maybe your colleagues who aren't here, maybe thinking like, "Why can't we just go back to normal?" "I don't understand why do we have to change everything?" Why throw the baby out with the bath water kind of thing, like things were working. And I think if you're still in that place, I think that's an invitation to reflect on why you're in that place, right? Like why don't you see, what are you not seeing because black and brown people have been saying this forever, right? And I think that we know the system hasn't been working, right? We know that we have data to prove it. And so like, this is an opportunity if we're going to build something new to build something that takes into account the damage that has been done from the past.
Tricia: So one thing that has been encouraging is been... Dr. Kendi actually posted on social media about how never in his lifetime, has he ever seen so many books about anti-racism or racism in general, on the New York times bestseller list. I believe White Fragility is sold out his book, "How to be an Anti-racist, is sold out. And I think that's... And I have to say, I am heartened by that. And I have to say that, that education, and it's what I have done myself, right? I have had to unlearn and relearn our own history, our real history. I have had to do a lot of self-work as far as critical race theory and so on and so forth. And that all has a place, all of that is good, right? I have been in book clubs where we just like look and study and all of that is important. But I think one of the things that these two articles just recently brought attention to is this idea that what's going to happen after the book club?
Sonja: Yes. Trisha when Trey Johnson wrote, When Black People are in Pain, White People Just Join Book Clubs. I was sitting in my backyard, minding my own black business and this came up and I started reading and my closest friends know that I'm a humming woman. And I just left up out of my seat and just started to hum because listen, years ago I was part of a book club meeting with mostly white educators to discuss one of the most popular books out there that white people in particular have flocked to that you mentioned before. In order to understand and search for answers, or I don't know, about racism and I may or may not have had a cocktail or two at the cocktail hour before entering into this book club. Just want to put that out there.
Sonja: But one of the things that I was really asserting for during that gathering don't know how eloquent it was, was one of the things I was really asserting was that this gathering seems to be a demonstration of performative allyship, which is when the book itself becomes the performance. Because if you're unable to name how the book is going to translate into action and to substantive changes in your practices and in your ways of being in the world and then demonstrate those actions, it's a performance. And so when Trey Johnson wrote this article last week and talked about being caught in this perpetual loop of media cycle, display of racism, folks running to like gather and book club a book, and then nothing. And then media cycle of this loop, this perpetual loop, it just really struck a chord for me.
Tricia: And I think related to that, it's also a lot of the equity PD from people who've never been interested in equity before. I think we're also seeing some of that. And again, I think, the book can't be the means and ends like, it can't because then that's like what you said, then it becomes a performance. It's what you do afterwards, right? Because I read this and I was like, "Okay, well those are all the things that I did." I've done, you know me, I do all the reading but it's what we do with that reading. Do we allow it to change us? Do we connect it to our practices? Do we sit and think, "Okay, well I'm now I'm reading about this theory. How does that look in my everyday life?" How does that look in my classroom? How does that look in the decisions I'm making about curriculum? I have to really think about those things. How does that affect my relationship with kids and what actions can I then take?
Tricia: Yeah, and I think, again, I think for some teachers too, with this other meme that I've seen circulating, since removing racist statues, we are removing racist statues, which books are we taking out of our curriculum? And of course this is referring to the removal of Confederate statues. Probably the long overdue removal of some, not probably, definitely the long overdue removal.
Tricia: And I think about years ago, a few years ago, I listened to this podcast with Aisha Taylor on Slate and she was talking about the... It was some anniversary I'm not even really sure, but it was a conversation in which she was discussing the removal and comparing the removal of Confederate statues, like Robert E. Lee to Gone with the Wind, the movie and the book and how... Oh, I know what it was, there was some anniversary in Gone with the Wind is usually playing at a theater. And like in the moment with Charlottesville, I think it was right after Charlottesville. It seems strange to play Gone with the Wind at this movie theater. Imagine, right? And so this idea that like, what is a Confederate like, it's this nostalgia for the past, it's, I guess an honoring of bravery courage, it's all white centered, right?
