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 schools. I got a good friend of mine, a buddy of mine, I would consider someone that I have connected with well over a year. And we're finally able to do this interview in the midst of everything that's happened in this world. So I'm really glad to present to you. Dr. Todd Mealy is here with us. So without further ado, Todd, thank you so much for joining us,

Todd:

Sheldon, thank you for having me. As you mentioned, I've known you through the Leading Equity Center and through Boxer for a few years now, and I've really enjoyed following you on social media and in all your webinars and everything you provide for educators.

Sheldon:

Thank you. You know, the work continues. It doesn't stop. So I appreciate it again, and I appreciate your collegiality that we've had and the conversations we've had. So again, I'm glad that we're able to do this. So, I know you, but I would love for our advocates to get to know you as well. So could you share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do?

Todd:

Yeah, sure. So I'm originally from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, but right now I live in Lancaster County, PA, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Anyone not familiar with this part of the country, it's known by outsiders is Amish country. Though I don't live too close to the Amish. The Lancaster County has a city that has about a population of 50,000 people. I live right on the edge of the city. I'm about 90 miles from Philadelphia, 30 miles from Harrisburg now to a place to live a hundred miles from Washington, DC, three hours from New York city. I taught for 19 years, split time between an urban school district and a rural school district. I adjunct at a local college here in Pennsylvania. I teach American History. But at present, I teach a course called The History of Race, Gender, and American Sports.

Todd:

I'm the founder and director of the Equity Institute for Race Conscious Pedagogy. It carries a vision of providing resources for educators to turn classrooms and school buildings into race conscious spaces. We are a research institute so that we conduct research projects both internally, but also for folks on the outside that wants some help doing things like climate surveys and such. We write curriculum, we do consulting for curriculum writing. We have the capacity to do professional development with partners. We have a publishing house. We're working on really big two volume book right now with about 50 scholars from throughout the United States and two abroad in Ireland and Australia even. Look for that in 2022 and 2023, I believe. But I also serve as a Director of Equity and Instruction for a nonprofit called The Bond Education. I guess in short, that's me.

Sheldon:

In short that's you. Okay. All right. Well, you obviously are a busy man. So again, thank you for your time. You know, I love that you brought out race conscious pedagogy and that's some of the work that you do. I'm holding in my hand your latest book, Race Conscious Pedagogy, Disrupting Racism at Majority White Schools. And I want to dig into your research on that, but let's start off by defining race conscious pedagogy.

Todd:

Yeah. This might take me a minute or two to discuss. Shell, the biggest barrier we have in addressing education outcomes, inequities, isn't practical strategies that our administrators have worked with us during our careers. We have a lot of practical strategies as you know. The problem I think is ideological. There's a lack of empathy for the daily experiences that are shaped because of race, or a lack of understanding about how inequalities like academic achievement gaps or the number of students from non-dominant cultural groups enrolled in gifted programs, how have they been generated and maintain along racial lines. So in a simple way, race conscious pedagogy is about approaching your teaching job with a critical race lens. It's not so much about creating an ethnic studies course, but instead it's a way of finding how race is infused within a discipline that the teacher teaches.

Todd:

In other words, it's a deconstruction of institutional racism. To understand that race is injected into virtually every component of teaching and learning. The things you say to your students, the content that's taught, the management style of the classroom, the way you grade, I think as a simple way to try to understand what race conscious pedagogy is. But in a more sophisticated approach to your question, I think we have to look at each level or tier of the classroom to explain what race conscious pedagogy means. When people talk about racial equity, they're really looking at four or five things, data practices, family, community engagement, disciplinary policy, and then the fair and just distribution of resources. But me as a classroom teacher, I have little control over how a school building or a school district handles those things. And I think a lot of teachers would say the same thing.

