All posts tagged culturally-responsive instruction

Connecting with Diverse Students: Scenarios & Cases

When I think of simulations in the fields of nursing or education, I often think of very expensive practice manikins with arteries and veins that students can practice poking with needles (Complete Left Replacement Arm $234.00) or classroom-management programs where graduate students are paid to act as avatars that talk too much in a simulated middle-school classroom. Although these are great learning resources for students, I don’t have the resources to purchase or design these complicated simulation tools.

However, I don’t want my students to miss the many  benefits of simulation-based learning.  Scenarios and case studies are known to create significant gains in the areas of moral reasoning (O’ Flaherity and McGarr 2014) and teamwork skills (Motola, et al 2013) as well as critical thinking (Milner & Wolfer 2014). I’ve been experimenting with scenarios and case-studies on a smaller scale, and have been pleased at the level of engagement students have shown–both with the material and with each other. In addition, I’ve been especially intrigued with how scenarios  and case studies can meet the diverse needs of students.

Here’s why:

Scenarios & Cases Give Students a Common Starting Point

It’s easy to assume  all students have experience with a particular situation or concept..  However, as our classrooms become more diverse, this assumption doesn’t hold up.  Wlodowski and Ginsberg (1995) discuss that one of the keys to motivating culturally diverse students is to build on prior knowledge. If students don’t have the prior knowledge to engage with a question, they will lose motivation. I want my students to approach a discussion on equal footing, regardless of their past experience. Therefore, I ground a big question in a specific situation,  using a background video clip, article, or anecdote that can allow all students to participate.

Even before we read the syllabus on the first day of College Writing, I want my students to explore the abstract question “What does it mean to know?”  To ground this big question, I start with a smaller one grounded in a specific situation: “Is it possible to really know someone if your only contact with them is through digital means?” Before we discuss the question, we watch a scene from the MTV show Catfish, in which people who have met online have the opportunity to meet in person (usually with disastrous results.) Everyone in the class, then, has some common background about a few of the common pitfalls and possibilities of online relationships.

Then I ask students to discuss the specific question with a small group. Each group must post three answers–a “yes, because” answer, a “no, because” answer, and an “it depends” answer. From the “it depends” column we build an answer to the more abstract question,  “What does it mean to ‘know’?” before moving into the ways in which college writers need to “know” their subjects in order to write well. (We also establish– for the most part– that we wouldn’t lend money to or marry someone that we hadn’t met in person at least once.)

Scenarios & Cases Allow Students to Take New Perspectives

Although I work to make my classroom a safe place to discuss controversial issues, many students feel pressure to conform to a particular Christian point of view.  Students who come from underrepresented communities may feel that they need to speak carefully as they are representing their communities in every class discussion.  With these constraints in place, sometimes it’s difficult to discuss controversy. The work of Griffith (2012)  indicates that when discussions get heated, students often withdraw, defeating the purpose of the discussion and causing more fear and awkwardness around these difficult topics. A simulation can encourage students to shed these constraints and enter into a ‘third space’ (Cook 2005) where ideas can be more fully explored as well as offering multiple entry points (Gelbach 2007). Students can more easily shed constraints and enter the situation as someone other than themselves.

In my juvenile literature class we read the textbook chapter on censorship, which insists that all censorship in books for young readers is wrong.  Although this stance works in a textbook chapter, most people who work with young readers know that this issue is much more nuanced and complex than the textbook indicates.  Students come to class after reading that chapter with very strong opinions about this issue.

I ask students to set their personal opinions aside and take on the role of a participant in a simulated school board meeting to decide whether students should read the first Harry Potter book as part of the seventh grade curriculum. I encourage students to choose a speaker role they feel is not representative of their actual view and I give time to go back into the textbook and other resources to plan what they will say based on their assigned role. This class session is always full of surprises. Quiet students often become more vocal and those that have spoken up frequently speak less as they filter their words through their assigned role. The “school board” members genuinely lead, asking better probing questions than I ever do in class discussion.  Students’ written reflections show they are surprised in the power of this experience. One student wrote, “I was expecting judgment in class today and instead I got grace.”

