Race, Gender, Equality, and More: Challenging Times and Challenging Conversations

Looking back on 2017, we—just like the rest of the country—have repeatedly found ourselves conversing over issues of race, gender, and equity.  Likewise, teachers and school districts are struggling with how to foster and facilitate safe and productive classroom conversations around these issues and other provocative topics—whether they come up in discussions of history, current events, or literature.

At Inquiry By Design, we always consider these moments—particularly as they relate to our ELA curriculum—as opportunities to engage and dig deeper into the text under consideration. With this in mind, a number of upcoming blog posts will explore strategies, resources, and ideas to support educators in this delicate, but crucial (and often very rewarding) work.

One such resource is Christina Torres’ essay “We Shouldn’t Always Feel Comfortable: Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters,” published in Education Week. In her post, Torres shares why she doesn’t love teaching To Kill A Mockingbird, but does so because she believes the text is important.

“…education isn’t here to make you feel comfortable. A good education should, inherently, cause us discomfort. Part of the ‘enlightening experience’ built into the definition of the word “education” itself is shining light into the darkness of our own ignorance. When has that ever felt good?”

She challenges us to love our students enough to teach them how to handle the discomfort, but then to go further by finding ways to challenge the harmful and distorted viewpoints and behaviors we encounter.

In addition to literature, art, particularly Western art, often includes countless paintings and sculptures that reveal a history of racism and abuse. Titus Kaphar is a painter and sculptor who is challenging and amending the painful history of slavery and racism through his art. He often borrows from the historical canon and then alters the work in some way to reveal unspoken truths. While we can’t (and shouldn’t) erase history, Kaphar is finding ways to “reframe” it. See how he accomplishes this in his short TED talk “How Can We Address Centuries of Racism in Art.” This is a great tool to support safe and constructive classroom conversations around race.