Todd:

So what do I have control over as a classroom teacher, my classroom. I can control the curriculum. I can control whether students in my class feel like they belong. While students may not have that sense of belonging or that sense of being valued in the building at large, I can do that in my classroom. So how does race conscious pedagogy help me do that? Well, one aspect of that is the curriculum. So it's the ability of the instructor to intentionally fuse into the curriculum, no matter the subject, the content and the skills that are relevant to individual racial, ethnic, and gender experiences.

Todd:

A second aspect of that Sheldon is the pedagogy. So to establish as a core practice in the class problem posing dialogues, which has a way of democratizing the classroom, this method empowers the student voices and it makes them feel valued. It boosts their engagement, it boosts their attendance, and it boosts their success. So I think that sharing perspectives through diverse voices builds a critical thinking in the students where they don't necessarily accept the status quo to push society closer to that more perfect union. And I think it teaches problem solving, understanding and acknowledging different viewpoints is an integral component of conflict resolution, and empathy for others. So I think the pedagogy is important for creating classroom that does that.

Todd:

Third, race conscious pedagogy, from the student's point of view, think of that notion of windows and mirrors. This is not my phrase. It's something I've heard from people that are like yourself, where school's supposed to benefit all people and circumstances of birth and race and gender sexuality should not make a difference in the level of education one is given.

Todd:

One of my favorite people in history is not as popular, but his name is William Howard Day, and he was a 19th century abolitionist and educator who passed away in December of 1900. But he talked about school being the people's college. If the antithesis of public education is to ignore and to neglect the needs and experience of any student that's in your classroom. So in this sense, the term of mirror that all students, regardless of race and skin color and gender, should see themselves in the curriculum. So that's just not about like teaching slavery and Jim Crow and genocide, but like in leadership roles. To know those stereotype busting representations. And in terms of windows, it's beneficial for white students in particular to see beyond say the, so to speak, fishbowl that they live in to disrupt the biases by seeing stories of non-dominant cultural groups. So teachers should have that in mind.

Todd:

And then finally, I think there's a fourth component of race-conscious pedagogy. That is have the educator or the instructor having an influence on the school building that they're working in. So to take the work that they do in their classroom, and now have that influence the colleagues in their building and to influence the administration to commit to equity at large and influenced your teaching colleagues and other departments to redesign their classrooms and become race-conscious.

Sheldon:

There's so much there to unpack. I love how you broke it all down, because when you think about how education has historically been built. One of the pieces that I really like and that you mentioned, that I wanted to kind of expound upon was when we think about predominantly white schools, and I'm talking about maybe there's just a handful of students in the classroom of color, in a classroom or down the hallways, those kinds of things. Folks, in my experience in the work that I do, is they don't really see the relevancy or the importance of coming from things from a cultural responsive lens. Is like how can I be culturally responsive, and there's only one black kid in my classroom, or there's only one brown student in my class? What does cultural responsiveness mean in that situation? And I think you touched on it. I want to see, maybe you can create a little bit more urgency with our educators, recognizing the value in providing a more of a multicultural perspective when it comes to our pedagogy.

Todd:

Yeah. One of the heartbreaking things, Sheldon being in education and hearing people doing this for nearly two decades, but all other educators, whether they're in the district I work in or they're somewhere else, is that well I don't have many students of color in my class, so I don't need to touch on these issues. So that creates clearly an isolated feeling. I have a coaching background. I coached high school football for 22 years. Actually that helped me try to figure this out because I would have some of my athletes feel isolated. And when they feel isolated, I start to see the opposite.

Todd:

What happens when you don't feel like you're included, when you don't feel valued. They start to disengage. They would quit the team, right? They would stop showing up to workouts and practices, because they felt like they weren't valued. So I was conscious about trying to create an environment where everybody on that team had a sense that their role on the team was valued. I started to figure that out as a young teacher, that I need to do that same thing in my classroom, because I've had moments where I kind of felt isolated or invisible. And I'm asking myself, what am I doing? What is worth it, what I'm doing.

Todd:

The opposite of color of race consciousness is colorblindness.

