Today on the podcast we have another conversation from our new ForwardED slow conference series. Today’s conversation features Robert Kim, Cornelius Minor, and Kass Minor.
Bob Kim is a leading expert in education law and policy in the United States. He is a former civil rights attorney, and author of the book Elevating Equity and Justice: Ten U.S. Supreme Court Cases Every Teacher Should Know.
Cornelius Minor is a Brooklyn-based educator. He works with teachers, school leaders, and leaders of community-based organizations to support equitable literacy reform. He is the author of We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be
Kass Minor is an inclusive educator who is deeply involved in local, inquiry-based teacher research and school community development. She has contributed content to the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Edutopia, Heinemann Education Blog, inclusiveclassrooms.org, and more.
Together they discuss the recent slew of so-called anti-CRT legislation, and how educators can remain dedicated to students and equity amidst it all.
This conversation is part of Heinemann’s new video series ForwardED: Forward, Together in Education. If you would like to watch the full videos of this and other conversations, you can find them on the Heinemann Publishing Facebook page or YouTube Channel.
Below is a transcript of this episode.
Bob: I really want, it's so great to be here, with my illustrious coauthors and presenters here Kass Minor and Cornelius Minor. I'm Bob Kim, I am a writer. I write about legal and education policy issues. And I have had a career for about two decades as a civil rights attorney, primarily working on discrimination and civil rights issues in public education and also working on federal education policy. And with that, I'd like to turn it over to Kass.
Kass: Hey everyone. Thanks Bob. So I'm so excited to be in such great company today. A fun fact, Bob, Cornelius and I, of course, Cornelius and I live in Brooklyn, but Bob does too. So we're so excited to be doing this with a neighbor. So my work is really based on how children experience school and learning in classrooms. And so I have been a Brooklyn-based educator for my entire adult career. So for almost 20 years now, and part of that work really requires me to check out the communities that surround me understanding what's happening in the world around me and figure out what my next steps are based on what I know to be best learning practices. And so I'm excited to have almost always done that with my partner Cornelius here in some kind of way. So I'll let him say a few things about himself too.
Cornelius: Yes and thank you, Kass and Bob, for those of you who are joining us, my name is Cornelius. I am a middle school literacy coach and educator I'm based in Brooklyn, alongside Kass and so it's a real joy to be here, literally alongside my favorite lawyer and my favorite educator. So this is really exciting. Yes.
Bob: Awesome. And so today, everyone, we are going to talk about this a relatively recent development around critical race theory. And as many of you know, in recent months and over the past year, these so-called anti-critical race theory laws have really cropped up in many states around the country. And today we're going to examine what the current and the potential impact of these so-called anti-CRT or critical race theory laws are on teaching and on professional development in K-12 schools. So that's our topic today. And we really look forward to kind of delving into this. And Cornelius why don't you sort of, moderate our first little part of this conversation here?
Cornelius: Well, you know, Bob, like I was so excited for this conversation just because I think so much about this as you know, the work that Kass and I do in schools is work about creating rich, loving, powerful, and affirming environments for children. And so as this conversation has started, one of the things that teachers all over the country are wondering, is what exactly is critical race theory. And what's in these anti-CRT laws, that we don't even know where they came from. It's like they showed up all of a sudden. Talk about that a little bit Bob.
Bob: Yeah, I mean, let's try to do this, break this down in a nutshell here. From my understanding, I was a law student I'll date myself here, but in the early and mid nineties, I was a law student and critical race theory was just becoming popularized in law schools around the country. It's primarily a legal thing. It's an intellectual movement that really came of age in the nineties. And it sprang up from the feminist legal theory and critical legal studies movements, all of which were trying to examine institutions of law and examine how power operates in our society and how it affects legal institutions. And so critical race theory was really grappling with race and how that is constructed in the U.S and how it operates and it effects, our legal institutions and lots of law professors primarily, were writing about it, in really interesting and novel ways using personal narratives and other forms of describing how race impacts United States. So that's what critical race theory is, but then like we have this what's happening now, which actually doesn't really bear that much resemblance to that really heady wonky, CRT. This is the CRT developments, for me, it was dormant outside of academia, I was like, I never even heard of CRT as a practicing civil rights lawyer for the next 15 years, but it came back up about a year ago when the Trump administration passed a federal memo and then an executive order, which was talking about being critical of white privilege, the concept of white privilege and trying to stop training, certainly at the federal level, but then now moving on to schools, training around concepts of white privilege, or any suggestions that the United States or any person in it is inherently racist or sexist and trying to stop "scapegoating" of people based on their race or sex, i.e. primarily, I think it's directed toward the scapegoating of people in positions of power, whether they're white people or whether they're men, right? So it was really trying to, you know it was a political year, so this came up in a political context, but that was the Trump executive order that passed, and it primarily affected federal contractors, not schools directly. So long way of saying that, that executive order went into effect, it was eventually kind of stopped by a federal court. And Biden, when President Biden was elected, he rescinded that executive order.
