Creating Culturally Responsive Curriculum: Making Race Matter

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This article was downloaded by: [University of Nebraska, Lincoln]On: 17 October 2014, At: 14:08Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKThe Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies,Issues and IdeasPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: 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, 135-139To link to this article: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) contained in thepublications on our platform. 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Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Culturally Responsive Curriculum: Making Race Matter A. CHERYL CURTIS 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. 135 Downloaded by [University of Nebraska, Lincoln] at 14:08 17 October 2014 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 in narrowly defined roles as entertainer, servant (mammy, uncle), or savage brute, the film asks students to make parallel analyses to the images of blacks in our present culture. Although students are reluctant to let go of thinking that those images are vestiges of a bygone era, their own examination of popular culture figures as depicted by the press and other media quickly brings them to the realization that our present-day images are actually incarnations of iconic stereotypes. Many of my students are in teacher preparation programs and frequently are challenged to consider the impact of mul- ticultural issues on their professions, especially as they relate to course content. There is a continuing debate among stu- dents about who should be allowed to cross the border into cross-cultural instruction. Should whites write about blacks? Why do so many white women teach Toni Momsons Be- loved? Can heterosexuals do justice to explaining gay sensi- bilities? Should multicultural education only be taught by multicultural people? These are not the questions that I want to entertain here, however. The reality is that all of those bor- ders are being crossed everyday by thousands of teachers and students. I would prefer to address the issue of how should rather than who should: How should we approach teaching in a way that is responsive and responsible? Let me extend this discussion with a few examples. An Internet discussion after the release of the film Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as an ex-Marine-turned- inner-city-school-teacher, focused the lens on one dimen- sion of how blacks perceive whites (especially in response to the telling perceptions of how whites perceive blacks as portrayed through the movie). As an educator I was in- trigued by a particularly strong response from blacks who had viewed the film and denounced it as yet another Holly- wood version depicting the white madwoman as Savior. Ironically, those criticisms were leveled despite the reality that in this country the teaching profession is overwhelm- ingly white and female, especially at the elementary and secondary levels. Regardless of the possibility that a white woman might have a dramatic impact on the lives of inner- city students, blacks were enraged that in the movie, blacks seem unable to solve the problems in their lives without the help of well-intentioned white folks. In addition, the sen- timent expressed by the outraged voices was, more often than not, that white teachers systematically stripped chil- dren of color of their identities, their communities, and their spirit-onsciously and unconsciously. Although I could have accepted this as one more example of deserved dis- gruntlement with the storytellers, the connection to broad- er, real-world concerns about who is teaching, what is being taught, how it is being taught, and how all that is perceived in communities of color warranted closer consideration. bell hooks (1994) recounted an early educational experi- ence that crystallized her own thinking about the difference in educational goals fostered by black and white teachers. In Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, she described a predominantly black school she attended in her youth where almost all of the teachers were black women. They were committed to nurturing intellect so that we would become scholars, thinkers, and cultural workers-black folks who used our minds. We learned early that our devotion to learning, to a life of the mind, was a counter-hegemonic act, a fundamental way to resist every strategy of white racist colonization (2). For hooks, those Downloaded by [University of Nebraska, Lincoln] at 14:08 17 October 2014 Vol. 71, No. 3 Making Race Matter 1 37 teachers served as pedagogical revolutionaries. For her the racial integration that came a few years later brought with it a loss of the joy and zeal and the ecstasy of the educa- tional experience. Knowledge was suddenly about infor- mation only. It had no relation to how one lived, behaved. It was no longer connected to antiracist struggle (3). That lack of connection between education and social change persists. Lisa Delpit (1995) described black teachers who share a view that educational cumculum reforms are not designed with children of color in mind. They view the innovations as plots to ensure black childrens failure and white childrens success. Delpit shared tales of several black teachers who have said to her that as much as theyd like to believe otherwise, they cannot help but conclude that many of the progressive educational strategies imposed by liber- als upon black and poor children could only be based on a desire to ensure that the liberals children get sole access to the dwindling pool of American jobs (29). I personally have heard black teachers in urban areas complain of white middle-class suburbanites who swell their ranks. They strongly believe that part of the problem with their schools is the disproportionate number of teachers who go home to their neatly manicured lawns at the end of the day and who abdicate any role in community responsibility or advocacy. They would agree with hooks that the curriculum of these teachers is only minimally concerned with being involved in social change and emancipatory ideals. Instead the white teachers respond by blaming students for their deficiencies and lowering expectations of them. In each of these exam- ples, people who may believe that they are