Sheldon:

Welcome, advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. Today I got a special guest with me. Dr. Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr is here with us and we're going to be talking about fostering critical colonial consciousness through queer pedagogy. So I am looking forward to that. It was an article that I stumbled across. You sent me an email and I saw it in your subject line, your signature line, and I was like, "Oh, can we chat about this?" Keitha-Gail, I'm so happy that you're here. Thank you for joining us.

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

Thank you so much, Sheldon. It's a pleasure being here.

Sheldon:

All right. Well, the pleasure is always mine. Before we get started into our topic, I'd love for... You said it's okay for me to call you KG, so I'll be referring to you as KG going forward. But could you share with us a little bit about yourself and what you currently do?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

So what I currently do. So I work at the Regional Centers of Excellence in Minnesota, and I work to support schools with school improvement work and also implementing being active in implementation work and also focusing on equity. A little bit about me. I am Jamaican. I moved to the United States 2002. I came up as an international teacher. I was recruited by the New York City Department of Education to come up and work in a hard to staff area. A hard to staff area is an area where the typical white female teachers do not want to work. So I worked in the South Bronx for nine years and I loved it. I moved to Minnesota in 2011 to pursue my PhD at University of Minnesota, and now I'm working at a Regional Center of Excellence supporting school improvement work.

Sheldon:

Nice. Well again, happy to have you here and I'm looking forward to it and I want to jump right in. So the title of the article that I found, your manuscript, was Fostering Critical Colonial Consciousness through Queer Pedagogy. So I want to start off with, could you describe colonial consciousness?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

As I said before, Sheldon, I'm Jamaican. Jamaica was colonized by the British and because Jamaica with colonized by the British, there are remnants of colonialism in Jamaica, and we operate from a British mentality and a British perspective. So even though we're not colonized again, our minds are still colonized and we are still operating in that realm of colonization, meaning we are still operating as if we're white middle-class and there's a lot of elitism going on. So, that's what I mean.

Sheldon:

So there's, like you said, so initially Jamaica, for example, was colonized by the British and so that there's still mindsets, if you will, is what I'm taking this, where folks that generationally, ancestry and those kinds of things have perpetuated, even though Jamaica is now a independent country, but there's still a lot of those things that were there that are still present today. Could you maybe give us some examples of what that mindset today in 2020 might look like some of the remnants of colonialism?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

So my research focused heavily on queerness and queer pedagogy. So remnants of colonialism in Jamaica you will see, we still have a law that criminalized homosexuality for up to 10 years with hard labor. So, that's a remnant of colonialism. Also, we are a very religious island, very religious country and Christianity, which is a remnant of colonialism, has taught us that homosexuality is immoral and it's sinful. It's bad. So those are just some of the ways in which we are still operating under a colonial mentality.

Sheldon:

Okay. Okay. So I want to get into... Because I want to be able to relate this to education. Do you see some examples from a queer lens, is there some of that in our schools as well, maybe either in Jamaica or in the United States that you might be seeing that's from a colonial perspective?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

Yes. There are so many examples to the point where the examples are common sensical examples, and therefore it makes them invisible because that's what queerness is in the American curriculum. In our standards... Let's say you take a look at the Minnesota State standards. Queerness is not mentioned. I had a teacher who reached out to me just last week saying she read a book to her class and two parents reported her to the teacher because the book had characters who were same sex couples. So things like that are remnants of colonialism.

Sheldon:

Now I want to dig into that more because that is definitely... We say Christianity is not supposed to be part of our school system. Separation between church and state and that whole nine, right? The reality is when it comes to those who are the law, those who make legislation and those who are responsible for creating a lot of these laws and policies, may have Christianity as part of their influence. So when we talk about politics and when we talk about what schools look like, and those who create those state standards... Maybe I will want to get your take on, why do you think, in 2020, we still have these challenges where LGBTQ community and that information is still, I don't want us to call it a taboo topic, but it's still an issue that we have in our schools these days?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

I would definitely call it taboo because LGBTQ people are othered in our society. This is because of a process of socialization. So we were socialized not to honor nor validate people who are not heterosexual. So the society as a whole is deeply homophobic. It's a part of our culture. So even though we think that we have progressed because same sex couples can get married now, there are anti-discriminatoral laws, however, when we operate in our daily lives, we still discriminate against people who do not want to be heterosexual. So heteronormativity is such a part of our being, we don't know how to separate ourselves from it.