So that's no longer in effect, but what came out of that is a proliferation of bills and proposals in many, many states around the country at the state level, to kind of replicate that executive order. So now you have 20 proposals in the majority of states that have these bills that are trying to stop the suggestion that anybody is inherently racist in our country, or that anyone bears responsibility for the past actions of other members of their own race, or that anyone should experience so-called, "discomfort or anguish" based on their own race or their own sex.
So that's really the what's happening now in over half of the states and a handful of states about nine or 10 or so have now passed laws that in fact, codify these kinds of provisions. So that's a nutshell of like where we are now with CRT, and I'll just start by saying, and pass it over to Kass that, we'll talk about this more, but the laws do exist in several states, but you can still teach about race and sex, and racism and sexism in public schools, you can still train about anti-racism and anti sexism and diversity training in public schools, and so we wanna distinguish between what these laws say, and what's on the books versus what people still can do, and I hope we'll take away from this presentation that you still can teach about race and sex and civil rights and social justice in public schools. And with that, I'll turn it over to the Kass to sort of fill in everything that I might've forgotten.
Kass: Firstly, thank you so much for that really clear definition of exactly what is CRT and where does it come from? You know just like you Bob, it has been a really long time since I have delved into, reading specifically about critical race theory as coined by researchers and whatnot. And it's interesting because as an educator, somebody who works in lots of different schools, I now am reading laws like I have never read laws before. So for folks who are listening, Adweek has a really incredible resource, it has a map and you can hover around the different states and you can look at what kinds of laws are being proposed or what laws have been enacted. And Bob, the thing that I want to ask you about, right? Is I'm reading some of these laws and A, I am thoroughly confused now by my own understanding of CRT versus what the laws or proposed litigation is saying, educators can and cannot do.
So I'm wondering, I wanna read a little section of the law in Texas SB3, that's been posed, and maybe you could just help us understand, like, what do we do with this? Because as an educator, I'm like a little worried, like can I act as I normally have, or do I need to be like rethinking how I present myself or information in this community? So in Texas, there is a piece that says something like, media literacy, including instruction on verifying information and sources, identifying and responding to logical fallacies and identifying propaganda as appropriate for the grade level and consistent with the restrictions under section 28.0022. So I'm A, little bit like, whoa, after I read that, I was like, oh, I'm teaching like logical fallacies and I'm digging into propaganda, right? But then there's like this piece, that's talking about restrictions and I'm like, oh, what restrictions? How do I need to move? So a lot of educators, I'm sure are feeling the same way I am, can you tell us, how do we navigate all of this? It's so confusing.
Bob: Yeah, welcome to the frustrating and maddening world of legal, statutory interpretation, right? Once you get into the subsection, A.I.1, and being bopped around to different portions of these laws, it gets a little crazy even for lawyers. But, it's interesting because all of these laws, I've studied many of them as have you Kass, They purport to prohibit a whole bunch of things related to race or sex, but then when you read them, it's actually, there's a lot of exceptions to that and loopholes, and also there's a lot of parts of these laws that say, you actually should teach about historical concepts around race, the civil rights movement, in that same bill that you were just reading from, Kass. It starts out with a litany of things that social studies educators and professional development trainers in Texas should and even must teach about. I mean, you name it, related to all kinds of issues around slavery and the history of slavery and race in the United States, the Fugitive Slave Act, Martin Luther king, letters from a Birmingham jail, many, many specific concepts around race and sex. So it's sort of like they speak out of both sides of their mouths where it's like something's prohibited, but then when you read between the lines, there's actually not much if at all, that educators can't do or say around race, for example, just isolate race issues for a minute. And really the laws in many states, they say whatever your academic standards say, as an educator, you know, for core social studies content, language arts content, stick to that, you're still held to what you should cover in terms of what your state standards require.