Scenarios & Case Studies Contextualize Abstract Concepts

The work of Giamellaro (2014)  and other science educators indicates students often grasp difficult concepts more easily if they are contextualized, “situating a concept in a particular time and place” (abstract).  This becomes even more important when students have different cultural backgrounds, as Teaching Tolerance recommends instructors provide experiences “that show abstract concepts are drawn from and applied to the everyday world.”

One of my challenges in teaching Introduction to the Liberal Arts is helping students care about Bethel’s history–a concept that perhaps isn’t relevant to new students in the first week of school. However, after listening to all of Chris Gehrz’s podcasts on pietism this summer, I was keenly aware of how Bethel’s unique way of framing issues and problems and grows out of history. Before students read the first two chapters Becoming Whole and Holy Persons, we examine a real-life scenario. Students read the Washington Post  article by a Christian,  incoming student at Duke University who refused to read the graphic novel Fun Home for religious reasons.

Of course, many of my students had an immediate opinion about whether the author of this article was right in making this choice. Several of them immediately commented, quoting Bible verses and girding themselves to “win” the argument.  However, instead of discussing it immediately, I gave them a list of possible Christian responses, some of which agreed with the Duke student’s stance, and some of which disagreed.  We looked at them together, agreeing that all of these were responses that a Christian could reasonably make. When I sent students home to do the reading, I asked them to identify different aspects of Bethel history that might contribute to a discussion of this dilemma. In our next class session, I asked students what words should characterize a discussion of this issue at Bethel, considering its history. They chose words like “respectful,” “Christ-centered,” and  “considerate” and connected these concepts to the historical events in their reading They had entered into a context in which these historical roots became important.


Faculty members like you and me are the value-added in the classroom. We have the background, the experiences and context that can’t be provided by textbooks or video lessons.  How might you use scenarios or cases to share the richness of your experiences to meet the needs of our diverse range of students?



Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence.  (n.d.)  Five standards for effective pedagogy.   Teaching Tolerance.  The Southern Poverty Law Center.  Accessed at

Cook, M.  (2005).  A place of their own:  Creating a classroom ‘third space’ to support a continuum of text construction between home and school.  Literacy.  39:2.  85-90.  DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-4350.2005.00405

Gehlbach, H. (2011).  Making social studies social:  Engaging students through different forms of social perspective taking.  Theory Into Practice.  50:4.  311-318.    DOI: 10.1080/00405841.2011.607394.

Giamellaro, M. (2014).  Primary contextualization of science learning through immersion in content-rich settings.  International Journal of Science Education.  36:17.  2848-2871.  DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2014.937787

Griffith, L.M. (2012).  Bourdieu’s game of life:  Using simulation to facilitate understanding of complex theories.  College Teaching.  60:4. 147-153.  DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2012.660710.

Milner M. & Wolfer, T.  (2014) The use of decision cases to foster critical thinking in social work students, Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 34:3, 269-284, DOI: 10.1080/08841233.2014.909917

Motola I., et al. (2013).  Simulation in healthcare education:  A best evidence practical guide. AMEE Guide No. 82. Medical Teachers.  35: e1511-e1530.

O’Flaherty, J. & McGarr, O.  (2014).  The use of case-based learning in the development of student teachers’ levels of moral reasoning.  European Journal of Teacher Education.  37:3.  312-330.  DOI: 10.1080/02619768.2013.870992

Usherwood, S.  (2015)  Building Resources for Simulations:  Challenges and Opppotunities.  European Political Science.  Sep2015, Vol. 14 Issue 3, p218-227. 10p.

