Efforts for Equity in Education Continue Following Teach Truth Rally
10/11/2021- Kansas City, Missouri
Cornell Ellis of BLOC KC leads the Teach Truth Rally on August 28, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by: Andrei Stoica
At the beginning of the school year, Cornell Ellis of The BLOC KC led a march, in collaboration with SURJ KC, to “teach truth.” The August 28 march—which went from near Lincoln Prep to the Black Archives of MidAmerica, was part of the Zinn Education Project’s national day of action against recent moves across the country to ban critical race theory and curriculum perceived to be part of it, such as the 1619 Project.
These proposed bans include legislation introduced in Missouri by Rep. Brian Seitz (R-Branson) as well as a request from Sen. Mike Moon for Governor Mike Parsons to use an executive order banning critical race theory.
The petition that circulated alongside the national day of action, however, argues that one cannot teach the history of the United States without talking about slavery and other forms of systemic racism, land being taken from Indigenous peoples and how these histories impact us today.
Ellis argues teaching “truth” requires that education reflects the identities and experiences of all students, which often requires teaching more complicated histories as well as working to contextualize history in light of students’ modern-day lived experience.
Last year, Ellis said BLOC KC worked in collaboration with SURJ KC to develop a list of 12 equity demands for area schools. Ten area school districts took up the demands, and have been working with the two organizations over the last year to evaluate their practices and move toward alignment with the demands.
“Over the course of last year, we tracked their progress…and was able to kind of hold side by side what schools were doing with the rubric and the metrics and the quantitative measures that we were that we were pushing for,” Ellis explained. The demands include issues related to hiring practices, communication with students and parents, transparency and data-sharing, board members’ ties to community, access and curriculum.
The full text of these demands is available at the end of this article.
Culturally Relevant Teaching
Ellis said equity in education, however, comes back to people seeing their identities and experiences represented in education—from curriculum to school administration to who is standing at the front of the room.
“I think the whole human experience is becoming more identity based…people matter. People's experiences matter,” Ellis said. “And that isn't true anywhere else more than in education…kids need those spaces, teachers need those spaces, more than any other industry to be able to affirm their identities, and to live up to their full potential, and to truly be able to empower themselves.”
However, Ellis said Black students often do not see themselves represented in curriculum, textbooks or in schools’ faculty and staff. While research has shown that having Black teachers leads to better educational outcomes for Black students, racial demographics in the education system are overwhelmingly and increasingly white.
“As a smart, Black underserved student, you often become disinterested in curriculum because you don't see yourself in it. It's very easy, it's not rigorous, and it's actually not interesting,” Ellis explained about his own experience in school. “Finally, when I got to college, I…was first exposed to, like, experienced culturally relevant pedagogy, and that's really what changed my educational experience. Like I read books by people of color. I learned about history, from people that look like me.”
“Culturally relevant pedagogy,” a term developed by Gloria Ladson-Billings, pushes for an educational approach that understands and affirms students’ culture of origin while also emphasizing problem-solving, critical consciousness and understanding of other cultures. Ellis also highlighted that the approach breaks down the perceived differences between students’ “cultural selves” and their “academic selves.”
“(Culturally relevant pedagogy is) using pedagogical skills that are inclusive and showing kids that their culture matters and that their culture is not separate from their academic selves,” he said. These connections not only help students better connect to course material, but it also keeps students engaged with education long-term, including propelling them into being educators themselves.
“My organization’s goal was to encourage young men, especially Black boys, to get back into education and to become teachers themselves,” Ellis said of his work with BLOC KC.
The BLOC (Brothers Liberating Our Communities) KC works to support Black male educators in Kansas City. Ellis said he hopes the organization will be able to increase the number of Black male educators by 100 in the next decade.
“We were founded in 2016. I was inspired by some work with guys in Philadelphia that were doing Black male educator work, and I came back to Kansas City, I had already founded a conference here called Amplify: Students of Color Conference, sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation,” Ellis explained. “We really started off doing going to happy hours, so I’d get every Black male educator I knew and we go have a few drinks…(and) after two or three drinks you start hearing what's really wrong in schools, and now we're able to say, ‘You know what, that's a really great topic, here's what I'm hearing; let's create some really specific opinion based development around that.”
He said topics have ranged from communication strategies to addressing conflict with white school administrators to confronting colleagues on problematic behavior. Presentations and discussions are kept short, Ellis explained, so that attendees also have time to socialize and enjoy dinner.
Ellis said that while he welcomes support and donations from anyone, it’s been important to keep the BLOC KC events a space that is exclusively for Black male educators to gather and have their needs and experiences centered.
“I want all Black male educators to be alive,” Ellis said. “And all students and all teachers to feel like they have a space that’s safe for them to create transformation.”
SURJ KC (in collaboration with BLOC KC) Equity Demands
Published with permission.
Anti-racist, anti-bias professional development.
Strategically ask staff, who are over 80% white, to start by examining their own racial identity development.
Integrate culturally responsive and culturally congruent teaching in teacher training and evaluation processes.
Implement restorative practices that replace traditional exclusionary discipline.
Remove police presence and metal detectors from schools (see Denver, Minneapolis, Portland, Madison). Audit frequency of referrals to law enforcement from SROs (School Resource Officers), budget commitments, and arrest and search frequency by race.
Transform curriculum, school libraries, and classroom libraries to include diverse, representative, and inclusive texts.
Modify recruitment, hiring, and retention practices for staff of color, and set goals for 30% BIPOC representation at all levels.
Ensure equitable representation in honors, Advanced Placement (AP), and gifted, as well as special education.
Begin offering high school courses in ethnic studies and history, such as Latinx history, Mexican-American history, African-American history, and Asian/Pacific Islander history.
Encourage and amplify leadership of students and parents of color.
Create leadership positions and revise budgets to make these action steps achievable.
Annually share data, disaggregated by race, related to each of these action steps.
Published on: 10/11/2021