And so you really get a sense after reading these bills, that teachers really still have an obligation to grapple with their students around issues around race and sex and there's really just some themes, some feelings that certain legislators just didn't feel good about like messages around children, for example, being made to feel like they're inherently racist because they're white, for example. And I don't know of any teachers or professional development trainers, I'll pass it over to you too, that go around like sort of making everyone in the room feel like they're inherently racist, as a feeling that you should walk away from this training for, now that's different from talking about structural racism and privilege, which does get into those concepts of, how do you unpack that and make educators and kids understand that, but that's different from some of these narrow provisions in these laws that are saying, nobody should be made to feel that they're inherently less than or unequal. And of course, we're trying to do the opposite as educators and trainers, we're trying to instill concepts of equity, right? And equality and equity, and that everyone deserves to be on equal footing in schools. So that's a quick reaction Kass to sort of the language that you were mentioning.
Kass: Yeah, thank you so much Bob. So Cornelius and I wanna talk, expand a little bit about what we are noticing and witnessing in the communities that we work in. You know, it's interesting when we think about, all of these lawmakers and politicians, who are fearing specifically for white children who develop this sort of like guilt from being taught about, real history. And the thing that I have to say about that is like, it really depends on your positionality and your identity and where you're coming from in terms of what you're noticing about how people are perceiving this information. Cornelius and I often work together in schools and I am a White woman, he is a Black man, and we notice things from very different positions and we'll surface like different information based on who we are. And that's a conversation that this country, for a long time, for about 30 years, a lot of folks, I remember I went to school in the 80s and early 90s, I was taught like colorblind was like the way to go, right? So for a great while in this country, many of us, including myself, are taught, everybody is the same inside. Like don't judge somebody by the color of their skin, but also like erase all of the culture that they're bringing to the table.
And so part of what I see happening from my vantage point is like you have a lot of folks in this country who have never really had to consider White racial identity development, and now schools are taking what, schools and the people within them, are taking what we know to be, what children need to learn in the best kinds of ways to have the best learning experiences, which is to see their whole selves and to have their identities affirmed and their culture represented within school communities and their culture represented in how we choose instructional methodologies. All of those things are, it's great like we're considering all of those things now. And so for me, I interpret the threat in terms of all of the proliferate, excuse me, proliferation of CRT laws being in response to, things feel really differently in a school community now, because people are moving to shift the culture to be far more inclusive and far more responsive to all of the children that are attending school. We're not sort of like teaching to this, one size fits all model, which is beautiful and which is what we know is best for children. But I know like as I'm partnering with Cornelius, like he has completely different noticings and experiences by way of his identity and his positionality.
Bob: What you are experiencing since these laws have been coming to the fore, what have you noticed as a trainer, professional development expert and as educators.
Cornelius: You know, and I think the powerful thing Bob is that it's not an accident that all of these things are happening now. When we consider the last 18 months that we've had from pandemic, to protest, to insurrection, right? That there's a real grappling in this historical moment with what the future can look like. I always go back to Arundhati Roy's essay, "The Pandemic is a Portal," right? And this idea that this pandemic put our American culture in a situation where we get to decide what's next. And there were a lot of folks who came together around the murders of Brianna Taylor and George Floyd, who said, what's next must be just for all people, what's next must see every human, right? What's next must guarantee access for everyone, right? And as people started pushing toward that, there are people in power who started pushing back. And so this anti CRT movement is really, like you said earlier, an effort by people in power to sidestep conversations about, and responsibility for the historical wrongs that gave them all their power, right? Because now you've got teachers who are asking questions, let's actually talk about red lighting in Chicago, let's actually talk about gerrymandering in Georgia, and when we teach kids about those things, kids start to look around and they start to ask questions, Well, the way things are is because of these things that have secured power for a few and denied power to many, right?
