Lessons from Charlottesville: The Pedagogy of Race


The events of Charlottesville, while deeply troubling, are part of a long history of race and injustice in America. The media cycle has played out predictably: righteous anger by people of conscience, strong and middling condemnations from liberal and conservative leaders, protests and counter-protests. And then there is President Trump. He has never been an example of a profile of courage. His true north is to stoke the flames of racial antagonism. His refusal to give a full throated condemnation of neo Nazis in particular and white supremacy in general is, well, SAD.

Leaving aside Trump’s moral equivocations for the moment, the question before us is this: how can we, educators, activists and people interested in social justice, proceed? This is a question of particular interest to me who is in business of training the next generation of teachers. August is the moment when summer is winding down for most people. My news feed is filled with those enjoying the last bit of summer break. For teachers, however, August is do-or-die time. Teachers are feverishly planning for the upcoming year right now. As educators are editing lessons plans, mastering national and state standards, and decorating classrooms, my exhortation is consider race in the classroom.

The lesson from Charlottesville is that racial injustice in America is an active and living entity. It has not been relegated to a historical matter. I believe that education, as first exemplified in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, has always an area for civil rights activism. Teachers who acknowledge fully that there is an education gap between the achievement between minority and white students can go about addressing it. They must craft a culture of inclusion that flattens privilege and truly believes in the success of all students. This is where the best practices enter the conversation. Those teachers during August must also craft a genuinely multicultural curriculum, which is based on the high standards of each discipline.

Yes, teachers are on the front lines and have an incredibly difficult job. Race is here. Those educators whose mission is to instruct young people in the highest tradition of a liberal arts curriculum cannot ignore race. Not in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

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