Where did Culturally Responsive Education originate? In this episode, Nilofer Ali provides the background which demonstrates that the concept, research, and scholarship that form the foundations that have been evolving for several decades, and discusses how some content providers are responding to the need for culturally responsive classroom materials.
Welcome to Westchester Words, education, ed tech, and publishing. I'm Nicole Tomassi, and I'll be your host for today's episode. Nilofer Ali, Resources Manager and DEI Committee Lead here at Westchester Education Services is joining me today to provide an overview about culturally responsive education and why it's an important consideration for your existing and future content development projects. Nilofer, welcome to Westchester Words. Can you tell our listeners what culturally responsive education is and its origins?Nilofer Ali:
Hi, Nicole. Thanks for having me on to talk about this important topic. So, in order to understand what culturally responsive and sustaining education is, let's look at some of the history behind this work. So whenever you have an approach to education, sort of a formal approach to education, it is grounded in a theory. And so , I want to talk, just mention briefly some of the theorists who contributed to what we're seeing today. And theory is, making observations basically, and trying to explain what you see. U h, and the theory that is at the foundation of this is called critical pedagogy. One of the first founding architects a nd theorists was Paolo Freire who wrote, P edagogy of the Oppressed i n 1963. We have also alongside that, was the development of critical race theory, by D erek Bell and other lawyers in the 1970s. Some additional leaders in critical pedagogy , were Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren , from the 1980s and onward. And these ideas were picked up and used in, by Gloria Ladson-Billings, who, if you look up critical, I'm sorry, culturally responsive education, you're going to find her name. So she did some research and a study of successful teachers of African-American students, and wrote about what she called culturally relevant pedagogy in 1995. And she outlined , three criteria for this culturally relevant pedagogy, which were academic success, so that students would experience , would experience academic success and academic excellence. The second is to help students develop positive ethnic and cultural identities while helping them achieve academically and third , is to support students' ability to recognize current and social inequalities, to understand those inequalities, and to critique them. Then , so after that, when those three criteria live on today. Geneva Gay in 2000 wrote about what she called culturally responsive teaching, in which she took the work that Gloria Ladson-Billings and others had done before her, and she put together a framework for the actual practice of teaching. In 2017, Django Paris and Samy H. Alim , push the envelope further , and wrote about culturally sustaining pedagogy, which doesn't just draw on student culture, but it sustains, it. It helps students really lean into who they are and their home and heritage cultures, as well as their own evolving culture. So super powerful, super powerful stuff there. So people have been talking about this for a long time and thinking about this for a long time. Long before this, Dr. Carter G Woodson wrote in 1933, The Miseducation of the Negro, in which he discussed how African-Americans students were basically being indoctrinated into a white supremacist culture, and primed to accept and expect an inferior position in American society inferior to whites, essentially. So all of this is to say that this isn't something new at all, although it's trendy right now. The behind the scenes push is ongoing and evolving. So why is it trendy right now? Well, inequity and violence and oppression subtle and overt , happens all the time. Sometimes, it gets caught on camera and goes viral as we say now. So then the spotlight , lands for a few minutes on how these inequities and oppressions are perpetrated in our education system. And it highlights, the spotlight highlights the work that still needs to be done. So every time this happens, more people increase their awareness of what it's like for marginalized and oppressed people in society , to, to live here. They increase their awareness of what it's like to be disabled , from the LGBTQ community , to not be Christian, to be black, brown, or indigenous. So it's good that awareness is increased. Sometimes there's incremental change that happens at that point. And sometimes the trend passes and change is minimal or non-existent with regard to real impact. So what we're saying at Westchester , is that we're seeing this , we know this is a change that used to happen, it's not a trend for us. What we're doing is we're putting infrastructure and policies and practices in place across our organization to continue to push for equity in education and our society as part of how we operate as an organization. And I 'm, I'm saying that right now, even though that's not the topic of your question, because I'm really proud of the work that we're doing.Nicole Tomassi:
That's excellent. And I'm glad you added, excuse me, I'm glad you added that point in Nilofer. So now that our listeners have a better understanding of the foundations of what they're seeing today and what, you know, now that they understand that this is a deep rooted movement for materials to be culturally responsive and taught in a culturally responsive way, what can you explain for our listeners about the different levels of the reviews of culturally responsive material that companies can work with Westchester on?Nilofer Ali:
Hmm , that's a good question. So where do people come in at, right? I just want to give kudos to our clients, first of all, because the ones that approach us are among those that are really stepping up to the plate and working towards some very solid and positive change. What we find is that clients who approach us, is they all know that something is wrong or potentially wrong with their material. So we have three categories of, of people that I think of. S ome of them, the first category, they have a pretty good idea of the extent to which their material is problematic. And, s ometimes even recognize that it's harmful. Most often, that's a realization that has come to them over time, even as they've tried to create material in the past with better representation. So what happened, right? Historically, this industry has been dominated by white people, white m iddle-class women with a few men, more men in leadership. So often as good and sincere of heart as these folks really are in my experience, some of them still have pretty significant blind spots, which is changing and changing rapidly at this point, as I described before. So this first category of people are people who have a pretty good idea of what's at stake and what's wrong. And what we tell them in our reviews pretty much confirms what they already know or suspect. So then you have the second category of people, which are folks who have partially formed ideas about the extent of the issue. So maybe their blind spots are a little