And so we have these conflicts, but here's how it shows up in classrooms, right? For me, it is, it shows up, what I'm seeing is a lot of bullying that these laws, are flimsy laws, and we know that they're flimsy, they won't hold up if ever challenged, right? But what these laws have done is they have empowered people to now run up to the school and threaten the principal, right? They've empowered people to call their teacher and demand change to any curriculum that doesn't sit well with them, that doesn't support the narrative view of America that they want to champion for their children. And so I really think that parents and caregivers are confused right now, specifically those parents and caregivers who are targeted, specifically by people who want to keep status quo as it always has been. And so we're seeing a lot of that, teachers are scared and because they're scared, they're avoiding these things altogether, right? And so I'm so glad that you said, yes, we can continue to teach, in powerful, affirming and developmentally appropriate ways, yes We can continue to be historically accurate, yes we can continue to support all students, not just white students, not just wealthy students, not just straight students, it's not just boys, And so I get really, really worried when I think about what I'm seeing, you know, because not everybody has these conversations, you know?
And so I'm hoping that this can allow people to kind of have the kind of comfort because, one of the things that I'm seeing in the face of all this bullying, right? You've got, a few in communities who have been empowered by these laws to now threaten people, and because of all this bullying, people don't want the drama, you know we're teachers, right? We're relatively conflict and risk averse. So if there's going to be a parent who comes up to my room and threatens me, even though I know I'm doing the right thing, I'm just gonna be a lot quieter about doing the right thing. And that's exactly what they want, right? That we've been really loud about justice, we've really loud about every student, we've been really loud about access, we've been really loud about making sure that every kid finds a home in a classroom, and so all of these voices seek to quiet that.
Kass: And Bob, I wanna segue and saying that, for many educators like, this work I will say, even two years ago, this worked for us, a more socially just classrooms, to creating more inclusive spaces, to really understanding ourselves and each other, doing a lot of like identity work and historically responsive literacy within professional learning, it felt like a really joyful pursuit, it felt like, okay, this is hard, but we're in this together and I have my community support. So now it feels very different, right? Like now people are leaning towards like this, for some folks, it feels like the treacherous risk by doing things that we know are good for children, by creating a community circle, doing identity maps, for example. I know there are a lot of educators who are questioning like, oh my God, like, am I gonna get fired for doing this? Will I be, like in Arizona I see there's a fine for $5,000, not necessarily for that activity, but for things that the State of Arizona is defining as a CRT practice? Here in New York city teachers get letters in their files, although like we live in a geopolitically different landscape and folks in Arizona, we definitely have pockets, like Cornelius was talking about of caregivers and parents who are essentially bullying schools demanding that this meritocracy still exists. And so I guess my question for you, Bob is, how can professional learning experts like me and Cornelius respond? How do we advise school principals to support teachers in this pursuit that felt really great as close as two years ago? That feels completely different within the political landscape we're in now.
Bob: Yeah. Well this is a great question, Kass and I wanna think about it for a second. I mean, first of all, I just wanna appreciate what both of you have said around the climate of fear and bullying and the impulse to stay quiet, and perhaps as a reaction to some of the progress that we've made and the awakening that's happened in the past year and a half or two around issues around race. So that was very... I wanna underscore that 'cause that's really stuck with me. And in terms of the response, I mean, I guess I have sort of some general thoughts and then some specific concrete thoughts, and maybe I'll just stick to the general for now, but one is just really, understanding that as people committed to, educators committed to social justice and teaching about equity in this country, and civics frankly, because it's just so important we know it's more important than ever for students to learn about the underpinnings of democracy and certainly how race, sex and other issues of identity have impacted the country and our democracy.
So it's so important, and I think it's important for us to, in general terms, to take the long view here and understand that issues around the curriculum and conflicts about certain topical matters, it's not new, we all know that this has happened every couple of years, every decade or so. There's another kind of cultural conflict around the curriculum. In years past we've had strife around bilingual education or ethnic studies, we've also had, and I was a part of this movement or struggle in the late 90s and early 2000s, around LGBTQ issues and sort of, can we teach issues around LGBT Q identity or equity in public schools? Or should we keep that out, because it's somehow inappropriate? And even further back, sort of discussions around sex ed, is that appropriate for children to learn about sexuality or even evolution, right? Like sort of, should we have... Are we allowed to teach about evolution or should we somehow in certain states talk more and stick more to religious notions of how the world was created? So these issues, I've just bring them up to say that this is something that happens periodically in our country.
