From the Editor: A Turning Point

Spring 2019

By Stan Izen

Welcome to the spring 2019 issue of Independent Teacher, featuring the theme “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy”; this is a timely subject that garnered more submissions than we have received for any previous issue. The articles published here range from using the Chinese New Year as a platform for helping special education students improve handwriting to invoking Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as the basis for a class project to a middle school that focuses on various “lessons, projects, and essential questions around the concept of identity.” One author discusses the possibly racist aspects of Dr. Seuss’s writing, and another maintains that Montessori education, through “specific components of its philosophy and curriculum, together with the thoughtful cultivation and internalization of cultural competence, is in alignment with” culturally responsive pedagogy. All in all, these articles detail the creative ways educators are examining the crucial issue of responsibly integrating a range of cultures into our curricula.

The buzz created in the education community about culturally responsive pedagogy suggests that American education has reached a turning point. Culturally responsive pedagogy and other aspects of DEI—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—programs are transforming what and how we teach in all grades, K-12. According to the Education Alliance at Brown University, “A pedagogy that acknowledges, responds to, and celebrates fundamental cultures offers full, equitable access to education for students from all cultures.1 While there are different ideas of how to implement this program, the Brown website identifies some characteristics of culturally responsive teaching:
  1. Positive perspectives on parents and families
  2. Communication of high expectations
  3. Learning within the context of culture
  4. Student-centered instruction
  5. Culturally mediated instruction
  6. Reshaping the curriculum
  7. Teacher as facilitator
I want to take just two of these, #4 and #7, and briefly discuss the transformative nature their adoption means for education. We are all familiar with the traditional classroom, in which the teacher is at the front of the room, sometimes lecturing, sometimes leading a discussion, but always directing the action of the classroom. The curriculum in these classrooms is based on what the teacher or the grade-level team or the school district believes to be the most important and necessary information for students to learn. I read somewhere that truth comes from within—we each have our own truth—and I believe that to be true. Student-centered instruction recognizes this fact and encourages each student’s project of self-discovery and, at the same time, promotes student ownership of their academic work. The teacher’s role then becomes one of facilitator, enabling students to create much of the learning that takes place. Those who are familiar with the Harkness Table model of teaching know the excitement and energy, and the deep understanding of subject matter, that it engenders. How better to avoid student passivity than to have them responsible, in large measure, for their own learning?

We hope that the articles in this issue will spark enthusiasm and the flow of new ideas and questions in your classroom and in your school. Above all, we intend this issue to help teachers raise awareness in their students of the importance of understanding and respecting other cultures. As always, we are eager to hear from our readers. Send comments and responses to editor@independentteacher.org.

Notes

  1. The Education Alliance, “Teaching Diverse Learners: Culturally Responsive Teaching,” Brown University; online at https://www.brown.edu/academics/education-alliance/teaching-diverse-learners/strategies-0/culturally-responsive-teaching-0#ladson-billings.

 
Stan Izen

Stan Izen is the editor of Independent Teacher Magazine.