Sheldon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd:

So there there's flaws that are embedded into classrooms and curriculum that aren't dedicated or committed to being cultural responsive for every single student that's sitting in a class. Right? So the idea that a colorblind classroom is the knowledge originates or it's isolated in Europe. So it's like marked as universal, rather than white. It neglects local languages, it neglects cultures, it neglects identities, and it neglects history. Right? It tries to melt everything into this European frame of thinking.

Todd:

Colorblind pedagogy makes everything focused on individuals rather than institutions. So it makes it difficult then for folks to have discussions about structural and institutionalized forms of oppression and racism. So that education is not benefiting all of us as we try to navigate power systems and create what we want to create an America, which is a multiracial and multicultural country.

Sheldon:

Right.

Todd:

The colorblindness suggests that we study history so we don't repeat the mistakes that are made in the past. Looking at us all the time, our history is rhyming or repeating all the time.

Sheldon:

Yeah.

Todd:

So that narrative stymies social progress generationally. It suggests that we don't learn to address any injustice that has existed over time. So in other words, there's no critical thought about past actions or about the current status quo.

Sheldon:

It doesn't work.

Todd:

Right.

Sheldon:

It doesn't work. Like you said, look generationally. Dr. Feeble will bring up Dr. King, and I love his work, but I mean we are in 2020 and we are still having these conversations. Do we matter or not? Everything is so political from a sense of do you really like mean what you're saying? Or do you not recognize that things need to change? But we just feel like one day is going to happen. But like you said, it keeps going. It keeps going. You and I talked before we even started recording about when I'm gone or when Leading Equities publishes his last episode, right. Does that mean that my work is done? That in my lifetime, we'll see the justice that we need to have? Probably not.

Sheldon:

I think that this work is going to continue for generations until we, like you said, really start addressing these things. But that colorblind stuff is still prevalent in people's minds. They feel like, Oh, I treat all kids the same and I don't see color and all these things. But then we default to whiteness when we do those kinds of things, and we erase people's identities and people's culture, people's language. Because again, that's what we think is important.

Todd:

Yeah. And a lot of white spaces, white families, white classrooms, predominant white classrooms, predominant white schools, the notion is that colorblindness is better for all people. Right? Let's say let's not see someone's skin color, because we think that's being kind to people. I learned about 25 years ago, that's the wrong approach to family, to friends and to my students.

Todd:

I do have a permission to bring this up. My sister is Korean, and she went through some stuff when she was in her teenage years that I didn't have to go through. We have a brother, he didn't have to go through. And we just kind of assumed that she was having the same experiences that we were having. And if she was having a difficult time, then she just had to work a little harder. She felt like there was nobody at home that could understand what she was going through. So she just didn't share her experiences when she would leave the Mealy house and go somewhere. She would be racially other. And she felt like she didn't have anyone to talk to about this. And then I figured this out. And so it's totally changed. This issue became personal to me. Right? And when it became personal for me, I got to understand that by kind of feigning colorblindness is not what's in the best interests of people. People that are in my social circle, people that are in my family. You understand what I'm getting at.

Sheldon:

Yeah. Yeah. And sadly, you have experienced, like you said, it's personal. Right. So you were able to see it from perspective which opened your mind, which helped you kind of recognize okay, well there are some things that maybe I'm not privy to that I haven't experienced personally, but I see it within my family. Right? But we have a lot of educators who don't have any, quote unquote, direct ties to experience racial injustice or or are oppressed. They don't have that, and so they think that either these things aren't really existing, people are just too sensitive these days, everybody has to be politically correct, and all of this jazz. But they don't really see that just because it's never impact you, you never had that experience, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Todd:

Yeah. Yeah. What I'm finding is that sustained conversations will ultimately kind of wake people up to the fact that race matters in everybody's life. The ultimate privilege that exists is the fact that white folks get to wake up in the morning and not really think about how their race is going to impact their day. And therefore, they don't think if something doesn't happen to them, then they have difficulty trying to rationalize those around them that are saying that they're having certain experiences.