Wlodkowski R. & Ginsberg, M. (1995).  A framework for culturally responsive teaching.  Educational Leadership 53:1.  17-21 Accessed online at

A Faith-based Context for Culturally-Responsive Instruction and an Experiment in Application

As  Christ followers, how we treat others directly reflects on our faith. James’ epistle discusses how our treatment of others is related to our faith. According to Stulac (2003), James 2:1-7 indicates showing favoritism is inconsistent with our faith. Stulac states that, “If they were to show partiality toward certain people because they are rich, these Christians would be acting as if high position came by wealth instead of faith. In that sense, favoritism is a clear contradiction of faith.”  Furthermore, James 2:8-13 emphasizes that favoritism is not limited to how people are treated in terms of their socioeconomic status: “Favoritism is the sin of extending special favor to some people for self-serving purposes” (Stulac, 2003). In terms of education, this could include factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. As educators, then, it is imperative we show no favoritism and create educational environments that engage all learners.

In this regard, culturally-relevant pedagogy (Ladson‐Billings, 1995) provides important foundational elements. Ladson-Billings (1995) defines culturally-relevant teaching as a “pedagogy of opposition” that is committed to collective empowerment and is grounded on three propositions:

  • (a) students must experience academic success,
  • (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence; and
  • (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order (p. 160).

First, in order to be involved participants in our society, students must learn the necessary academic, social, and political skills. According to Ladson-Billings it is essential that teachers create an educational environment that encourages students to choose academic excellence. In addition, educators must create or make use of curriculum that is relevant and meaningful to the students.

Second, teachers must interweave academic excellence with cultural integrity so that students can become and/or remain culturally-grounded (Ladson-Billings, 1995, p. 161). Ladson-Billings explains, “culturally relevant teachers utilize students’ culture as a vehicle for learning” (p. 161). Certainly, an important consideration of antioppressive education is reaching the students in the margins in a meaningful way. Kumashiro (2002) maintains that in order to teach the “Other,” the complexity of defining the “Other” needs to be considered (p. 37). Kumashiro contends that to do this, teachers must get to know the students and make a continuous effort to connect with those students on the margins. Kumashiro indicates that “rather than assume that a student’s class background or community has no bearing on how he engages with schooling, educators could acknowledge the realities of day-to-day life that can hinder one’s ability to learn” (p. 36). He reasons that educators should not “ignore the differences in their students’ identities” and should instead “learn about, acknowledge, and affirm differences and tailor their teaching to the specifics of their parent population” (Kumashiro, 2002, p. 36). He makes it clear that antioppressive educators take the time to learn about their students’ lives, backgrounds, interests, communities and cultures and use that information to inform their practices. In a similar way, Delpit (1995) states that, “We must keep in mind that education, at its best, hones and develops the knowledge and skills each student already possesses, while at the same time adding new knowledge and skills to that base” (pp. 67-68). These authors make clear the importance of drawing on the culture of the communities in which the students live, but also find effective ways to build on that knowledge.

In a similar way, James reminds us that “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:8-9).  Stulac (2003) make the case that:

Loving your neighbor as yourself requires an openness to friendship with any neighbor–regardless of that neighbor’s wealth, position, status, influence, race, appearance, attractiveness, dress, abilities or personality . . . The royal law absolutely prohibits the Christian from joining in the favoritism. The follower of the royal law will reach out to any neighbor.

Christian educators are indeed called to teach all students. To do this effectively, teachers need to take the time to get to know each student and differentiate accordingly.

However, despite the efforts of even well-intentioned educators attempt to address issues of diversity in their teaching through the use of the cultural and background information of students, their approaches to teaching and learning can still marginalize students. Davies (2003) claims that, “despite the multiplicity and variability of teacher knowledges” students often lack the freedom to challenge, reject, or reinvent the interpretations presented by the teacher (p. 41). She reasons that while student experiences and background knowledge are often welcomed and used by educators that mean well, “what is brought must conform to tightly set knowledge boundaries and to acceptable forms of saying or knowing, and will be subjected to teachers’ authoritative scrutiny, interpretation, and evaluation” (p. 41). In this regard, Kumashiro (2002) contends that, “Antioppressive educators have an ethical responsibility to reflect constantly on students that they may be disposing of, and on how to rework their practices” (p. 203). Said another way, teaching must be informed by how students learn and not based on the expectation that students learn by adapting to our instruction (Noguera, 2003). Clearly, in addition to the use of cultural and experiential information, the foundational and structural aspects of approaches to teaching and learning are critical.