Sheldon:

Okay. So with those types of norms, I want to get into the conversation you had with that teacher that said, "I read a book about same-sex marriage and I got a lot of pushback." What was your reaction? What was the things that you shared with that teacher that we could share with the audience here?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

So my reaction, I'm pretty even keeled and I'm so used to this, so I take it to the smile. I reminded the teacher once you're teaching the state standards, that's what you need to teach. That's what you need to legally teach so you are okay once you are teaching the state standards. Once you're doing critical literacies, that's what you need to teach so therefore it's okay. It's okay for students to question normativity. It's okay for students to develop critical consciousness because we need to change the status quo. Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, who coined the term culturally relevant pedagogy, one tenet of cultural relevant pedagogy is for students to question the status quo. They need to question normativity. When we expose our students to same sex couples or we talk about GLBTQ people throughout the curriculum, then we are disrupting normativity. Then we're disrupting common sense narrative around same sex people in our society.

Sheldon:

I would agree with all of that, that you said. I guess the next question that I would have is for our teachers who get approached by a parent. Let's say they give a similar lesson. They get approached by a parent. What are some strategies or tips that you would give the teacher when addressing the parent that might seem angry or have issues with the content that was displayed in the classroom?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

One, the first strategy I would say is approach everything even keel. Don't get angry. Anger is not going to help. As educators, our primary job is to teach everyone, not only our students, but also community members, parents. So that's number one. I would say to teach using questioning. So ask some critical questions to help people to realize what they're saying, because a lot of times people don't even understand what they believe and why they believe those things. So ask questions. "How will you feel if your child grows up and wants to be with someone from the same sex? What would you say to that child? How would you feel if I was teaching about heterosexuality in my class? Would you feel the same or would you feel differently and why? Why is there such a deep hatred for, say, people who want to do things differently?"

                So ask those questions and truly listen for the answers and engage parents, the community, and students and colleagues in critical conversation. Also, I would suggest to theorize. Use theory as your north star, according to Dr. Bettina Love, to guide your thinking and also your conversation. So engage these people in theoretical conversations and also conversations about people's lived experiences.

Sheldon:

I totally agree with everything that you're saying, KG. I guess I want to add one more question in regards to this, and then we can move on to a next topic in regards to your article. From a school leaders perspective, how can our principals or assistant principals or even district, we can even bring in our district folks, how can we support our teachers who are wanting to be more inclusive with their education, with their curriculum and instruction? What type of suggestions could you present to our school leaders and district leaders with supporting our teachers, and not just our teachers, but being inclusive ourselves as leaders to our LGBTQ community?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

One thing that I would say to district leaders and principals, building leaders, is the practice a culturally responsive school leadership? If you're practicing culturally responsive school leadership, that means you're being inclusive, because guess what? You don't know which students identify as queer or which students are in same sex family situations or have same sex couples as their caregivers. You don't know. So therefore you cannot exclude or ostracize or marginalize these students and their families because they are a part of our school community, whether we like it or not. Everyone is not the same. People are different so we need to be inclusive of differences.

Sheldon:

The thing about the cultural responsiveness is there's so much intersectionality, right? Because you have race. You have gender involved as well. Some students might identify with multiple groups and, like you said, you don't know what's happening in their household. We don't know what a student might identify as. Our teachers too, right? Our staff that might be in similar situations, right? So we don't know those things. So as school leaders, as district leaders, we need to make sure that we're mindful of that. Are you an advocate for district policies to recognize... So a lot of our schools will have bullying policies or they'll have harassment type of policies, and they don't necessarily name our LGBTQ community. They'll just say, "Treat everyone the same." Love everybody mentality. Are you a proponent for let's spell it out? Because some schools will say racial equity and racial equality and discrimination from that standpoint. What are your thoughts on district policies or school policies when it comes to our queer community?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

I think we should spell out those policies. Definitely name them so people can start articulating them. People can start using them instead of making them... I think if you don't name them, you make these queer-identified students and community members more invisible. So you name them to show that you're validating them and you're honoring them and you're being inclusive. So I am a proponent for naming these things, because if we don't name these things and we have an umbrella phrase and a catch phrase, language is so arbitrary and people can interpret it the way they want to interpret it. Most of the time they're going to interpret it the way it wasn't meant to be interpreted. So name it precisely.

