Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing

Culturally Responsive Education in the US and the UK

May 12, 2021 Westchester Education Services & Kaye Jones, founder of The Herstorian Season 1 Episode 8
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
Culturally Responsive Education in the US and the UK
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Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
Culturally Responsive Education in the US and the UK
May 12, 2021 Season 1 Episode 8
Westchester Education Services & Kaye Jones, founder of The Herstorian

The term Culturally Responsive Education is becoming more widely used, but there are still questions about what it is. In this episode, Sam Tucker, CRE Team Lead, has a conversation with Kaye Jones, founder of The Herstorian, about the differences in culturally responsive education in the US and the UK, and how the need for educational materials that included a wider variety of perspectives led to a transformative career change for Kaye.

Show Notes Transcript

The term Culturally Responsive Education is becoming more widely used, but there are still questions about what it is. In this episode, Sam Tucker, CRE Team Lead, has a conversation with Kaye Jones, founder of The Herstorian, about the differences in culturally responsive education in the US and the UK, and how the need for educational materials that included a wider variety of perspectives led to a transformative career change for Kaye.

Sam Tucker:

welcome to Westchester Words, Education Edtech and Publishing I'm Sam Tucker, senior editor of CRE. And in this episode, I'll be talking with Kaye Jones. Kaye Jones is a former history teacher, and author, and the creator of The HerStorian in a space dedicated to fighting for equality in history and equity in history education. Kaye, welcome. And can you tell us more about your background in anti-racist education and how you founded The Herstorian.

Kaye Jones:

Hi Sam . Um , course I can. So I am a historian by trade and I have a long well-established interest in gender. Um, you know, I consider myself a feminist I'm, I've been working as a historian and a writer for about a decade when I decided I wanted to retrain as a history teacher. Now because of my interest in gender, I wanted to see what the curriculum looked like. Now. I wanted to see if there'd been any real change in terms of female representation and visibility , um, in the school curriculum compared to when I was there. Now, when I got there and I found that there haven't really to be honest, been any great leap forward, there really haven't been any change. Now, in terms of the anti racism stuff, I'm a white woman and I live in a largely white society. So I have a lot of privilege. I never really have to confront my whiteness. I never really have to think about that. It doesn't affect my day-to-day life in any way, be honest. But when I got into the classroom that really started to change. So I have one very memorable experience where I was teaching slavery to a group of students. And I'd say that about 75% of those students came from black and global majority backgrounds. And in the middle of this lesson, I almost stepped outside of my body . And I looked to the board behind me and I looked at those students. I thought to myself, this is the only time that they will see people who share their identity presented in his curriculum. The only time in five years . This isn't good enough. So what are you going to do about it? Now, the problem then was that A, I didn't know what to do about it. And B, I wasn't important enough to do anything about it. So when the pandemic hit, I had done a lot of reading. I looked at different pedagogies and I had come across CRE and CRSE and I thought, okay, I think I might have an answer now. And I don't think that I can really do anything about it as a teacher. So I formed The HerStorian and that's how I got here.

Sam Tucker:

Hey , I really appreciate you , uh, talking about whiteness. It's worth noting that we're two white women talking about racism in education. Right? I feel like that moment that you had in the classroom, it almost sounds like you becoming aware of your whiteness in a way. Would you say that that's accurate?

Kaye Jones:

Yes, honestly, Sam, it was a life-changing moment for me. I've never really had to think about being white before. Um, you know, I live in a society where, when I go outside, I go to the shop. I go to work. Most of the people that are around me are white. I don't have to think about it. And I don't have to think about the privilege that I derived from that whiteness . So it was a moment to me where my eyes were really opened and a moment that once my eyes were opened, I couldn't go back. I couldn't change. And it now informs everything that I do.

Sam Tucker:

I really think that maybe the biggest hill that we have to climb is white supremacy. We have to fight back against white supremacy and educational materials. When I say white supremacy, I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about, you know, the KKK or Nazis, but I'm talking about whiteness and white culture as the dominant culture, the historically dominant culture. If we were to make a connection to culturally responsive education, we would be talking about the centrality or the perspective of white people, because for a long time, white people have been in positions of power. And so white culture or the white understanding of the world is centered in education materials, in the news, in the ways that we are showing the world and the ways that we understand the world. The only reason I was aware of whiteness was because my grandma's from South Korea, but even then, you know, learning in an American public school, we're taught about enslavement. We're taught about the civil war, but we're taught about these instances of systemic and institutional racism. We're taught about it as one and done. We're never given the chance to connect it to modern day issues, to concerns about policing and everything we're talking about now, the way the educational materials are created and delivered. How do you think this work differs , um, in classrooms, in the US versus the UK in your experience?

Kaye Jones:

To be honest, I think what's really missing in the UK , um, is the relevance as well. So I think in that respect US and UK experiences are probably very similar. What I love about CRSE is it has that really strong social justice element. It has that activism element in it. Children are exposed to the status quo. They get to see what it looks like, how it functions , and , more importantly, how we can challenge that. And I think that's what both the UK and the US really need now more than ever.