The third component of culturally-relevant pedagogy according to Ladson-Billings (1995) is that, “Students must develop a broader sociopolitical consciousness that allows them to critique the cultural norms, values, mores, and institutions that produce and maintain social inequalities” (p 162). In addition, Ladson-Billings argues that students must become agents of change, equipped to challenge institutional and societal injustices. Likewise, Kumashiro (2002) reasons that simply discussing differences is not enough and is one reason that the education system continues to be oppressive. Kumashiro states that, “We resist learning that will disrupt the frameworks we traditionally use to make sense of the world and ourselves” (p. 57). To move forward, the practices of educators must challenge the current system that privileges certain identities, social relations, and worldviews.

This is in line with our commitment as followers of Christ. Anderson (2011) indicates that the words justice, just, or justly are used 530 times in the English Bible. Isaiah (Isaiah 58:6) speaks of fasting from injustice, rather than fasting from food. He states: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). In a similar way, Micah was calling the Israelites, as well as Christians today, to live in a way that is fundamentally different than from the worldly standards (Gilliard, 2013). The Israelites were being challenged to confront the injustices of their institutions and of their society; God was expecting more than religious rituals and sacrifices. Both Micah’s (Micah 6) indictment of the treatment of the marginalized populations in Israel and Judah and Isaiah’s bold words should be a call to action for all educators. Gilliard (2013) states that,

Most believers today acquiesce to societal injustice because we do not feel convicted when we see or learn about them. We act apathetically because we know how radically different our lives would look if we were to intentionally step outside of our comfort zones into the faithfulness to which Scripture calls us.

According to Gilliard, Micah is challenging us to step out of our comfort zones in order to address injustices that marginalize individuals not just on an individual level, but on an institutional and societal level. For educators who are followers of Christ, this takes on a dichotomous nature. First, are called to address societal and institutional injustices. Moreover, we are called to prepare our students to be aware of injustices as well as equip them to extinguish those injustices.

In the end, culturally-responsive pedagogy allows educators to live out their faith in real and meaningful ways. This is accomplished through laying a foundation that is built on the expectation of academic excellence for all students, by designing an environment where students will continue to mature as culturally competent individuals, and by creating the expectation  that students will develop an awareness of injustices in the educational system that prompts them to action.

An Experiment in Application

As a Christian scholar at a Christian university, I attempted to  incorporate culturally-responsive pedagogy in my courses. Initially, I used Ladson-Billing’s (1995) three propositions of culturally-relevant teaching as a framework for course development. Within this framework, Brookfield’s (1995) lenses for becoming a critically reflective teacher are used to inform the creation of the outcomes, assessments, and experiences for teaching and learning that make up the course. Brookfield lays out four critically reflective lenses through which we can view our teaching: (a) our autobiographies as learners and teachers, (b) our students’ eyes, (c) our colleagues’ experiences, and (d) theoretical literature. My experiment in developing curriculum using a culturally-relevant teaching framework and Brookfield’s critically reflective lenses produced four touch points, and a variety of practical applications, that may provide inspiration to other teachers seeking to implement culturally-relevant instruction:

My experiences as a teacher and learner provide grounding for my approach to teaching and the structure of courses. These experiences encouraged:

  • Making use of materials and resources which are relevant, rigorous, and practical.

  • Including materials that draw on a diverse collection of perspectives shared through various types of media.

  • Building on the background experiences of the students in the course in order to engage students in meaningful ways.

  • Creating a space for students to analyze and reflect on material before they come to class.

  • Designing a collaborative classroom environment that is built on the reflections and thoughts of the students.

