Back-to-School Equity Series, Part 2: Making Sure All Students Can See Themselves in Your Curriculum

Ashley Washington

by | 08.19.20

Ashley Washington is an educator in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @AshleyWashIC.

The first time I had a Black teacher, I was a junior in high school. She was my AP Chemistry teacher, Ms. Price, and I credit her with empowering me as a Black woman – and with inspiring my path toward education. (You can read more about her impact on me in my previous blog post: Reconnecting with your “why.”

When I became a science teacher myself, I first worked on a campus where the student population was 90% white. Thanks in part to Ms. Price, I knew how important it was that my students of color saw successful people who looked like them – and I made a point to make representation a part of my curriculum.

It’s easy for us to think of representation as primarily the job of language arts and history teachers, but this work belongs to teachers of all subjects. For example, when we show students famous scientists and mathematicians, the default is often showing them these older, white-haired white men. Instead, I made sure my students spent time looking at astronauts of all races. They looked at women of color who worked for NASA – women who were the actual computers, before we had computers. I’d tell them, “These women have been doing important work for decades, and there’s no reason you can’t, too.” 

At first, most of my colleagues weren’t making these same kinds of efforts. But once I started calling them in and saying, “Hey, can’t we give some examples of people who look like our students?” they started making some changes. Now, the teachers I work with will be conducting a book study on Zaretta Hammond’s work on culturally responsive teaching. Hammond discusses the importance of seeing ourselves, as educators, as a people of power – and how we need to use that power to make sure our students see themselves as people of power, too. 

We don’t live in a world where people of one culture have made all the contributions. But if we’re not careful, our curriculum might give our students that impression. If we don’t make an effort, our Black and Hispanic students could pass through school only seeing people who look like them in textbooks represented as enslaved people and as low-level workers: secondary figures in the history they’re learning. Not only is this a false view of the world – a failure to acknowledge the rich contributions made by every group of people – but it also impacts the potential our students see for themselves. 

Students need to see themselves as leaders in the community. It increases their motivation to learn, and it increases their own self efficacy. It can change the way they see their futures.

I’d like to invite you now to think about your own curriculum, and how people of color are represented – or maybe aren’t represented yet. Where can you find opportunities to make sure the contributions of diverse people are more fully represented in the stories you share with students? 

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