Todd:

So I think the sustained conversations is one way to make people aware that race matters. Whether that's an informal conversation or something formal like in the form of professional development at a school or an organization is going to provide for its employees. That has to be sustained. It can't be like a one and done, or two and done kind of thing. It has to happen over a long period of time. Because I think at some point it does become personal for the people that are sitting there. Maybe not the same way to everyone, and not like it did for me. But there's going to be someone close to these individuals, it could be a daughter, it could be a wife, it could be a sister, where it's going to click. Where you have an institution, or you have a system there's going to be some form of inequality that exists. So I think the sustained conversations in education, on a topic will get people to see the light, so to speak, and then start working toward a more perfect union.

Sheldon:

So one of the things that the very first part of the book talks about, to be silent on racism is to empower racism. I think that's kind of in line with what we're talking about now, you know, when we don't say anything. I'd love to get your thoughts on that.

Todd:

Yeah. There's a lot that I guess say I could say here about this. So I'm trying to figure out where I want to start. The notion of being silent Sheldon, is you're actually saying something. So if you want to apply this to classroom teachers. If you're choosing to evade conversations about race, conversations about gender, conversations about sexuality, these diversity categories, if you're choosing to evade these topics, you're saying something to your students. You're saying one, the problems that exist, the inequities that exist, you're saying, "I don't think they do exist." Two, you're saying that those topics aren't important. So if I'm not going to include certain voices, if I'm not going to include certain narratives or stories that exist, that are relevant to some of the core things in a curriculum, then I'm telling my students that this is not important enough for me to cover, and therefore you don't need to know it.

Todd:

So you have people in this country that hear their entire lives all men are created equal. So it makes it difficult then when something happens, something tragic happens, and someone is trying to express how it has impacted them emotionally, and people are just resistant to that. You know, a debate over black lives matter, all lives matter. You know, this notion that we're trying to, you know, all lives mattering and we have this utopia that currently exist is I think just false. And if you have teachers from preschool through 12th grade, that have avoided such topics, then that's not doing much to try to dismantle any barrier that exists. You know, racially.

Sheldon:

You know, I had a student tell me once that, and this is right after, you know, at the time of this recording, Joe Biden is President-Elect, and the student was a student of color. They were sharing with me an experience that they had, where they were basically going back and forth with their classmates, Trump versus Biden kind of conversation. The student of color said, "Trump has said a lot of things against my people. And he said a lot of things against some of my friends that I know that are of color." And the teacher overheard this whole conversation and basically just shut it down and was like you guys don't know what y'all are talking about, stop talking about race. Right? You stop talking about race, stop talking about politics, you don't know what you guys are talking about.

Sheldon:

My response to the student was you know what you're talking about, because these are lived experiences that you have. This is impacting your community. Things that have been said are impacting your community. So you do know what you're talking about. It's just the teacher doesn't know what they're talking about, because the teacher hasn't experienced, any forms of racism themselves.

Todd:

Yeah. That's that fishbowl I mentioned a little while ago. It's like many white folks are insulated from racial stress, because you have white folks living in white spaces. Even in schools, majority white schools, you're seeing more than 90% of the educators in majority white schools are white educators. So you have schools that are predominantly students of color, you're still having half the teaching staff in those schools are white educators, which typically come from white spaces. All right? So white neighborhoods and such.

Todd:

I'm trying to think back to your question about to be silent on racism. I think this work and the work you do Sheldon is lifesaving. That's my Y. It's just not so much not about trying to help someone not show up on a viral social media video is a Karen or a Ken. And I know that's certainly part of that. But I mean, we're talking people lose their lives because of this, people suffer trauma because of what goes on in our society. And the school system should be a place that really works to ensure our community does not have these kinds of divisions.