  • Meeting with each student early in the semester for 15 minutes for an informal conversation in an effort to start building relationships.

  • Taking the time to learn each student’s name during the first or second session and being able to pronounce it correctly.

  • Building trust with students prior to engaging in tough conversations


Culturally-relevant instruction draws on the perspectives of students in a number of different ways including:

  • Having numerous conversations with a diverse group of former students about their experiences in a given course.

  • Asking former and current students for feedback related to areas of strength as well as ideas for improvement and growth.

  • Learning about each student in the class early in the semester by meeting with students for 15 minutes for an informal conversation.

  • Committing to making one or two course modifications based on the feedback from a midterm evaluation tool such as the Learner Perspective on Instruction.

  • Making course revisions based on the student responses on the IDEA evaluation.


Initiating conversations with Bethel colleagues, both in and outside of my department, as well as other practitioners or stakeholders, provided crucial information to inform my instruction. These insights included

  • Encouraging students to seek out relationships with individuals who are different than them (i.e., in terms of culture, race, gender, socioeconomic status).

  • Creating a classroom environment that challenges all students to excel and achieve academic excellence.

  • Developing a critical consciousness in students that leads them to see societal and institutional injustices around them and spurs them to appropriate action.


Immersing myself in the theoretical literature revealed the importance of

  • Using culturally-responsive instruction to inform overall course design.

  • Using Visible Thinking Routines (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011), or similar tools, to encourage students to think about, discuss, interact with, and dissect articles, blogs, podcasts, and video clips in order to address all three principles of culturally-relevant pedagogy.

  • Providing a space for students to engage with and process the material before unpacking the concepts and ideas in a classroom environment with peers and the teacher.

  • Having students post their responses ahead of class so that the teacher can make use of student insights and perspectives during in-class discussions.

  • Having students work in collaborative groups to interact with the material in meaningful ways.

  • Creating an active learning environment that is beneficial for all students including those that are sometimes marginalized in traditional classroom settings (e.g., Blacks, first generation college students, females; Eddy & Kelly, 2014).


In the end, the use Brookfield’s (1995) four lenses of critical reflection are proving to be effective tools to guide and inform the design and the teaching of a course that embodies the three principles of culturally-responsive instruction (Ladson-Billings, 1995).  This involves creating an environment where students are expected to work to the best of their ability in a way that honors the words of Paul (Colossians 3:23-24):

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

It also entails getting to know every student and using that information to personalize activities for teaching and learning. Moreover, it necessitates providing a structure that inspires students to move beyond their comfort zone and spur them to be agents of social change to eradicate institutional injustices. Our culturally-responsive work with the next generation is essential and part of our own work of being change agents.



Anderson, L. (2011). Act justly. Unpublished manuscript, Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN.

Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco, CA: Josey Bass.

Davies, B. (2003). Shards of glass: Children reading & writing beyond gendered identities. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Delpit, L. (1995). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press.

Eddy, S. L., & Hogan, K. A. (2014). Getting under the hood: how and for whom does increasing course structure work? CBE-Life Sciences Education, 13(3), 453-468. doi: 10.1187/cbe.14-03-0050

Gilliard, D. (2013, March 23) What does Micah 6:8 really mean? [Web log post].

Retrieved from

Kumashiro, K. (2002). Troubling education: Queer activism and antioppressive pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge Falmer.

Ladson‐Billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into practice, 34(3), 159-165.

Noguera, P. (2003). City schools and the American dream: Reclaiming the promise of public education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francisco, CA: Josey Bass.

Stulac, George M. (2003). IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Vol. 16). Leichester, England: IVP Academic. Retreived from



Summer Reading & Viewing: Recommendations from the faculty development team

When grading subsides and parts of your brain regain normal functioning, consider engaging faculty development resources you may have missed in the craze of the academic year. The faculty development team suggests these highlights:

Keith Brooks recommends:

  • Leah Fulton and Sam Mulberry’s Interviews with Students of Color (Short and Full Versions) These exit interviews provide great insight to some of the easily-overlooked issues relating to human dynamics. This is relevant in regard to changing demographics nationally and locally, and addresses our ongoing task of being a place that communicates effectively across cultures.