So we need to understand that take the long view that, we need to persist and be sure that we hit our mark with the concepts and learnings that we want to deliver for children in schools, and understand that, that we still can move forward with this education and that this is no different from things that have happened in the past. We also wanna protect ourselves in a way, and maybe I'll just start to get a little bit more specific, try not to talk too long here, but I think we want to protect ourselves as educators and as, as professional development experts going into public schools. We want to know in advance because the laws are on the books in some states, we wanna know in advance, well, what are any issues that, the school may be feeling uncomfortable with around this education, whether I'm a teacher in the classroom, or whether I'm a professional development expert coming in to do a training for teachers. Try to, with this new reality in certain states with the laws around the books, try to figure out in advance, whether there are any potential issues or concerns that the school is raising, or the administrators are raising around teachings around race or sex and try to work through those in advance. Because the last thing we wanna do or experience is to be pulled from the microphone right before we get up there, or as we're starting to deliver a lesson or a unit on racism to our students to have the principal kind of yank us and pull us aside into the hallway and sort of have a big discussion right then and there.
So I would say one thing is to really focus on working through these issues in advance. And it does take some understanding, which we could certainly follow up from this presentation and provide some professional development around learning a little bit what these laws and policies are actually saying. And then reconciling that against what the school district they're saying, 'cause they may not match up the school may have a whole bigger set of concerns than what's actually in the laws. And then reconciling those two things with what our own content is from our own body of expertise. And those things may be very different, and I think helping the school understand what we're about in our teaching and what we're trying to present and sort of the learning outcomes from our trainings or our units, helping schools to understand the difference between what we're talking about and what their fears are, I think is a crucial sort of thing to work out prior to those units or trainings actually happening. So that's one concrete thing I would really suggest, and I don't know if there are others and if you guys wanna add onto that.
Cornelius: Oh, that's so powerful, Bob. It reminds me of what Kass and I say to each other and say to the teachers that we support all the time, that when we think about the work of culturally sustaining practices or culturally responsive practices, practices that center children, Kass and I always, smile at each other, and we say that we are radically pro kid, right? And we know that we're talking to so many teachers out here who are listening alongside us. And what that means is it goes back to John Dewey and those notions of what a democratic education is, right? That it is our work to help children to create opportunities for themselves, right? That in a democracy, the job of a public educator is to create opportunities for kids and to eventually teach kids to create opportunities for themselves. But in a democracy, we have a unique calling, right? That when kids learn to create opportunities for themselves, they must do so with respect to our environment and to the myriad communities of people that share our country, right?
And so one of the things that I always remind educators is that anything that bridges or threatens opportunity for a child is in our way as educators, right? And so when we think about what we teach, right? that one of the things that I know is that kids being in communities where they don't have access to adequate food, is in the way of opportunity. So that's work that we teach kids to overcome, right? Or kids being in communities where women don't have access to powerful forms of employment, right? That's our work so that the next generation does have access. And so whenever people come and they say, well, you're talking to kids about women and employment and that's political, you can't do that. Well, these kids are in a community where women are underemployed, two to one, and so that is our work. if we are educators in a democracy is teaching kids how to, to expand opportunity in their communities.
And so for our listeners out here, we just wanna remind you, that yeah, that we get to remain steadfast. I love Bob's idea of being informed, but being informed doesn't mean I get informed and then I stop, being informed means I get informed and I remain steadfast to the community, to the opportunities available to the kids in the community. And one of the things that I would add Bob is, recently I've been practicing a lot, you know? And so preparing for those moments when the principal wants to pull me into the hallway and ask me a question, or preparing for those moments when a parent has something to say, that these are certainties now in this political ecosystem, right? I know that there'll be parents with questions because this is confusing, I know that there'll be principals who don't understand exactly 100% of everything that I'm doing. And so seeing those questions, not as a threat, but seeing those questions as a real opportunity to engage in discourse that can make this better for all of our students is really exciting for me.
Bob: Absolutely, Kass, you wanna get the last word on this, on what you would suggest or questions coming?
Kass: Sure, I think that, the things that I'd like to share with our listeners really, I know that a lot of educators are craving well, okay, what are some concrete things that I can do to like build my path and moving forward from this conversation that we're having now. I know the CRT laws exist, I know I wanna work towards a socially just space and include all of my kids in the conversation, I know that parents are confused right now, so what's next. So the things that I'd like to talk about for just a moment here are, specifically for educators or facilitators of professional learning, I'd like just to share like Cornelius and me, like how we move and proceed in spaces where kids and families are in front of us, are in close proximity to the conversation. And the first thing I will say is that, what we did 10, 15, 20 years ago it's very similar to what we're doing now, like a lot of what is happening now and there are just these like scary labels put on them by politicians, right? So I found like the best card I have to play is to share what I know and educate folks on issues and concepts that have been immensely hyperbolized by the news media, or oftentimes documented incompletely.
