explicit instruction in the culture of power
The discussion centered around two articles that I selected as early works of two major scholars on race and education, Lisa Delpit and Beverly Daniels Tatum. Delpit in particular pointed out in her 1988 article in the Harvard Educational Review that there's a real need for direct instruction in how to engage with academic institutions as a student and attain the highest levels of success. As she put it: "If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier." When issues of race are at hand, it's worth remembering that students deserve direct instruction in how to gain power.
The other article dealt explicitly with how to deal with varying levels of fluency with or development in talking about and/or dealing respectfully with race as a concept. Being able to speak respectfully came up as key for all of us who are instructors, for ourselves and perhaps even moreso for our students. Our students of color have been silenced over and over again. But just wanting one's classroom not to be a place where that happens again is simply not enough.
My favorite Tatum quote was from the last paragraph:
"It has become painfully clear on many college campuses across the United States that we cannot have successfully multiracial campuses without talking about race and learning about racism. Providing a forum where this discussion can take place safely over a semester, a time period that allows personal and group development to unfold in ways that day-long or weekend programs do not, may be among the most proactive learning opportunities an institution can provide."
That was back in 1992. I was in college then, trying to figure out why my study of feminist theory had to be an independent study and why so few women of color were represented in any of our assigned readings. Looking back, I wondered at the time why, in my philosophy of science class, the one woman that we read--and whose critical work made immediate sense to me, unlike the rest of our readings--was the subject of critique by the professor. Now, here in 2011 (almost 2012!) it is perhaps as hard as ever, or maybe hard, to talk about race, gender, and class. As one of our reading group participants pointed out, the retreat from multiculturalism at the K-12 level in favor of standardized testing means that some of our students are coming up to graduate level education without having had any meaningful conversations about race.
So. We start where we are, and dig in.