Kathy Nevins recommends:

Jay Rasmussen recommends:

  • Making Thinking Visible & Selected Harvard Thinking Routines Over the last several years a number of faculty have been using selected Harvard Thinking Routines to make thinking visible and to create a culture of thinking. When learners speak, write, or draw their ideas, they deepen their cognition. Thinking routines jump-start and make thinking visible so students can direct and improve their thoughts. This narrated PowerPoint and the related routines provide a good starting point.
  • Grouping for SuccessStrengthening Our Use of Groups & Group Contract Form Group work within the college classroom has the potential of being a powerful learning experience for students. Unfortunately, group work often turns into a less-than-desirable experience for students and professors alike. This video shares how groups can be successfully structured and used within a variety of instructional settings.
  • Using Flow Theory to Promote Engaged Learning Flow Theory, as developed by Mihaly Cskszentmihalyi, explains why humans fully engage in certain activities to the point of being fully absorbed, completely focused, and unaware of passing time. This narrated PowerPoint explores the origins of Mihaly’s research, conditions typically present when flow occurs, and how the theory can be applied to an instructional setting.
  • Power of Formative Assessment & Formative Assessment Strategies The use of formative assessment is one of the most exciting developments in the field of education in recent years. Used effectively, formative assessment has the power to double the speed of student learning. These resources provide an in-depth look at why to use formative assessment, guidelines for providing formative assessment, and specific formative assessment strategies.

April Schmidt recommends:

  • Schedule Like Beethoven: How to organize your workday like a genius One of the gifts of the academic calendar is an opportunity to re-approach our work each year with fresh strategies. This DIY Innovation Studio session is chock-a-block with wisdom from geniuses of history and tips and resources from Bethel profs. for making the most of your work day. Take a strategic, proactive approach to next year’s workdays and equip yourself to maximize efficiency and prevent burnout.

Sara Wyse recommends:

  • Top 21 1/2 Teaching Tips If you are short on time and want a great overview and synthesis of the research literature and what we’ve learned through Learner Perspectives on Instruction, check out the 21 1/2 teaching tips.  From course design to interacting with students, these tips will help energize you when you begin to transition back to thinking about teaching come August.

Fighting Over Narrative in Curriculum: Who gets to decide United States American history?

Recently, my students had an insightful discussion after viewing a clip of Schoolhouse Rock “Elbow Room”. I guided them through some key questions:

Where were the people of color during these time periods?
Why did they minimize the removal of land from Native and Latin populations?
Who actually built most of the railroads?
Why are Native Americans viewed as the primary aggressors?
Why did manifest destiny justify violence?
Why were the White Americans viewed as hard-working peaceful settlers?
What if you didn’t have any bootstraps to use?
What about people who were brought to the U.S. against their will?

Our students were learning to analyze what is being communicated and what is also inferred, with factual support and thorough research. These are skills that most colleges and universities claim they like to see in applicants and graduates.

However,  one school district in Colorado and one legislator in Oklahoma are making attempts to remove this sort of critical thinking process from advanced placement history courses. There have been quite a few protests over the past year, mostly over tension related to racial inequity with law enforcement. A recent pattern has emerged most visibly in public high school settings where some school board members and some legislators desire to remove certain aspects from history.

These events have been ongoing from September 2014 to the present, and some say it’s always been a struggle over the narrative. As an avid historian, my lens is socialized to view past events along racial lines because the narrative of people of color has been disregarded, dismissed and/or distorted. In essence, it’s as if people of color are invisible and do not have a story unless it’s a certain month of the year or told from the perspective of people who do not represent the population.