Sam Tucker:

You know, that's , that's one thing I think people miss, I think they'll come in hoping to better their materials or hoping to better their understanding of the world. And they're coming from a place of sensitivity and bias and meaning well, but that starts to get to erasing people. What is offensive. Whereas culturally responsive education is all about including everyone and centering everyone and acknowledging the fact that no single student or person lives the same experience and has the same perspective. And that's definitely what's missing from a larger majority of education materials. Um, I'm curious. So I, I read about a study that was done in the UK. This was kind of just after the Megan Markle, Oprah and Prince Harry interview happened, but it was about racism in the UK. Can you kind of speak to that, Kaye?

Kaye Jones:

I can. So you're talking about the Sewell report, which came out about two weeks ago, and now the main finding of the Sewell report was that the UK is not institutionally racist while there are instances of racism today, it is not institutionally racist. Yes . Well, I think that the past and the present have no correlation, you know, there's that famous quote that the past and the present are different countries, we do things differently here. It's not true. Um , all of those , um , kind of inbuilt prejudices, those oppressive systems that enabled white people to go forth and conquer. They're all still here because they've never been dismantled. And there's a reason that only 1% of historians in the UK are black. And that is because they, black children only ever see themselves in the history history curriculum represented in the context of enslavement. There is never a single opportunity to celebrate their contributions, their lived experience in our classrooms ever . So of course, they switch off to that.

Sam Tucker:

Absolutely. Culturally responsive education is really about displacing those fixed narratives and perspectives, right? And I think what, what we need to do white people have to get to a place where they are as uncomfortable as their whiteness makes lives for everyone else. I'm wondering then, you know, when there's this survey that comes out or this quote unquote study that says, you know, systemic racism, isn't real. And we're seeing similar things here in the U S where individual school districts will start to adopt , um, diversified or difference based educational materials. And then there's backlash from the community and mostly from the white community. But I'm wondering, are there initiatives happening in the UK where they're , they're trying to make quicker shifts within educational materials and making things more culturally responsive and , and better connected to all students' home cultures and communities?

Kaye Jones:

Yeah. I mean, first of all, you're absolutely right. White fragility is a huge problem, and it can be really difficult for white people to accept that they derive benefit from being white, without them taking that really personally, and without them feeling that they need to apologize for that. So that is a huge problem and, yeah, that's a problem in the UK under the US. There are lots of initiatives here to try and broaden children's knowledge and their sources of reference. Um, we have black history lessons , uh , mandatory and Welsh schools now, we've had hundreds of schools in England sign up for anti racist curriculum. They've done that without government interference. That's a teacher led initiative. So we , we are starting to move in, in the right direction. Now, in terms of history specifically, I think we have really big problems that require not just an approach from schools and the government, but from history as a discipline itself. And because what we have right now are only partial records of the past. We have huge gaps in our knowledge because the past was traditionally recorded by white privileged men. And guess what ? They record the things that matter to them, which is why all groups of women tend to be missing from the record. It's why LGBTQ+ individuals tend to be missing, disabled people, all kinds of marginalized groups . So as a result of that, we have a really distorted view. Now, what we need to do is include as many voices in history as a discipline as possible. So that, that will filter down. We can't keep referring only to white male historians. One of the things that I'm trying to do with The HerStorian is encourage people to widen their sources of knowledge, as much as possible because people research things that resonate in some way with their own identity, right . I was always interested in working class women. Because that's what I am, you know, at heart that's what I was. And if we're going to really change things, we need to attack it from every side, we need to be changing the scholarship. We need to be changing the foundation, not just in schools, but outside of schools as well. And I don't think we can wait for the government to intervene. I think all of these things that are happening are proof that the government just isn't moving fast enough. People want change. And CRE is absolutely one way that we can do that quickly.

Sam Tucker:

Uh I'm I'm just, I'm sitting here marveling about everything that you just said, that the materials that we disperse and accept as true in education absolutely exist in a vacuum, right? It's inaccurate. We don't have the right context. We have one narrow perspective and understanding of the world and you're right. Culturally responsive education, I honestly feel like it is the only way at this point to really change materials and change them foundationally. So let's, let's talk a little bit more specifically about what CRE is or what CRE is, you know, in terms of the work you do with The HerStorian and what you're seeing done or not done in the UK. Uh, what are some misconceptions about CRE?

Kaye Jones:

Well, I think in the UK, when is the CRE is very, very, very low, Having been through the teacher training program quite recently, you know, in the last five years , um, I can tell you that I never heard CRE referenced once . Um, since then I've worked with teacher training providers and they're all in the dark about it, too. We still think about what I will call CRE concepts and ideas in terms of a diversity and inclusion framework. So diversity tends to refer to what we teach the topic, the content, and inclusion is how we teach it. We think of diversity in my opinion, as an add-on. So it exists separately to the mainstream . So the mainstream stays as it is. It's the traditional privileged white male view , that world view . And then we add on, so we add on a bit of African history, we add on a bit of women's history, and this is part, you know , it's a huge misconception because that is not going to fix the problem. If you really want to have all your students feel included. If you really want to widen sources of knowledge, you need to make diversity the foundation. You need to scrap what we already have, because it doesn't work. And we need to write everybody back in and we need to make that the foundation and the work that I'm trying to do with The HerStorian is raise that profile of CRE in the UK massively, and show teachers and educators, people in the government and interested parents a nd concerned citizens, what CRE can do for children, because at the end of the day, children are the future. They're the ones who a re going to change things.