Sheldon:

Okay. Okay. I'm with you on that and I appreciate that. So let's shift gears because I want to jump back into a couple more questions in regards to your article and I appreciate your time and for the insight that you've been providing so far. One of my favorite books, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Classic. I love this man's work. Yes. So just so y'all know, so I'm video Zooming right now and KG just showed me the book, right? And it's right here behind me. I could grab mine as well, right? So probably my favorite book. So how does colonial consciousness and the work of Paulo Freire intersect?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

Colonial consciousness intersects with Paulo Freire's work, in my opinion, because Paulo Freire talks about the banking method of education. So the banking method of education has teachers assuming that they can just instill societal knowledge into students brains and students are supposed to just regurgitate and reproduce and perpetuate because when you do that, you're perpetuating colonialism because no one is thinking critically, no one is thinking differently. No one is being reflective of what they're learning. So that's how Paulo Freire's work connects with my work.

Sheldon:

Great example. Love the banking. I don't love the banking system, but I love the part where he talks about the banking system. As an alternative, he talks about how we can get more student buy-in into the classrooms with co-teaching and collaborative approaches to education. Because like you said, we typically, a lot of teachers will look at classrooms like a bank and they make those deposits and then expect those withdrawals to come out. So, yes, so I love how that connects. Now, I want to give you an opportunity to maybe talk about... So we talked about colonial consciousness in the remnants and how in 2020, there's a lot of influence. I mean, even in the United States, there's coloniality there, right? Unless you're indigenous, then you got here somehow. There's been influence that has shaped our current practices when it comes to education. I would love to know if you could possibly share how we can foster critical consciousness through queer pedagogy.

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

Yes. Thanks so much, Sheldon. I'd love to talk about how we can foster critical consciousness through a queer pedagogy. What I mean by fostering critical consciousness through a queer pedagogy is basically anti-oppressive pedagogy. It's an anti-oppressive way of teaching so that students can think critically about what they're learning. Students can question what they're learning and we're expecting students to do that. We're also thinking critically about what we're teaching and we're not privileging the dominant discourse. So we're not privileging whiteness in our teaching. We're not privileging heteronormativity in our teaching. When we see these things in the standards, because they're in the standards, in every state standards, whiteness and heteronormativity, we make sure that we're centering non-dominant ways of being. We make sure that we're centering non-dominant people. We make sure that we're pushing up against normativity and neutrality because nothing is normal or nothing is neutral. There is always a variance going on. There's a lot of fluidity going on and we need to teach our students to be more fluid and to operate in variances.

Sheldon:

You are dropping some nuggets today. So, thank you. Thank you for that. I consider you as providing a voice in leading equity and I wanted to give you an opportunity to share with us, maybe, your final thoughts.

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

My final thoughts for all of us as educators and community members and stakeholders in education is to begin living a questioning life. Let's stop going about in life and accepting things as they are. Let's start questioning everything. So stopping and looking and questioning things that we normally walk away from or think that it's normal. Another thing that I would ask us to do is to think differently about state standards. Think about disrupting them. Think about teaching from an anti-oppressive pedagogy. I'll also say, think about honoring differences and affirming differences.

Sheldon:

I love that you added on the affirming because honoring and affirming is two different things to me, but they go together, and so I appreciate you bringing that out. If we got some folks that want to connect with you, what's the best way to reach out online?

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

Yes. They can connect with me via email, [email protected]

Sheldon:

Awesome. All right. Well, once again, I'm chatting with Dr. Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr. She's with us today and I appreciate your time. Thank you so much again for providing this insight to us.

Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr:

You're welcome, Sheldon.

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