Is it ironic or coincidental that one of the states  caught in this curriculum battle recently had a fraternity signing a chant, ‘There Will Never Be A N***** In SAE’? The discussions around this situation show conflicting understandings of the place of narrative in teaching history. One proposal suggests

“ giv[ing] the committee the authority to identify materials in the curriculum that “may reasonably be deemed” objectionable, and another that could give the committee discretion to choose instructional materials to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-enterprise system, respect for authority, and respect for individual rights.”

Some parents, teachers and students, addressing board member Julie Williams’ proposal, asserted :

Williams’ proposal is a politically motivated attempt to push through a revisionist version of American history that glosses over the uglier parts of the country’s past. One district high school teacher posted on the “Support Jeffco Kids” Facebook page that the proposal would “require teachers to completely ignore certain aspects of American history rather than teach the entirety of American history.”

Supposedly this proposal wants to ensure  patriotism and downplay civil disobedience. Do predominately White colleges and universities also risk offering curriculum that omits or avoids the historical narratives of people of color? Removing these narratives, and the topics they present, means deleting most of United States history, as well as international occurrences. Proponents of the Oklahoma proposals feel as though students are just learning about mistakes and teaching them to hate their country. But whether information makes us feel good or sad, who are we to manipulate factual information?

Last month, the proposal to review the curriculum was stopped in Colorado. In Oklahoma, Rep. Dan Fisher is pushing a similar proposal to remove funding for AP history. To Fisher, it currently has a framework that emphasizes “what is bad about America” and doesn’t teach “American exceptionalism.” Can we have one without the other in any context: marriage, friendships, faith, challenges, opportunities, new ventures, exercising, aging, etc.? How would Minnesotans know how to appreciate the summer without the winter? A better question is who defines what’s good or bad, as opposed to, what just is? There are things I appreciate about the winter that summer could not teach me.

Whose story is it anyway? Who has the right to tell the story, or in these specific scenarios change the story? Can a person change facts? Maybe a person can if they omit some very important details that are relevant to the context. Contextual teaching is one of the most effective approaches because it highlights and provides meaning for not only the learners but also the facilitator.

Personally, I told my students, who are future teachers, last week, “If you don’t love to teach, you won’t teach with love.” Without a context to explain the statement, you as the reader can take that in a number of inaccurate directions.

The context was getting them to reflect on being called to teach. Furthermore, the students are more important than anything I am trying to teach them. It’s not about me as the professor (as some make it), but more so about what is generated and created through the journey together as teacher and student/s: the discovery that takes place, the rapport that is developed, the intellectual inquiry increased, and the growth (teacher and student alike) that hopefully is evident are residual effects. That was the context, that teaching is the people-loving business, and that if I don’t have some level of understanding of the social, political, cultural and lived realities of my students I run the risk of not being as effective as I could be.

I don’t enjoy talking about racial issues. I also do not ascribe to the approach of race-bating and reverse racism does not exist. However, I feel compelled to address these issues because of the level of impact they have on our daily lives collectively. Whether one admits it or not, where we choose to live, shop, who our kids play with, where we worship, attend(ed) school, work, volunteer, or associations we join have a subconscious or conscious racial factor involved.

For example, author Rich Benjamin who writes about whitopias claims that White Americans view cleanliness, high property values and friendliness of all-White communities as indicators of a “good healthy community”. Many people take these things for granted without thinking about how our communities from east and west coasts, north and south have been strategically through policy and practices became and still are racially segregated. The effective teachers dive deeper to explain these phenomena– not as a weapon to make on population look bad for past decision-making– but to help students understand how we have arrived to this current status. The effective teacher explains redlining, blockbusting, housing covenants and sundown towns. To omit these terms and consequential actions is to have a puzzle with missing pieces. As a result, we don’t have an opportunity to see the complete picture.

When most of my students exit my class they usually have a desire to continue the dialogue, but they re-enter a campus and larger society that doesn’t embrace reflection individually and collectively at this level on cultural and racial issues. I teach my sons that a half-truth is a whole lie. I wonder what we tell our students.