Tricia: It's definitely from a perspective that is, meant to build sympathy, right, for Robert Lee. And she was comparing it to, Gone with the Wind, that Gone with the Wind in many ways it's the stereotypes and the perspectives there. And I was thinking how many of our books, like I immediately went to how many of our books are also like that? How many do we see them as these kinds of fixed statues that we cannot remove? And I could not help but make that connection then to the number one book that PBS All-American reads lists, which was To Kill a Mockingbird. And can't help but wonder like, what is the connection here?
Tricia: Because there's always one, as you know, in my work with disrupt texts with that is one that is almost always defended in the same way with the same fervor that these statues are sometimes defended.
Sonja: Yes. And so with the removal of these flags and statues, I'm wondering what will be the transfer to schools and our curriculum. Will we start to remove these relics of the curriculum that are doing exactly what you're saying? They're steeped in whiteness, they're glorifying whiteness and are another form of educational violence against black and brown students.
Sonja: And not only that, but we need to be changing the names of schools who are named after folks who committed terror against black and brown people. And now kids are being forced to go to a school every day named after this person, again, educational violence. I'm going to keep using that phrase because when we say violence, people again, want to think about physical harm and isolated acts. And these are continuous acts of terror that are committed against black and brown children. So yes, we will see if these relics of the curriculum are removed.
Tricia: Yeah. A couple of things here again, I am heartened by the fact that people are... I've seen, I'm on social media, a lot in Facebook groups and Twitter and Instagram. And I can't tell you how many of the requests for quote, unquote, diverse texts there have been, like this moment has awakened people's... And again, I think that's good. I think it's good that this moment is asking us to reflect and realize, you know what? I really don't have any voices from black people in my curriculum. I need to think about that. And now I need to seek recommendations. But as you were seeking those recommendations, I would ask you to think about like, why didn't you already have those in your back pocket? Why didn't you already have those lists? What reading were you not already doing that required you to go ask others about these books and these texts? Right?
Tricia: So this always brings to me, I think, Chad Everett has said that there is no diverse book. Because when you think about diversity and what a diverse book is, who is centered in that, whose perspective, right, is that from right? It's a white centered perspective, right? That white is normal and everything that is not white is diverse.
Sonja: That's right.
Tricia: If I were to look at it from the perspective of like black and brown people, like diversity is different, right? And so thinking about that and then thinking again about adding a book by a person of color, it does not constitute an anti-racist curriculum and definitely not anti-racist instruction. You can teach a book like The Hate You Give, in a way that is damaging. If you do not also understand the historical underpinnings, the context of that text, all the nuance that Angie Thomas is doing in that book, around code switching. If you don't have that kind of facility of knowledge and nuance, then you will potentially do damage to kids, not just the kids of color in the room, but also white children who are in the room who are looking to you as the person to lead them through these conversations.
Tricia: And that's the other thing that I want to point out too, which is that I think that there's a whole breadth and depth of black and brown excellence and talent and literacy and discourses that have not been taught in schools, that even myself as a teacher have not necessarily been taught. And so I have to recognize that that is a deficiency in me that I need to fix. That when I look at for example, I know that there is art that I have not...
Tricia: ... I look at, for example, I know that there is art that I don't have training to understand by black and brown people that I need to learn how to read. And that just because I don't know, I don't have access to those discourses doesn't mean that I can't, but I have to do the work to do it. And I simply can't dismiss those texts as not rigorous. Because, again, that word rigorous thrown around a lot. But when you do a critical reading of many texts, there are ways of unpacking that again, I don't think that many teachers are versed or practiced in doing yeah.
Sonja: Well, about 84% of teachers in the nation are white teachers. And certainly schooling in this country means that we haven't been taught to do that. To understand how to center the lives of anyone else other than white people. And to then learn about other ways of knowing and to recognize the brilliance of black and brown people. We have not been taught to do that. And I worry now that this effort to rush to books, to rush to diverse books, just sprinkling them in in our curriculum becomes the answer for some teachers. If I just get this book and put it in my curriculum, then I've done something. I'm not going to change, the curriculum isn't even going to change, and the instruction isn't going to change, but I'm just going to add in this book. And it absolutely, as you said, Trisha can cause more harm.