operating in good faith, with good intentions, rarely acknowledge that their motives are questionable and suspect. Responsive and Responsible Curriculum Development So how, then, can the mainstream cumculum be trans- formed to connect knowledge to appropriate responsive and responsible action? My first suggestion is to ask instructors to acknowledge that there is a difference between teaching and appropriating or commodifying. James and Cherry Banks (1993), noted educators in the forefront of multicul- tural education, identify different levels of curriculum mod- els that teachers can use to include multicultural content into their teaching: contribution, additive, transformative, and social action. The Bankses describe the first two levels as ones that do not implement any structural change in the basic orientations of the curriculum at those levels. There is an occasional mention of a non-mainstream hero or holi- day; some content related to perspectives of cultural groups is added to an already extant cumculum. At the transforma- tion and social action levels, however, curriculum is revampedhestructured to include multiple cultural view- points of concepts, issues, and events. Critical consideration of social issues that exist in a multicultural society are examined and constructive strategies to solve problems are sought. Although the Bankses suggest that some visibility is better than none, some models/levels clearly are mere start- ing points. For example, starting at a food, fun, and festi- val approach is acceptable; ending there is not. Starting at a flavor of the month (Black History, Womens History) has merit; ending there is ghettoization. We perpetuate posi- tions of dominance if we settle for cultural safaris designed to give students occasional sightings of the exotic. Critical and Feminist Pedagogy Recent research provides some promising direction for how to create culturally responsive/responsible peda- gogy-for example, infusing course content that is relevant to students cultural backgrounds, adoptingadapting teach- ing styles that recognize and address the role that culture plays in student styles of learning (Hilliard 1992; Ogbu 1995), and acknowledging teacher culture as an influence on classroom dynamics (Foster 1995). An articulation of an intersection between feminist and critical pedagogies- despite some reservations about the potential for an adver- sarial relationship (Gore 1993)--offers a viable direction. The feminist pedagogy model emphasizes a collaborative and cooperative work ethic rather than a model of compe- tition. This model recognizes that the personal, the subjec- tive, and the emotional are important considerations in finding ones voice. The critical pedagogist model advo- cates activism: a commitment to social action and to pro- ducing students who are change agents, willing to divest themselves of privilege and share power (taught by teach- ers who have made that same commitment). At its core is the recognition of sociopolitical realities and strategies to create just societies (Freire 1985; Giroux 1989; Giroux and McLaren 1992; Shor 1992). What feminist and critical ped- agogies have in common, besides democratic and emanci- patory ideals, is a very constructivist approach that puts stu- dents in the center of the meaning making-inviting active inquiry and discovery as part of the participation in and processing of information. Meaning making becomes more inclusive and is not limited to controlled content of knowl- edge constructed by a predominantly Eurocentric, male viewpoint. Learning includes examining a wide variety of perspectives, including ones own. Privilege and Feminist Scholarship The work of Peggy McIntosh (1989) has been especially helpful in having whites look at themselves and their posi- tions of privilege. It is important that feminist theory, in particular, examine issues of race as closely as it examines issues of gender. While all oppression may be linked, the focus on differences as well as similarities is crucial. In a message posted to a multicultural education list, Michelle Golden, a doctoral candidate in womens studies at Emory University, advised, Just because we as white women suf- fer discrimination doesnt mean we should be blind to the racism inherent in many feminist theories. We need to take whats useful, discard the rest, build theory that isnt cen- tered on white women and move on to do the work to make Downloaded by [University of Nebraska, Lincoln] at 14:08 17 October 2014 138 The Clearing House JanuaryIFebruary 1998 change (however that may look in our own lives). Later, Michelle critiqued her own words: Its important for us to remember that feminist women of color have been building a very useful body of feminist the- ory on the interconnections between race, gender, class and other systems of oppression/privilege (and resistance to those oppressions) for years and years. What I think White feminists need to do-more than theory-building, per se. . . -is take the existing body of theory seriously and explore what it means for white women (e.g., what does feminism look like for white women when we are not its center of analysis?). . . . Rereading my own words Im reminded how easy it is for me to keep white women in the center even when talking about the need for making change. Michelles critique does not apply to feminist scholar- ship alone. We need only consider what Delpit labels silenced dialogue-those times when blacks are talking to whites and whites dont seem to hear. Blacks stop talk- ing, and whites assume that they have won us over to their logic. The real tragedy is that white folks dont even realize that the dialogue has been silenced. A Place for Personal Narratives One emerging technique that fits well with these ideals is the use of personal narratives. Personal narratives are gaining more and more place in scholarly writing-not only as a tool for students but for those instructing them as well. The tool encourages self-reflection on ones own identity and can be used to examine the identities of oth- ers. Teachers place themselves as a part of the context, a context that examines their positions as racial beings. Joy James, author of Spirit, Space and Survival: African Amer- ican Women in (White) Academe (1993), wrote, I find that autobiographical theorizing discourages appropriation and objectification while encouraging students to