Creating Culturally Responsive Curriculum: Making Race Matter

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    Creating Culturally Responsive Curriculum: Making RaceMatterA. Cheryl CurtisPublished online: 03 Apr 2010.

    To cite this article: A. Cheryl Curtis (1998) Creating Culturally Responsive Curriculum: Making Race Matter, The Clearing House: AJournal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 71:3, 135-139

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  • Creating Culturally Responsive Curriculum: Making Race Matter


    am a black, Southern-born, 40-something, African I American, heterosexual, recovering homophobic, bi- dialectal female. I am a registered Democrat, lapsed Catholic raised by a Baptist mother and a Methodist father. My mother was a domestic (maid), and my father was a laborer in a fertilizer factory. I am the youngest of seven children and have three brothers and three sisters, several of whom spent periods of time living out of our household being raised by my mothers sisters in the north. M y moth- er had an eighth-grade education, which was as about as far as most black people from the south in her era ever went in school. My father has a second-grade education. He left school to go to work to bring extra income into his familys household. I learned from my parents that I had to be respectful and deferential to whites even when it was not reciprocated. Knowing ones place was important for eco- nomic and physical survival. As a child, I learned that re- spect for elders was a very important part of my upbringing and I dared not call that upbringing into question (and bring disgrace to my parents) by not addressing all elders by their proper titles of Mr., Miss, or Mrs. I learned that this was not an expectation of the little white children in the households where my mother worked, who were ironically allowed to call her by herfirst name.

    Thus begins a personal essay that I have used in my class- es at the University of Hartford, where I am the only person of color on the faculty in the College of Education and one of a handful on the entire campus. I introduce the narrative in our undergraduate foundations course, Introduction to Education and Human Services, a course I team teach with two white males. As part of the narrative, I share its origins with the students. I explain how the essay grew out of increasing frustration with student unwillingness to critical- ly consider issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orienta-

    tion in the educational relationships that they hoped to establish in their future roles as teachers and human service workers. In this segment of the course, specifically devoted to examining issues of diversity, I want to help move them beyond the superficial level of trying to figure out, How does the instructor want me to answer, think, feel about these concerns? My personal narrative is a conscious line of demarcation for me, a point at which I explicitly ask stu- dents to filter some of their perceptions through a look at the cultural impact of experiences in my life.

    As a black teacher trainer at a predominantly white insti- tution, I am concerned not only with creating culturally responsible and responsive curriculum for my students, but also with requiring that they do the same when they begin to develop curricula for their own students. That can be a treacherous endeavor, particularly when I ask them to be aware of the social realities of blacwwhite relationships and consider that-despite their good intentions, their beau- ty queen speeches of treating everyone as individuals, their if we all just hold hands. . . , and their why cant we just all get along?-the reality of cultural conflict exists and it is a reality they have to be prepared to face. Still they have difficulty understanding when I announce that I am not complimented by well-intentioned people who say to me, But, Dr. Curtis, when I look at you I dont see color. (That phrase is frequently transformed into When I look at my students I dont see color.) While on one hand I understand the intended sentiment of pluralism and acceptance in the comment, on the other hand I am incensed by the casual denial of an essential part of who I am and I interpret the statement as insensitive and potentially racist. The students who are convinced that individual attitudes and stereotypes form the basis of racism and sexism are hard pressed to con- sider that such attitudes can be institutionalized and are a part of the very fabric of our social, political, and educa- tional structures.

    I have not yet found the right words to say to students, Yes, I do believe because of the experiences that you have had as a member of this society that you do have intemal- ized, racist perceptions, without making them angry at me.

    A. Cheryl Curtis is an assistant professor of secondary education in the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions at the University of Hartford, Connecticut.





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  • 136 The Clearing House January/February 1998

    I am not surprised that this colorblind attitude usually comes from someone who has lived all of his or her life with white-skin privilege. It usually comes from someone who has lived (and by and large continues to live) in this society not having to experience the world in the way that I have and who probably doesnt recognize the privilege. In Others Peoples Children, Lisa Delpit (1995) observed that those with power are frequently least aware of--or least willing to acknowledge-its existence (26). And, frequently, the colorblind attitude comes from those who earnestly want to believe that people are people are people. Although they are respectful enough to not advocate killing the messenger, they do argue that the authority bearing the message may be too overly sensitive about the issue. Although this raises the thorny issue of how simple it is to dismiss this particular black woman (or any person of color speaking on this issue, I presume) as the authority, I ask students to try to get beyond the notion that my credibility can be dismissed or qualified on the basis of my race and gender.

    White People through Black Eyes It is extremely important for my students to realize that

    they are viewed by blacks in ways they do not expect. Reactions vary from wariness and suspicion to contempt and hatred. It is equally important for students to under- stand how the perception of blacks by whites influences the lives of each of us. Those students who ask, Why cant we just hold hands and sing We Are the World? need to be aware that the hope for change in the state of race relations in this country cannot be reduced to the individual thoughts and actions of those who do the right thing. Although that may have some limited effect, the reality of current social conditions, especially when considered in light of a histor- ical context that still has an impact on the perceptions of blacks by whites and vice versa, suggests that change will be hard to come by and certainly less persuasive when approached from that each-one-reach-one perspective. Change cannot be approached merely in terms of what individuals can do; instead, it must be undertaken by soci- ety as a whole.

    To help students see the connections to broader, perva- sive issues of perceptions, I have used the riveting docu- mentary Ethnic Notions: Black People in White Minds, in which the late Marlon Riggs (1992) dramatically examines the negative historical development of how whites see blacks in this society. The film indicates that mainstream perceptions of blacks and the concomitant transference of those perceptions into public policies affect our social, eco- nomic, and educational institutions. With its depiction of stereotypical notions of blacks i