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In Event: The Racial Literacy Framework: Cultivating Racial Understanding and Teacher Education for Racial Justice
For the last two years, we (three professors at a large, public mid-Atlantic university) have engaged in a two-part research project examining (1) student response to equity-oriented teacher preparation curriculum and (2) self-reflection and peer feedback in developing and implementing this pedagogy. Using a racial literacy framework has been key to fostering growth in our students and ourselves. In phase one, we studied preservice teachers’ responses to pedagogy focused on developing racial literacy. The majority of the participants (undergraduates in three different programs: early childhood education, secondary English education, and elementary teacher education) were White, middle to upper class females, with just under 7% of participants identifying as people of color, 7% as low income, and approximately 13% as first generation college students. In phase two, we studied ourselves, two White women and one Latina woman, examining our experiences as we learned with each other and our students. While a few key findings of the research will be shared, the primary focus of this paper is theoretical, showing how the framework of racial literacy is a productive one for teacher educators working with teacher candidates.
Throughout our research, we saw that the development of understanding about how race impacts education was a fluid, non-linear, dynamic process, and that keeping the ongoing nature of this process in mind supported our own growth and persistence. Professional organizations’ established definitions of literacy in the field of English/Language Arts helped inform our understanding of how ‘racial literacy’ has value as a framework. For example,e the National Council of Teachers of English’s Commission on Reading defined reading in a way that also has implications for racial literacy: “a complex, purposeful, social, and cognitive process in which readers simultaneously use their knowledge of spoken and written language, their knowledge of the topic of the text, and their knowledge of their culture to construct meaning” (p. 1).
In our conception, preservice teachers who working to gain racial literacy work in two main areas: reading/listening and writing/speaking. The ‘texts’ they engage with are themselves (their past and current experiences) and the classroom (our curriculum and pedagogy). They read and listen to see the effect of their and others’ racial identities on educational experiences. They then speak and write to share these experiences with others, plan how to address these issues as a future teacher, and find solidarity in racial advocacy work. Of course, they also sometimes fail to read or speak, choosing to remain silent, or not understanding that they have the power to act. In our paper, we will share a few brief examples of data that illustrate how this multifaceted notion of literacy can be applied to professors’ teaching and teacher candidates’ learning about race and racism in education. The work will be relevant to teachers and researchers who seek answers about how to facilitate understanding of systemic issues related to race. It is only by understanding and then working to overcome these institutional forces that we truly can be agents of change for educational equity.