So first and foremost, not just as an educator of children, but I've always found it, my job is to educate, you know my background, I worked as a special educator for many, many years and a lot of the tension that I experienced in the school community was simply because parents and caregivers were misinformed and the level of transparency was not great. And so you increase your level of transparency, you're very explicit in what you're doing and why you're doing it and when it's gonna happen. And you'll find that the tensions that you once experienced often decrease, and you actually like build a relationship with the people who were questioning of your practice. That the next thing I have a little list, and then I'll just, throw it over to you
Bob: Yeah, I'm all ears here, this is great.
Kass: And the next thing I'll say, which is similar to what you were talking about Bob is, preparation is key. I think that sometimes we educators get into a rut where we feel like we can execute, like similar unit plans that we've done in the past so that we know like this read aloud, like to its core. And I will say that I still practice what I'm gonna do, I still thoughtfully and intentionally create curriculum and facilitation plans for every community and group of people, whether it be kids or teachers that I work with. And I think sometimes in our profession, we take it for granted that we've been doing this for a while and we know what we're doing, but I now know that I need to be able to cite, like childhood development, for example, I do a lot of work with social literacy in young learners and oftentimes like, there's this thing, well, the kids are too innocent, like they can't have this conversation, where it's actually like, well... And childhood development, when kids are like four to six years old, their brains are right to understand this information about who they are and who the peers who surround them are, And they're totally ready to have a conversation about cultural backgrounds and identity. We know that babies from like six months old recognize like skin color and they interpret humans according to their shades of skin, and so to give them language around that, equips them for a more understanding and connective experience in later years. And if we don't do that, we're just really setting ourselves up for a dangerous political landscape and further exacerbating the divisiveness that exists now. You know, there's frameworks, right?
When you're developing your curriculum, we do it with like thoughtfulness, so like Cornelius and I are big Graham Wiggins fans, like when we do curricular design with teachers, we literally like document that stuff like very explicitly. So knowing your why, and knowing your how, and doing your when are really, really essential in this landscape. Then finally, and I want Corn to talk about this a little bit too, 'cause this is really, one of his very special spots in work is thinking about the ecosystem of school in general. I think in the past, we teachers have been able to get away with like, we're gonna read this read aloud with our group of kids, and like, nobody's gonna say boo about it. But now we are faced with this political landscape where if we choose a text, even something like "I Dissent," the picture book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, parents and caregivers have been giving teachers pushback on reading a text like that, right? So I know that all the decisions I make have to be developed from a place of deep conviction. So that is whatever I'm doing, I have a very strong idea of why I'm doing it, and it's developed from a place of deep listening around my school community, so I'm taking what my kids are questioning about and taking what I understand about who they are and then making decisions about which books I'm gonna read in context to the standards I'm supposed to be teaching. And it's gotta be grounded in sound research base as much as possible, I am always telling school communities, I mean, really that's stuff you learn in undergrad school when you're becoming like an educator about learning theory, like that's important, it's important to know the why's of your curricular decisions. And then, like Corn said before, the priority consideration is always the kids, who are they? What do they know? And what do they need? Those are like my... Like, that's my modus operandi when I'm in a school community. Corn has a very special way of navigating all of this, like really thinking about concrete steps too, so Corn, do you wanna add onto anything I talked about or give some more specifics?
Cornelius: You know, the word that Kass that I use all the time is love. Like what does it mean to love kid? You know that every teacher has come to this profession because they love kids. And so as we have matured in the profession, I have really sought to quantify love, like, what does love look like in first period? What does love look like when I'm standing at the door? But what does a level look like when I'm reading a story? And so for me, there are two aspects of love that factor into our conversation today, that that part of loving kids is meeting them at their aspirations. You know that when kids come to a classroom, it's not just I wanna be an astronaut or I wanna be a firefighter, but so many kids come to us, I wanna live in a community where I'm safe, I wanna live in a community where I have consistent food, I wanna live in a community where women don't get taken advantage of, right?