bit bigger, and, how to remedy, you know, the issues. So, meaning they don't know the full extent to which their material is problematic. Okay. We know that people are at different levels of understanding and well , part of what we do is help our clients really begin to understand the depth of the problems and, and the impact on students. So the second category of client , might come in expecting that we're going to tell them , like what sentences need to be fixed in order for the material to be all better. So like, tell us all the incidences where there are problems we'll fix them, it'll be better. So we do tell them that, but we take it further and try to teach them about some of the problematic foundational paradigms that underlie those incidences, and form the very structure of the program because that's really where we impact change, is when we get to the foundation of the material. So finally there are folks who come in, and the third category are people who are asking us , basically, to give them a sense, a count, of representation, who is represented in their materials . So how many black people are present, how many white people are present and so forth. So that's nice and a fine starting point and we do that, or we can do that , but we always inform those clients that , that kind of work isn't culturally responsive education, and it's not really impactful to students in any positive way. In fact, it can be harmful if it's used as a way to create sort of a facade of equality while not really changing the messaging that students are getting. So in short, these are the three general categories of, y ou know, requests that we get. And we're always very upfront with people about whatever they come in with about educating them about what really needs to happen in order for there to be equity in education.Nicole Tomassi:
Okay, excellent. So now that we have a more thorough understanding about what is involved in a culturally responsive education review, why should a publisher or an ed tech provider engage with Westchester to do a review of their existing content or better yet to develop new materials that properly embody the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion?Nilofer Ali:
Yeah, that's a great question, thank you. So I'm going to talk about our reviewers in just a minute, but I do want to say that what we are doing at Westchester is , we're doing what I just talked about, which is we're looking at our foundational practices and paradigms as an organization. And we're setting up infrastructure and policy and practice within our organization to back up the work that we're doing in culturally responsive education. So that's one. The other thing is, specifically with our CRE work, we, we set up an infrastructure, we set up a process. We , took from the work of those scholars that I talked about early on and theorists and practitioners early on, as well as how their work has been interpreted and put into different frameworks. And we put together a process and a rubric , which is highly collaborative. So that's, that's really at the base of what we're doing. Right alongside that is , we have these amazing , professionals who are working with us as freelancers , to review and create content. These folks are just incredibly intelligent and insightful. They have these clear, critical lenses towards equity, meaning they are super smart and can spot inequities, both the overt ones and the subtle ones. And then in our review processes, a rticulate those in a way that helps our client understand what to change, why it needs to be changed, like what's the impact and how to change it. So in the content development realm, t his looks like inclusion of, our content developers know that they can bring their authentic full selves. And then also they know that they need that multiple perspectives and sources of knowledge and m anners of expression, m anners of learning need to be incorporated and included in this content. So our reviewers and our content creators also come from many different backgrounds, including, but not limited to different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientation , socio-economic background, religion, and so forth. So what does that mean? Like why is that important? And it's important, it's important because they have, when you come from, for example, a background that's different than mine or yours, you have access to a perspective, a way of being in the world, different experiences, access to cultural ways of knowing the world. And, the ones that w e're uplifting now, through our reviewers and our content developers, are ones that have, are different from what's widely existed in the education sphere, like forever. So the most important piece that these folks bring is their perspective, their experience, and their opinions. I w ant t o uplift this because in the industry, we focus a lot on what I'm going to call technical skill, and we lose sight of the fact that anyone who is involved with content creation brings a lens and background experience and their own knowledge and their own view of the world and culture to the table. And that's brought into the material they create, you cannot separate a person from who they are and their experiences. So we've all lost out in the past because there have been a lot of voices that have been excluded or marginalized from the education ecosystem for way too long. A big piece of our job at Westchester is to provide the infrastructure and the space for these voices to be uplifted. So of course, let me put this out there, the folks that we contract with, that we work with as reviewers and content developers are incredibly talented educators, writers, content creators . They write professionally, they edit professionally, they've trained formally in these areas. They've taught in classrooms, they've created curricula that's culturally responsive or culturally sustaining. And some have even like, battled or fought their school districts in order to be able to teach this way. So I just want to say that I have the utmost of admiration and respect for these , frankly brilliant professionals.Nicole Tomassi:
Nilofer, thank you so much for taking the time today to give us a comprehensive introduction to what culturally responsive education is, and also why it's such an essential component for content that is historically accurate, and also allows students to see themselves and gain an understanding for the experiences of their fellow students who are from other cultures. For our listeners, if you're interested in learning more about culturally responsive education, and how Westchester can improve your existing content or help you to develop new material that incorporates all of these important principles, please visit our website at westchestereducationservices.com and click the Culturally Responsive Education menu on our homepage, where you can find more information, not only about the reviews, but various resources about diversity, equity and inclusion. So with that, I would like to thank you all for listening to today's episode of Westchester Words and invite you to join us next time. To share your words with us about today's episode ,please email us at WestchesterWords@ WestchesterEdSvcs.com. Thank you again.