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The View From Here - January 2020

By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director

We are at the midpoint of the school year and though much work has been accomplished there is much to complete. In this month's edition of CASDA’s newsletter we tackle equity through the lens of the 1619 Project.

At CASDA, we are continuing to support school districts in their critical equity work.  Through the January 10th workshop, “Reframing U.S. History: The 1619 Project and the Civic Literacy Essay,” CASDA faculty member John DeGuardi introduced 22 teachers from various Capital District schools to resources in conjunction with the New York Times Magazine 1619 Project. If you are not familiar with the 1619 Project, it asserts that American History should be taught in a way that questions traditional representations of slavery and centers its enduring impact on contemporary society. Participants of the workshop were engaged in discussions regarding how the 1619 Project resources can serve as an exemplar for the teaching of US History through the framework of civic literacy.  To learn more about the workshop, check out John’s reflection, which reveals how he approached preparing for the workshop and what he learned about history and himself.

Reading John’s thoughts about the workshop sparked my own reflection about the years I was a middle and high school social studies teacher.  I recall my first teaching experience at the middle school level. Specifically, I recall my first day preparing for the opening of school and discovering classroom sets of American History textbooks on the bookshelf.  Leafing through the books’ table of contents, I found a chronology of events covering “the discovery” of America by European explorers and ending with the Lyndon Johnson presidency. My initial reaction was this is 1987, how will I cover a gap of 20 years of history? But more disconcerting to me was the content.  Essentially, the book was filled with soundbites of information from a white cultural perspective. How was a brand-new teacher, the white son of working-class parents, prepared to establish a culturally responsive classroom?

Though at the time there wasn’t much discussion about culturally responsive classrooms, I had the good fortune of having an undergraduate degree in sociology, which exposed me to cultural experiences my childhood lacked. Faced with limited and inadequate resources, I called on my undergraduate studies to assist in bringing content into the classroom from multiple cultural perspectives.  To begin with, I turned to the writing of historian Howard Zinn, who in his work “A People’s History of the United States,” exposed the reader to a different version of American History, one told through the eyes of oppressed people. With the addition of primary sources and accounts of events from the perspectives of the people representing the many cultures comprising our history, I was able to engage my students in critical thinking and viewing history through the lenses of the various social sciences.  I wish I had known about the resources connected to the 1619 Project when I was teaching, because I would have jumped at the opportunity to expose my students to these perspectives.

The 1619 Project comes at a critical time in our history and it offers the opportunity to explore slavery in the United States in a way that it has not been represented in mainstream discourse.  This topic is uncomfortable to delve into for many of us, but critical to moving forward the dialog on implicit bias, systemic racism, and the work that needs to occur regarding culturally responsive teaching and civic literacy.  As we transition into February, Black History Month, this is work is timely and relevant.

We offer several resources and perspectives on the work of equity in public schools in this edition of our newsletter.  Recently, CASDA began a podcast series called Our Path to the Work, which involved a conversation between me and Kathleen McLean, CEO of the McLean Group, sharing our life experiences and how they each led us on different paths to the same destination, equity in public education.  This month the conversation continues as Kathleen is joined by Tracy Sangare, an Elementary ENL Teacher in the North Colonie School District, as they delve further into this critically important topic. Additionally, you can find a link to Tracy’s article, “Whiteness in Curriculum,” where Tracy explores practices used by educators in selecting texts for their students that results in “erasing” the experiences of students of color and the power educators have to change this practice and empower all of their students.

If we haven’t piqued your interest enough as we head into February, we will be releasing a podcast with Dr. Brett Levy, UAlbany Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, as we discuss his work, "Generating Dynamic Democratic Discussions: An Analysis of Teaching with US Presidential Debates."  Finally, we will be featuring an article that will challenge us to reflect on our practices. “A Case Study in Whiteness: How Whiteness Affects Teaching and Learning in 2020,” by Alicia Holt, Equity and Culturally Responsive Education Coordinator at Schenectady City School District, explores how white critics have attempted to characterize the 1619 Project as controversial and offers a compelling argument for why this perspective must be challenged. Stay tuned!

As always, CASDA is ready to support the important work you do each day.


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