Todd:

One final point with your story to the student and the student's teacher, is everybody reads a text differently. You know? So something that happens in the country that we see on the news, these students were discussing, and the teacher was overhearing this. That's no different than reading a book or watching a film or listening to a podcast, everybody interprets it differently. So the point of race conscious pedagogy in a classroom, is every student's voice is valued and it's going to be shared, and everybody's going to respect and listen and learn from what that person is saying, because we can all learn from one another. So in a case like this, talking about the discourse of Trump and the Trump administration and the impact on communities of color, that is read differently by communities of color than what is read by whites communities. That's what the teacher should be addressing, as opposed to totally dismissing what those students are saying.

Sheldon:

Yeah, I would agree as well. I wonder sometimes again when we think about what goes on into our classrooms and how some teachers are very, very intentional with avoiding quote unquote politics, but like you said earlier, when it comes to silence you're taking a stance when we don't say anything at all. Dr. Kennedy's work talks about how you can't be not racist, you're either racist or anti-racist. You take a stance on either side and he talks about how that can change from time to time. So it's those kinds of things that we have to be mindful of. So it's one of those things. I want to know, from your perspective, based off of kind of your research, maybe even some experiences that you had, what are some of the things that we should just maybe dismantle right away, from either from a systemic level, institutional level, or just from a classroom level. Where would you start when it comes to kind of dismantling and being more race conscious pedagogy?

Todd:

Yeah. let me respond to that one by like talking to the teachers first. Because the teachers are kind of like the soldiers on the ground here. So, I think that's a really good place to start because you have an army of teachers in a school building, working with all the students every single day. So while the administrators will be the ones that make the decisions to change the structure of the policy and the practices of the school building, it could really be the teachers that are proactive, as opposed to reactionary, teachers are proactive to change the culture of a building. If they could transform their classrooms to becoming more inclusive, pedagogically inclusive, the skills and the content that are being taught are representative of everybody that's in their classroom.

Todd:

And you know, that takes some work. And it takes some work outside of the classroom to do some reading, to understand race, it's very nuanced. There's all these different complex components to trying to understand it. So you can't read one book, you can't read Kennedy's book and think you've got to figure it out. You have to read, you have to read deeply, and you have to read over and over again. Sometimes the same author, you got to read them multiple times.

Todd:

So it takes some work outside of school to develop the knowledge and the comfort to create race conscious classrooms. And then it takes some analysis, content analysis of your own curriculum. You know, so how can I take the time to learn about the students that are going to be sitting in my class this fall, and in this coming spring? So I kind of learned about the students out of my classroom and how can I tailor the curriculum that is responsive to who they are and where they're coming from. So how can I do that to the curriculum itself? And then how can I change my teaching style in a way that is going to be responsive to each students that sit in the room? I can't do it all in one day, but I can have this particular style on this day of the week, and I can change that style to try to meet everybody throughout the course. I think if every teacher is on board, that could make some major headway in your school building. And it's going to influence the administration to act faster.

Sheldon:

All right. So now my next question centers around authenticity, right? Because I've seen teachers feel like, Oh, well, I have certain students in my class, so maybe they're into this, or maybe they're into that. These are the things that they need. But it's maybe not a natural or...For example, hip hop, right? I've seen teachers that are white, that don't listen to hip hop at all, but they recognize they have some black kids in their class or brown kids in their class. Maybe they overheard kids listening to some JZ or some Kendrick Lamar or something. So, this is their approach or their method to try to reach their students is to try to not rap, but they try to bring it into the class, but it's not authentic. How can we make those connections? How can we, like you said, we know who's coming into our fall class, our spring class. What are some ways that we can do it in a way that is authentic?