Sonja: And, and for all the reasons that you said, not understanding the nuance, not being able to recognize and teach the nuances of a book like the Hate You Give. And also, because there can be this, I don't know, this sort of like, "Let me just grab, brown folks on the cover and put them in." Not thinking about whether or not we are as Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas says, providing racialized mirrors and windows for kids. And not not thinking about the wide range of stories, the fullness of the humanity of black and brown people. And making sure that's represented in the literature that's brought into the classroom. So if you don't have a consciousness around that, then you absolutely can be harming kids in a multitude of ways.
Tricia: Yeah. And I know that seems overwhelming. You hear that, you're like, "Oh, well, I just can't do anything now." And that's not our message, our message is, this work is hard. You have to be willing to invest in doing that hard work. If you, if you're here feeling defensive and you're thinking, "Oh, well, I guess I just won't do anything. Or I guess now I can't do anything right." Part of the work is making mistakes. And you know what? Educators love to talk about resilience and grit. This is a time for teachers to build up their grit or resilience when it comes to anti-racist education. This is a time that where you're going to make mistakes and where I've made mistakes. And I think, "You know what, I screwed that up. I'm going to repair now." And that's part of the work. That's how we get better. That's what we'd expect of our kids.
Tricia: So when Sonja and I were talking and we kind of came to this conclusion, this whole conversation I think has been like the why. And I hope that in this conversation, you're thinking maybe, this is why we need to do this work. This moment, the history that has led up to this moment is why we need anti-racist instruction and racial equity and literacy. But thinking about it from the teacher's perspective, as a teacher, I have lots of tools. I have a tool in my 20 years now, almost of teaching. I have a tool for when a student is looking out the window and I know they're not paying attention to me, so I walk over them to kind of gently invite them back into the conversation.
Tricia: I have a tool for when a student is struggling with voice, knowing exactly the [inaudible 00:58:17] I need to give them, I have a tool for when kids they're struggling with their sentences. Sentence study is the tool. I have many tools. And so I guess the question is that what struck me is in all these requests for diverse texts and such. Is that it's clear that then when this moment happens and now all of a sudden, not all of a sudden, but with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbery and these events in the news. And then you're feeling perhaps as an educator needing to talk about these things. Because silence is not really an option here, it's just not. It's a form of gaslighting actually, when you just don't talk about what's happening in the world.
Tricia: Because it's coming into the classroom. And you think to yourself, "Okay, well, I want to do this stuff." And then you look in your toolbox and what strategies and tools do you have for this moment? And that's a question that each individual teacher is going to have to ask themselves. What is in my toolbox? If it feels uncomfortable to talk about race, that's a question, that means that you don't have tools in your toolbox. It means that the tools that you have for X, Y, or Z, the things that I mentioned about mentor texts and all of these things. Those are insufficient in this moment right now. And again, it was a moment and an opportunity for us to reflect on why that is and how then we can change this.
Sonja: Yeah. I mean, what I want educators to reckon with is this, when you, as you said, open the toolbox to advance the work of equity, particularly racial justice in this case, and you find the toolbox empty. You must be willing to ask yourself, where are my tools? Why don't I have them? What stopped me from developing any tools? And as you said, what's causing me to reach for them now? Because after the news cycle dies and we've seen this time and time again. Is the tendency to return to business as usual. So what will you do, educators, when this urge hits you? How will you resist and fight against this? Because what we're seeing right now in the world is not some sort of seismic shift in how the country operates in terms of race, not at all.
Sonja: We can't simply remove some Confederate monuments and flags and call ourselves done. We're not done until power systems shift and institutions change. And that won't happen, it won't happen in a whisper, and it won't happen with insufficient tools. So for example, the narrative around the protests right now, and all the rioting and the property and the da, da, da. What tools do you have? It could be the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "A riot is the language of the unheard." It could be the tool of Tony Morrison who talked about after the Los Angeles riots. How, what surprised her was how patient folks were, they waited and waited for justice and it didn't come. That's a tool, the tool of Ibram Kennedy's words about what a riot is and what a protest is. So your tools need to be sufficient. And if we don't fill our toolbox with them and make large sweeping, loud thunderous noises with those tools now, then we're not changing.
Tricia: If not now, then when? Which is a question that Dr. King asked in 1963.