And so I think about those aspirations and I think about what tools do I need to give you, when you're seven, when those are your aspirations, right? And then how do those tools differ, than the tools that I give you if you're 14 or 18, right? And one of the things that we talked about a lot this year during the pandemic was food stability. You know that we were on zoom with kids every morning, and so we saw it when they miss breakfast, we saw it when they didn't have lunch, right? And so to be on a zoom, alongside a kid when they didn't have lunch or breakfast, and to know that intimately, that means that, okay, I've gotta design the kind of teaching that can help this eight year old to access food if they don't have it. So I get to talk kids about food ways, and I get to talk to kids about where vegetables come from, I get to talk to kids about food apartheid, right? And why is it in some neighborhoods that we have fresh vegetables, and in other neighborhoods we can only get access to processed foods, right? That if a kid is old enough to talk about how hungry they are, now they're old enough to talk about like food, right? And so those are the things. So like when I think about love, I think about meeting kids at their aspiration, but then I also think about a powerful curriculum in school must also meet kids at their questions, right? And so if a kid is mature enough to come to school and ask a question, well, Mr. Minor, why didn't that woman get what she needed in the community? Or why is that man homeless? If they're old enough to ask the question, they're old enough to learn the answer, right? And so talking to the kids about, unhoused communities, or talking to kids about, the legacy of patriarchy in this country, I don't have to use those words, but when kids ask, well, why is it that a lot of women in our community don't have jobs? I get to talk to them about, well, here's how the jobs are set up. And sometimes it's fair, and sometimes it's not fair. Like we've all played on the playground, we know what fair looks like, right? And so I don't have to use legal terminology to talk to kids, I can summon their schema to talk to them about these things. And so I think moving forward for us, it must be about moving from a place of love. Like meeting kids specifically at their level of aspiration and meeting kids specifically at their questions. If we do those things, we'll never be wrong and will never be on the wrong side of the law, so.
Bob: What does love look like? That's so amazing. I think, this has been really powerful, I wanna sort of wrap up here and sort of get into, we've been talking about what is CRT, what's going on in our schools and communities right now, and how can we react to this and prepare for what's happening right now? And I wanted to just conclude by saying, and of course, and ask you both a final question around self-care and support for educators and trainers in this time, like, sort of what we can do to not only prepare, but to support ourselves and to really take care of ourselves because it is hard. And I've talked to both of you at length about this, it's hard to persist sometimes, it's hard when you don't feel necessarily safe, either yourselves or in communities where there's a lot of foment around issues around race or sex or power right now. So one final question for each of you is just sort of how do we grapple with that? How do we take care of ourselves?
Kass: Thank you, Bob. I think that's probably the most important conversation for all of this, any of this conversation to be, right? And with an asterisk note, I would say this is something that Cornelius and I are still working on developing in our own practice, like this idea of self-care, I think people who are in our role are really good at caring for others, but when it comes to taking a step back and thinking about your own needs, it's a challenge. So I will say like community is essential, nobody can do this work alone. And I think for people who are working in schools, like in a similar role that, me and Cornelius have been doing a lot of professional learning and partnering, the first question I always have with people who are leading these movements is, who's your partner, or like who's in your circle that you're having conversations with, I do think at this point to partner with somebody and not help them build a circle of community that's centered in love and care, it's irresponsible because this is, for many people, it's very consuming. The other thing I'll say just about caring and just like longevity in this work, I think that commitment piece is so essential. This might sound silly to people, but I know it's hard and it's hard to imagine it moving forward, or to imagine yourself having a courageous conversation with an angry parent, but I do a lot of like self visualization work.
So I often I please don't laugh, but I imagined myself as like, wonder woman, there's this scene in the first wonder woman where she's on like the Western Front in Europe, and she has her arms at X and she's battling all of this bullets off, and that's sometimes like when I go into the school community and I know it's gonna be hard, and when I'm working, partnering with a teacher and I know it's gonna be hard, I just like lock in. I love them up, and I just, with that deep conviction, I was like, we're gonna do this and it's gonna be great for the kids. And nine times out of 10, the kids are like, this is the best lesson I've ever had and they'd go home and tell their parents and their parents even if they get a pushback are like, wow, my kid had a great day at school. And so I know maybe that's not essentially self-care, but in a way, it kind of like, I don't know, coincides with the experience of like being in community in deep care and love with partners in your work. And then also loving yourself and believing in yourself enough that you can do this and having a strategy in your mind that is going to like help you persevere in those hardest moments, it's so essential. So that's what gets me through.
Cornelius: I know.
