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"Just Keep Talking About It": Learning and Teaching About Race With Aseda

Sat, April 9, 8:15 to 9:45am, Marriott Marquis, Floor: Level Two, Marquis Salon 10


Objectives/Purposes & Scholarly Significance
In an effort to make sense of the educational experience and lived lives of my students, and in response to an acute moment of reflection on my teaching practice, I address what I call a crossover moment in which I realize that instinct alone is not enough if we are to effectively address issues of race, culture, and identity in school. This practitioner inquiry (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001) draws upon aspects of portraiture (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997) and narrative to render in words the experience of coming to terms with how I can better serve my students within an educational system that, while rich in the monetary and educational means necessary to effect positive academic change, is severely lacking in the pedagogical means to effect positive social change. This reflection is an attempt to interrupt institutional silences—in particular, I hope to contribute to the fields of literacy pedagogy and social literacies about teaching against racism. I do this by examining the writing and art of one student whose actions and words invited me to look closely at some pedagogical choices that I had made explicit as well as at some that I had not.

Perspectives/Theoretical Framework & Methods for Inquiry
Throughout much of the 2014-2015 school year, I felt ill at ease over the seemingly relentless violence against young Black men, and I wanted to both honor the lives lost and to foster hope for the lives yet lived. I was compelled to do something to interrupt it. But I was not sure how. We addressed aspects of marginalized identities in my eighth grade humanities seminar, but as a professional white middle-class woman, I sometimes doubted whether it was my place to do so. I relied on instinct and teaching for openings (Greene, 1994) as far as they would take me. Then, finally, in the throes of year-end reflection, I thought to seek out an expert, my student. I invited Aseda to talk about my teaching practice and his work in that context, including his feelings about being the only African-American boy in his particular gifted seminar (and one of only two overall), which we did, but Aseda wanted more to talk about his experience in school more generally. In an open-ended, hour-long conversation, Aseda shared both practical advice and wisdom, which I recorded by hand, wrote up, and sent to him and his parents for member-checking and further reflection.

I share the results of this conversation, my analysis of Aseda’s writing and art, and the dialogue this has inspired between me, Aseda and his family, and one of Aseda’s other teachers, with the hope that others may also be inspired to look closely at their own practice and to continue to seek responses to hard questions about teaching against racism. More significantly, I also wish to foreground the voice of one African-American boy in an attempt to redirect predominant conversation away from the pathologized lens of the media and toward a more humanistic view.