identify themselves as potential theorists and embark on self reflections that include critique of racist, classist and het- ero/sexist assumptions (35). Narratives, therefore, can be used to allow students to closely examine the positional- ity of their perspective and to scrutinize privilege. In con- sidering ethical issues of feminist scholarship, hooks (1 989) advocated that groups learn more about each other but cautioned that we make such examinations carefully to ensure that the [students] perspectives do not reflect [racial] biases. Learning about other groups and writing about what we learn can be a way to unlearn racism, to challenge structures of domination (46). This examina- tion can be extended to other lenses (class, gender, age, and sexual orientation, to name a few). Many black people are especially pessimistic about the ability of whites to accept the challenges proposed by criti- cal and feminist pedagogy. Though there is value in cross- ing those borders of race, gender, and class and educating (and perhaps re-educating) those who are white and rela- tively secure economically, the pessimism is well warrant- ed. It should be noted, however, that a fair amount of pes- simism can be accorded to certain members of oppressed or marginalized groups who might not be easily persuaded to give up the power of their gender, class, or sexual orienta- tion. Paolo Freire (1985) warned of newly liberated people taking on characteristics of oppressors-a phenomenon that falls into what I call the I-may-be-poor-but-Im-not-black (or, -Im-not-a-woman) syndrome. Divesting ones self of power and privilege is not an easy thing to do. When shar- ing our thoughts and feelings with other people feels like personal loss, our instincts of self-preservation cloud our more liberating judgments. The ideals of democracy and emancipation that feminist and critical pedagogies have in common have merit. Pessimism aside, those are worthwhile goals for the creation of responsible curriculum. In the words of a song entitled Free Your Mind covered by the group En Vogue, the funky divas entreat before you can read me, you have to learn how to see me. I end my essay to my students asking if they can, indeed, see and read me. Maria Lugones (1990) contended that that cannot be done without crucial examination of ones own culture. You do not see me because you do not see yourself and you do not see yourself because you declare yourself out- side of culture . . . dis-engagement is a radical form of pas- sivity toward the ideology of the ethnocentric racial state which privileges the dominant culture as the only culture to see with and conceives this seeing to be done non-self- consciously (5 1). Race matters in the creation of curriculum. It always has. It has mattered in regard to whose version of history gets taught and in regard to what canon becomes adopted. It matters in regard to who is seen and who is invisible. It matters in regard to creating the illusion of inclusion while at the same time excluding substantive participation by people of color. Race matters because teachers and stu- dents are racial and racialized beings. The inclusion of our historical and social locations as they relate to power, oppression, and privilege has the potential to be a com- pelling component in the construction of curriculum. We are long past merely posing the question, Does race mat- ter? We need to move to openly admitting that it does, and work from there. REFERENCES Banks, J., and C. A. McGee Banks. 1993. Multicultural education: Issues Delpit, L. 1995. Other peoples children. New York: The New Press. Foster, M. 1995. African American teachers and cultural relevant peda- gogy. In Handbook of research on multicultural education, edited by J. A. and C. A. McGee Banks. New York: Macmillan. Freire, P. 1985. The politics of education: Culture, power, and liberation. Translated by D. Macedo. So. Hadley, Mass.: Bergin and Garvey. Giroux, H. A. 1989. Critical pedagogy, the state, and cultural struggle. Albany: State University of New York Press. Giroux, H. A., and P. McLaren. 1992. Writing from the margins: Geogra- phies of identity, pedagogy, and power. Journal of Education 74 (1): Gore, J. 1993. Critical pedagogies and feminist pedagogies: Adversaries, allies, other? In The struggle for pedagogies. edited by J. Gore. New York: Routledge. Hilliard, A. 1992. Behavioral style, culture and teaching and learning. Journal of Negro Education 61 (3): 370-77. and perspectives. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 7-30. Downloaded by [University of Nebraska, Lincoln] at 14:08 17 October 2014 Vol. 71, No. 3 Making Race Matter 139 hooks, b. 1989. feminist scholarship: ethical issues. In Talking back: Thinking feminist, thinking black. Boston: South End Press. . 1994. Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of free- dom. New York: Routledge. James, J. 1993. African philosophy, theory, and living thinkers. In Spir- it, space and survival: African American women in (white) academe, edited by J . James and R. Fanner New York: Routledge. Lugones, M. 1990. Hablando cara a cardspeaking face to face: An explo- ration of ethnocentric racism. In Making face, making soul: Haciendo caras: Creative and critical perspectives by women of color, edited by Gloria Anzaldua. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation. McIntosh, P. 1989. White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Peace and Freedom 49:4C-42. Ogbu, J. 1995. Understanding cultural diversity and learning. In Hand- book of research on multicultural education, edited by J . A. Banks and C. A. McGee Banks. New York: Macmillan. Shor, 1. 1992. Empowering education: Critical teaching for social change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Riggs, M. 1992. Ethnic notions: Black people in white peoples minds. Berkeley, Calif.: California Newsreel. Each issue of The Clear- ing House offers a variety of articles for teachers and administrators of middle schools and junior and senior high schools. It includes accounts of exper- iments, trends, and accom- plishments in courses, teaching methods, adminis- trative procedures, and school programs. The Clearing House invites theoretical articles and arti- cles that deal with practical applications. Downloaded by [University of Nebraska, Lincoln] at 14:08 17 October 2014


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