Bob: I love it, great.
Bob: Cornelius and now you get the last word here, on loving yourself, how do you love yourself?
Cornelius: You know, I thought, everything Kass says, but one of the things that I'm learning, from the great Simone Biles in this moment, something that we have learned from generations of Black women before her, and I keep repeating to myself, like, no is a complete sentence. That we don't have to do all the things as educators, right? That we do the things that impact students, we do the things that help to sustain them in their communities, but there are these other things that we've been drawn into, and so in this political ecosystem, people wanna draw us into debates or they wanna draw us into arguments, or they wanna draw us into provide me with all the evidence that you have, or provide me with all the lesson plans that you have. And so I have been remembering and reminding myself and the people that I love, that no is a complete sentence, that I owe these people anything, I owe these people nothing, I owe my students everything, but at least people nothing, right? And that's part of the game, right? That one of the roles of political detractors is to keep you busy from doing your actual work, right? That, you know the great Toni Morrison talked about that is the function of racism, right? That racism keeps you busy doing other people's stuff so that you can't get to the stuff that matters in your community. And so I am committed to the stuff that matters to my community, and I am okay with saying no, to other people's stuff.
Bob: Amazing, amazing. And so we're gonna leave there. And I've really enjoyed this conversation with both you Kass and you Cornelius. And I hope that we can, we've given the listeners some fodder here to say no, when they need to, for self-care, as you said, Cornelius and also to say, yes when you want to persist, when you want to learn how to get through this sort of policy, these policy hurdles and questions that we're having right now, that you can get the information and you can really gain the knowledge of what actually do these laws say, and what is my intent and my content? And how can I advocate for myself and to make sure that my content is both acting with love toward the students, and also complying with these laws and understanding that by and large, there are ways for creative and smart educators to comply with laws, but also to deliver the content that they need to deliver. So I love this conversation, I'm so happy to be with both of you and I hope that everyone out there got something out of it.
Kass: Great, thank you so much Bob, this was a dream for Cornelius and me to spend an afternoon talking to you and what a great opportunity for us to connect with so many folks who are listening and I know that this is going to be a, especially that first part, Bob, where you're referencing these laws, it's gonna be such a great resource for us to share with so many folks we know who have some of the questions that we addressed together today. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Bob: Thank you both. Take care.
Robert (Bob) Kim is a leading expert in education law and policy in the United States.
A former civil rights attorney, Bob is the co-author of Education and the Law, 5thed. and Legal Issues in Education: Rights and Responsibilities in U.S. Public Schools Today (West Academic Publishing, 2019 & 2017). He also wrote Let’s Get Real: Lessons and Activities to Address Name-calling & Bullying (Groundspark, 2004) and has advised thousands of educators on civil rights and school climate issues in public schools.
You can find Bob on Twitter @bob__kim
Cornelius Minor is a Brooklyn-based educator. He works with teachers, school leaders, and leaders of community-based organizations to support equitable literacy reform in cities (and sometimes villages) across the globe. His latest book, We Got This, explores how the work of creating more equitable school spaces is embedded in our everyday choices—specifically in the choice to really listen to kids. He has been featured in Education Week, Brooklyn Magazine, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He has partnered with The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, The New York City Department of Education, The International Literacy Association, and Lesley University’s Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative. Out of Print, a documentary featuring Cornelius made its way around the film festival circuit, and he has been a featured speaker at conferences all over the world. Most recently, along with his partner and wife, Kass Minor, he has established The Minor Collective, a community-based movement designed to foster sustainable change in schools. Whether working with educators and kids in Los Angeles, Seattle, or New York City, Cornelius uses his love for technology, hip-hop, and social media to bring communities together. As a teacher, Cornelius draws not only on his years teaching middle school in the Bronx and Brooklyn, but also on time spent skateboarding, shooting hoops, and working with young people.
Kass Minor is an inclusive educator who is deeply involved in local, inquiry-based teacher research and school community development. Alongside partnerships with the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project and the New York City Department of Education, since 2005, she has worked as a teacher, staff developer, adjunct professor, speaker, and documentarian. She has contributed content to the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Edutopia, Heinemann Education Blog, inclusiveclassrooms.org, and has been featured in KQED Mindshift, Parents Magazine, Teaching Tolerance Magazine and the critically acclaimed New York Times Serial Podcast, Nice White Parents.
Follow Kass @MsKass1