Tricia: And so with that said, we want to invite you to participate this summer in the two institutes that Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul and I are offering humbly. We have [inaudible 01:02:58] July 13th and all verbal, we tend to do some changing around. So if you were interested in these before, when we were meeting in person back when we released this information in March, and you've been waiting patiently, thank you for your patience. But these two institutes will really be about those tools. And so the first theme is going to be about understanding systemic racism society, schools, and classrooms. And this is really going to be a systems approach. Looking, touching on some of the things that we talked about today. How have schools been really systems of racism in our country? And then looking then closely at our classrooms as systems and how we can start to disrupt and build our toolbox. We're disrupting the systemic racism that may be perpetuated in our ways of being in our classroom, or just for us to unpack some of those things. And Sonja, do you want to talk about session two?
Sonja: Yeah. Session two, we're going to be interrogating internalized racism in ourselves and in our practice. Just really being steeped in the knowledge that no one is unaffected by racists. As Dr. Kindie says, there is no such thing as not racist. And as Angela Davis says, "What we need now is not this idea of not racist. We need anti-racist practices." So by identifying our own personal relationship with race and racism, we are then better able to disrupt and dismantle the ways that our literacy practices may harm students and work towards this liberatory stance. And I think Tricia and I strongly believe that literacy instruction is a powerful tool for change, for racial justice. Just imagine how indigenous, black, and brown children and white children would show up right now in their lives and in their futures, having access to these tools that we hope to build with you at, at IREL 20, so that we can fill our toolboxes and get to work.
Tricia: Yeah. So we invite you to come if you can, if you are able. These two sessions are complementary in the sense that they complement one another. So not one is not required before you take the other. So you can just do one, you can just do the other, you can do both. But we invite you and hope that this conversation was a start. If you aren't able to come, we will be putting out things on Twitter and things like that. But registration, if it's not already open, it will be open. I believe it's open today. So you'll be able to go to the Heinemann website to register for that. You will also see that we have several wonderful facilitator presenters who are going to be with us during that week, because this is a partnership between Sonja and I, but honestly, we could not do this again, community and collaboration.
Sonja: Collective. That's right.
Tricia: So we haven't facilitators. We also have some guest speakers. We will have people from BARWE, which is the Building Anti-Racist White Educator Group. We have Randy Ribeye, who is going to speak also at one of the institutes. So we have these things lined up and we hope that you'll be able to join us in these conversations. Again, we just want to reiterate, beliefs matter and actions speak. What are our beliefs and what are the actions that we're going to take? So our two institutes will really be focused around these claims. That our current state of schooling is unacceptable in literacy, racial literacy, especially. The level of racial literacy that's developed in kids right now is unacceptable, which will require a fundamental re-imagining. And that the personal and professional are not separate. They are inseparable. Who you are as a person comes with you into the classroom.
Tricia: You cannot compartmentalize who you are. You just can't. And I think we can see that even, because I think when you see these social media posts of people who are saying obviously racist things, and you find out later that person's a teacher and you're like horrified. And then you're thinking, "Well, how has that been showing up?" I'm telling you that person has not been able to hide that in their classroom, it comes across. But that together teachers, students, and communities can come to be together as architects of this new system. And that again, if you think about the way our two institutes are working, we're thinking about what's the connection between the individual and the internal work and the community and systems work that we need to do? Because they inform each other. And so we need to unpack how that happens.
Tricia: And since we're out of time, we'll put a link to this video. Some of you may have already seen it. This is a wonderful video here. I don't want to spoil it for you, but I will tell you the one quote at the end that will come from this "When you know your why your what becomes more impactful because you're walking towards or in your purpose." And so when we think about our why, when it comes to anti racist work, anti-racist pedagogy, do we have the what's, the tools, the how's that we are going to be able to enact a new way of learning, thinking, and being in the world?
Tricia: So thank you. Thanks Sonja, for being here.
Sonja: Always great to chat with you. Looking forward to seeing everyone soon. Rolling up our sleeves together and engaging in this work.
Tricia: We will promise it'll be a week of hard thinking. And I think if you're not feeling uncomfortable, you're not working hard enough. So we'll leave you with that thought and hope to see you at the institutes. And if not at the institutes in any other way as we are both available on social media and our work is in many other places. So thanks everyone for joining us tonight.
Sonja: Thank you.