9th LRA Research to Practice Show: Critical Race Theory

This month I had the pleasure to host the 9th Research to Practice show. We discussed Critical Race Theory with some of the leading scholars in the field.

This was followed up by the #literacies chat on CRT

I had a few takeaways from the conversations. First narratives matters. Race influences every aspect of life and the stories we tell must address CRT. Furthermore these narratives, or the role of narratives face a constant attack. Finally we can draw connections to other theories to make sure CRT remains a constant lens in our classroom.

The Importance of Narrative

We spent time defining narratives, counter narratives, and master narratives. We also discussed how we need to recognize and expand new forms of texts in these narratives. Texts like wall space, spoken word, or tattoos all matter. These narratives help shape the role.

The panelists also believed that the work of CRT begins by  building narratives for both agency and social activity. Students and more importantly need to reflect on how race shapes lives. They need to develop narratives that explore their own identity work. Our story help shape our identity and our identity shapes our agency, and our agency allows us to use language in meaningful ways for social good.

Narratives under Attack

Panelists also agreed that the role of narratives are under attack from many directions. For example the NCTQ report on teacher preparation bemoaned any reading program that had teachers discussing and developing personal philosophies. From a CRT lens teachers need to formulate these narratives to understand the influence of race on education.

Narratives are also under attack from the so-called edreform community. The Common Core State Standards downplay the role of writing personal narratives. In fact, David Coleman, author the standards said the problem with personal exposition is, “as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a shit what you think or feel.” Nothing could be further from the truth or the principles of CRT.

Naratives are also under attack by the defnining master narrative of the “acheivement gap” if you read the supporters of CCSS and edreform our schools suffer not because of race and poverty but due to low standards and bad teachers. The idea that you support the status quo if you do not agree with a domiance of accountability based reform permeates conversations about schooling.

Narratives are also under attack at the curriculum level. The debate about Caulkins’ “Balanced Literacy” versus the Core Knowledge Program is a prime example. Edreformers claim that the program does not work for brown and black babies. They say  Balanced Literacy  is only effective for babies born in brownstones. At the heart of this balanced literacy program is choice and differentiation. Teachers want to build in a love for reading for pleasure.

The CCSS do not mention reading for pleasure. In fact reading for pleasure is mentioned only once in Appendix A and it refers to reading fluency and not to exploring diverse narratives. The idea that students of color do not deserve, or worse are not ready or are incapable of  choice, in their reading infuriates me.

Drawing connections to other Theories

Another insight hit me when discussing Critical Race Theory. All of the panelists discussed how language must be used for agency and then transforming society. I saw so many connections to other theories of literacy practices. Feminism, Connected Learning, Embodied and Situated Language, and Activity Theory share some common principles. Expanded definition of texts, the role of stories versus truths, agency and activity, and importance to narrative permeate these theories.

We need more interdisciplinary work that critically examine all aspects of education.

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