Sam Tucker:

Absolutely. Diversity and inclusion, honestly, I think really is kind of the bare minimum of what we did . And you talked about it as an additive, right ? Or a generalization, a tokenization, even the word inclusion it creates or reinforces that kind of insider outsider perspective, right? Like who's the one doing the including which group is the one that gets to say, Hey, now you're invited to be a part of this , um, everything. Yes, you have to amplify amplify the voices that have not been an active part of the narrative that are not shown. Um, and that don't, that don't relate to students' everyday lives. And even beyond that, we don't allow students space to be critical of these things. There's there's need for that space.

Kaye Jones:

Absolutely. And, you know, two things personally really resonate with me and CRE. The first is , that what I do find in the UK is that if you want to be more inclusive with black history, for example, there are quite a few different groups that you can go to. The thing with CRE is that rather than just write back in one group, it looks to everyone. It looks to every identity and every life experience. CRE, there are no barriers. Um, you know, when we review material, we look at everyone, we look at the , uh, the representation and visibility of every single group that's protected under the equality act. That's one of the things that I love about it. And I think that's what stops CRE from being tokenistic. The other thing that I really love about CRE is that it has a really strong social justice element. So it encourages students to recognize the status quo, what it looks like, how it personally impacts on them, and then do something about it, question it it's, you know, it's those critical thinking skills that all students need to have.

Sam Tucker:

Lovely, because so many folks, white folks, largely conflate these initiatives, or, you know, these reframing of , of oppressive institutions as cancel culture or as reverse racism and things of that nature. But really it's, it's the thing that makes the most sense. If we can create content that's relevant to students, then they're more engaged. Then their scholastic efforts improve, then they're, they're, you know, they're, they're interested and we're also creating an empathetic citizenry. We're creating, you know , we're creating spaces where children can talk about things that are important and can connect everything that they learned in the classroom to their communities, which is not happening. It's just not happening . We are talking again about culturally responsiveness. We're talking about being aware of what's happening in the world and using educational materials to inform them, to complicate them, et cetera, et cetera. So I'm wondering in your experience in materials that you've seen firsthand, what are some of the issues that you have seen and what is some of the feedback you would offer to clients who are trying to make their materials responsive, engaging, critical, and centering difference?

Kaye Jones:

Well, I do tend to see the same problems repeated to be honest. , One huge problem is that I see the path depicted from the top down perspective and not from a bottom up perspective. When we, when we look at everything from the top, we tend to look at it through the official lens. Don't we? So we're thinking about politicians and decision-makers who historically tend to be white male privileged Europeans or Americans. So we immediately, we are being exclusionary because all of these are the voices, all of these different communities of working class women and Chinese women, Black women or disabled people, they are immediately excluded. So my advice always in that instance is to switch that perspective, start looking at the ordinary person, how did they experience World War II? How did they experience the cold war? What did it look like in different countries? That's always my advice on that one, and it can be difficult because we have to switch our minds there, but it is achievable. The, probably another big one that I come across very often is stereotyping. So I'll find material where that has been clear attempts to be diverse . So we've got a nice balance between men and women in the text. So we have a nice balance between white people and black people, but then just simmering under the surface, are those really damaging stereotypes. Um, these things that spring to mind, you know, all Chinese children are good at math. Um, all black people have a criminal record. I see stuff like this all the time. And I suppose my advice to clients is to imagine teaching this to, you know, your children think about those implicit and explicit messages that are being put out there, that all educational material by nature is culturally responsive. The question is whose culture is it responding to? We can change that. It doesn't have to be white male privilege culture. It doesn't have to be that way. We can change that, but we have to ask these questions first.

Sam Tucker:

White people have a responsibility to be anti-racist and that's what we're calling on them to do. I so appreciate this conversation, Kaye. And your empathy, your curiosity. It was a pleasure. Awesome. Thank you so much, Kaye. To learn more about how Westchester Education Services can ensure your content meets the standards of today while providing an accurate reflection from which students can learn and understand history in a more complete and rich context, please visit our website WestchesterEducationservices.com and WestchesterEducationservices.co.uk. I hope you'll listen to the next three episodes of Westchester Words, which will focus on topics that were addressed during the Westchester Publishing Services Publishers, Weekly webinar: Publishing.Now 21, Looking Forward. The webinar panelists, discuss international publishing and Brexit, the publishing industry, and transition,and what's next for publishing. Thank you for listening to today's episode of Westchester Words. Follow us on your favorite streaming platform to be notified about new episodes when they become available or visit our website, which has all the episodes plus additional content shared by some of our guests. In the meantime, send us an email at WestchesterWords at Westchester, E D S V C s.com to share your thoughts or comments about today's discussion and tell us what content you'd like Westchester to cover in future episodes until next time, stay safe, be well and stay tuned.