Teaching for Justice & Belonging, co-written by Dr. Lucretia Carter Berry, Founder and President of Brownicity, and Dr. Tehia Starker Glass, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Elementary Education at UNC Charlotte, is a breath of fresh, healing air in the educational justice space.
The book’s subtitle, “A journey for educators and parents,” is apt from the start as the authors welcome readers to their garden and onto the journey to cultivate classrooms and communities for justice and belonging.
Like all types of lifelong journeys, Drs. Carter Berry and Starker Glass assure readers this work “is wrought with detours, delays, and disappointments” and “requires commitments to a steady process–one that demands our informed intention, our full attention, and our greatest engagement.”
The Growth Cycle
The authors offer reflection questions and ideas for practice after each section to encourage the reader to take time to reflect, grounding the theoretical in the actionable. Our brains aren’t microwaves, they say, and need time to process and engage with new learning.
Each section of the book is organized into stages of a natural growth cycle with the truism “we reap what we sow.” For each, I’m highlighting a key quote and concept that resonated with me. Although, as my much-highlighted copy will attest, there were many to choose from.
Soil: The Groundwork
Just as plants cannot thrive in infertile soil, antiracist and justice work can not succeed without a strong, reflective, and healthy foundation.
“To position ourselves to promote justice and belonging, we acknowledge personal privileges; acknowledge and work to change personal racial biases; and confront and disrupt acts and systems of racial discrimination. We engage in a consistent cycle of unlearning and learning. This growth cycle entails constant observation and reflection.”
Seeds represent, with time and intentionality, our potential for learning and growth.
“Acknowledge where you are beginning and where you are planted. Be honest about where you are and how you feel about intentional growth. Identify your fears, apprehensions, and goals…Envision yourself as an antiracist, a colaborer in dismantling racist ideas and structures.”
Root: Build Racial Competency and Understanding
Roots are the lifeline of a plant. When teaching for justice and belonging, they represent the understanding of systemic injustices, policies, practices, and history that anchors antiracist work.
When we realize and recognize the US’s history of white supremacist ideas and people enacting racist harm, “we see how we’ve been shaped by their ideas and practices. We understand that we do not have to perpetuate their errors. We feel empowered to make different choices. If they were able to create systems that harmed people, certainly, we are able to create systems and practices that cherish people.”
Sprout: Early Growth and Signs of Hope
Sprouts are the first evidence of recognizable growth. In a school setting, this sprout might be using diverse literature and media that act as windows and mirrors; representation as a starting place, not the end goal.
“Humanize people, stories, and lived experiences of groups who have been traditionally marginalized and oppressed, viewed as complementary, or ignored to prioritize and legitimize Whiteness…Remember, diversity only seems alternative within a White supremacy modality.”
Bud: See and Celebrate Growth
When you’re ready for substantive, systemwide change, it’s easy to become discouraged with the growth process. So, in the bud stage, the authors encourage us to reflect and celebrate our progress, no matter how incremental it seems.
We should take time to recognize support from community members “who are investing in uprooting scarcity ideology (i.e., steal, kill, and destroy to survive) and planting seeds to harvest justice and belonging. The growth cycle is arduous and slow. And if we don’t acknowledge and appreciate our bud, we will give up on the process of becoming a flower.”
Weed: Uproot Growth Inhibitors
Weeds can prohibit growth, robbing healthy plants of vital nutrients. In education, weeds can be behaviors, mindsets, and actions that get in the way of antiracist growth. The “Lack of Fortitude” “weed” is especially poignant for me as educators face pushback on everything from CRT to gender identity.
“Fear mongering and spreading confusion to garden partisan allegiance…is not new; it’s simply rebranded…If we commit all our resources to putting out fires, who will cultivate the garden? We would rather use the water to nourish growth than extinguish every fire launched by political pyromaniacs!”
Bloom: Mature into a New Normal
Blooming represents the culmination of one growth cycle and the arrival at a new normal. At this point, rest is essential in order to sustain this work long-term and start a new season. Their advice to teacher leaders particularly resonated with me, once again, in light of a fraught political landscape.
“Recognize that educators need time to learn, think, and process, rather than being catapulted into integrating new content and practices…Committing to justice means that you must nurture your educators and create a space for them to bloom…Do you have a plan and protocol for how you will respond to resistant educators, parents, or other constituents? How will you protect your educators who are aligning with the vision for justice and belonging?”
Ready to Begin Again
This book is exactly what I needed to read at this time in my life, career, and antiracist education journey. In a great convergence of the gardening metaphor and real life, I read this in my backyard during the last days of summer break, soaking up the fleeting western Washington sunshine. At this point in August, my anxiety usually starts to skyrocket, overwhelmed by just how big my “why” feels and how insurmountable true educational justice feels.
However, this book’s framework for growth gave me hope, eased my anxiety, reminded me that I’m not alone, and encouraged me to be patient. Lasting growth and change take time.
As I finished reading the conclusion, I opened my computer, empowered to lesson plan for the first time all summer. I’m all too aware of what’s at stake in equity work, but this book also reminded me of everything we have to gain.
“We can choose to reconstruct resources once weaponized exclusively to maintain White dominance (schools, curricula, neighborhoods, churches, policy-making) into gardening tools to uproot systemic inequality and cultivate transformation. We can rebuild what racism has ruined. We can become known as repairers of broken things and spaces, where no one is denied dignity, where everyone can exhale and feel at home.”
How beautiful to be seen as a repairer of what’s broken. As a cultivator of a classroom that sounds like a sigh of relief looks like the genuine smile of being known, and even feels like home.
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