Authored by Dr. Jana More, VATESOL President
I always love a good chance to learn and grow, and on June 15th and 16th, the VDOE certainly delivered an amazingly informative program. The 2021 Summer Education Equity Institute focused on Teaching African American History through Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies, as well as Culturally Responsive and Inclusive Education Practices. My first thoughts were that while these were very informative talks, they might not have a lot to do with language learners, or perhaps only tangentially. Boy, was I wrong!
So I supposed right off I should mention that there were so many wonderful speakers, and just not the time or ability to listen to them all. I tried to choose from a collection of speakers around the country, with varied experiences and backgrounds. Should I name drop here? I don’t know...they were all so good, and I just could not pick out one or two who were “more fantastic than the others.” They were all unified in that history matters. Not just one person or culture’s history, but all the stories from history matter. And if we do not seek them out, they may remain hidden.
I think of my students, whether born in the U.S. or elsewhere, who come with their stories. These stories make up who they are, and need to be told by them. I know, I know, we always say this. Of course we do this! But here’s the thing...
Am I really listening to my students and their stories?
Or am I jumping in and taking over their story because I have heard as much as I can take in? Am I really listening to their story, or am I using it to label them as well as the expectations for them? Am I really listening to their story and appreciating how much they have to offer? Am I listening?
The other lesson I took away from the conference was the need to show how our students have role models from history, if we help bring them to light. History tends to be written by the victors, and the majority culture or race. Oftentimes, it eradicates minorities simply by not mentioning them at all. It is so important that as educators we help our students see where their race, culture, and ethnic groups fit into history.
Take, for example, the past thirty years of American history. Who helped shape that? Was it only one race or ethnic group? Or were the advances of this nation possible because people of all races and ethnicities contributed and were a part of that? Our students need to know that many different individuals from many different cultures have played important roles in our history. These are role models.