Todd:

Yeah. So that's a great question. The students will see through that. In the work that I do, that's not what I write about, what I speak about. What I want to encourage educators to do is to be themselves. But it's a matter of how the course is designed in a way that you're utilizing texts. So the texts could become the basis of the course. If you can use text as a way to then create your problem posing discussion. So race conscious pedagogy is this critical analysis of your discipline where race is at the center. Your conversations each day is going to be based on some source that you're going to put in front of them. That could be an article. It could be a documentary film. It could be a piece of music. It could be a piece of artwork. And then that becomes the basis of conversation. And from that text or a collection of text, then the students can refer to their own lived experiences.

Todd:

So it's not so much that the teacher is trying to do hip hop pedagogy. That's not it at all. It's that the teacher is engaging with the students in a conversation, a dialogue in a way that is tailored towards trying to find solutions for various problems. With that, you're getting the engagement from the classroom. So you have kind of like the community engagement within the classroom itself. You have the responsiveness, because you've done the analytical survey of your curriculum. You're making sure that various groups are represented in these texts, and now every student's voice is heard through that problem posing discussion that the classroom is having.

Todd:

At the same time, my straight Christian students sitting on one side of the classroom is listening to the gay Jewish student on the other side of the classroom. Or my Muslim students sitting next to me in this dialogue is talking to the class, where someone doesn't interact with someone who's Muslim ever, they do get to learn that experience. That it comes from this text. So these text-based discussions are both thematic based and you find sub-themes in them, and all the students in the classroom get to talk about their own experiences as it ties to this text. With that, you have diversity of thought. And that's how folks, particularly at majority white schools, become exposed to diverse experiences without them going home and having an inner committee.

Sheldon:

Yeah. I tell TJ, I say, if you wouldn't do this on your own time, like if this is not something that you just do on a daily basis, don't bring it to the classroom like that. Because kids, like you said, kids know that you're uncomfortable. This is not something that you do. If you don't normally celebrate, sell a certain holiday, a cultural holiday, if you wouldn't do it on your own time, that's not something you grew up with. Don't bring it to the classroom and say, this is a holiday that we should be celebrating and try to do your version of it. We have to make sure that what we're doing is authentic. I love how you brought up just the idea of finding text or video or something that is created and written by someone who represents whatever community or identity that you're showcasing, and allowing folks to glean from that and engage in those dialogues. I think that's really important. I'm glad that you said that.

Sheldon:

So I want to wrap things up, and I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity Todd. So, could you leave us with one final word of advice to our listeners?

Todd:

Sure. I mentioned before about sustained effort. I think this is an effort that has to endure. It has to take also an interdisciplinary approach. You know, race, as I mentioned, it pervades really every institution. So I think that educators must find a way, that they're both going to sustain our learning, and sustain the conversations with their colleagues.

Todd:

I also suggest, or warn I should say Sheldon, educators just to be ready for some backlash. That when you commit to this work, I do think this is the price you pay. That when you commit to putting the civil rights movement into your classroom, or you commit this to social justice issues, and you're teaching students the dynamics about power systems, and you're using race to do that, then there's going to be some people that are going to complain about what you're doing. So I think as part of the price you pay. But when you commit to this work, you find how it does become in a way personal to you. Then you know that it does in a sense, Sheldon, become lifesaving, you'll find your students becoming more engaged in what you're trying to do in your classroom.

Sheldon:

There it is. So I am talking to Dr. Todd Mealy, author of Race Conscious Pedagogy, Disrupting Racism At Majority White Schools. If we have some folks that want to connect with you, what's the best way to reach you online?

Todd:

Well, my personal email address, anyone it's [email protected] So that's my personal email address. I'm on Twitter @toddmealy. I guess that would be it.

Sheldon:

And if they want to get in touch with your work on the race conscious pedagogy or Institute, what are some websites or links.

Todd:

Okay. Yeah. I appreciate you asking that. So I do have a personal website, Toddmealy.com, but then my Institute's website is a raceconsciouspedagogy.org, raceconsciouspedagogy.org.

Sheldon:

All right. And I'll leave the links in the show notes as well. Todd, it has been a pleasure. Thank you so much again.

Todd:

I've really enjoyed it. Thank you.

 

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