Recognizing Black History Month
As part of our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, we’re working to recognize observances and holidays that center the voices and experiences of historically excluded peoples in the United States. In today’s newsletter, we bring together Black History Month resources for educators and schools.
Learn about Black History Month: At the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, author and professor Dr. Daryl Michael Scott describes the origins and evolution of Black History Month.
Recognize Black History Month at your school: The Center for Racial Justice in Education provides a Black History Month resource guide with the purpose of “ensuring the ongoing integration of Black history and experiences… to uplift every student and reinforce that Black Lives Matter everyday.”
We encourage you to seek out the many narratives and voices that explore Black History Month:
Independent schools have been engaged in place-based learning for years to deepen meaningful connections with their communities and regions. Place-based learning tends to encourage students to engage with local ecosystems, but it doesn’t have to be limited–it can expand to history, economics, cartography, journalism and many other disciplines.
When schools recognize Black voices in their local community’s past and present, they can center voices and experiences that are all too often missing from textbooks, traditional resources, and curriculum. Here are three resources for expanding your school’s engagement with Black history in your community.
Blackpast.org hosts primary sources and links to digital archives about the experiences of Black people in the United States. In How Teaching Local Black History Can Empower Students, Chuck Yarborough (named the 2019 Tachau Teacher of the Year by the Organization of American Historians) describes the way his students use sources such as these to research and present local Black History.
Online resources can help educators and students develop an accurate and inclusive understanding of Black history in their area. Blackpast.org also lists African American National Historic Landmarks by state, and the National Park Service has collected lesson plans and teacher resources for many of these sites.
Additional resources about place-based learning are available for members of the Association for Academic Leaders in our online member community.
In recognition of Black History Month, we want to talk about the ways One Schoolhouse is working to celebrate Black identity and represent the African Diaspora. Like many independent schools, we grapple with our identity as a predominantly white organization; we recognize that many traditional courses, including ones we’ve offered in the past, erase and elide both Black identity and the experience and impact of systemic racism. We’re committed to ensuring that the courses we offer students now, and in the future, are identity-affirming.
One Schoolhouse courses center students’ identities in course design. We see this as a core aspect of a learner-driven, personalized, competency-based pedagogy, with an explicit focus on creating a space of belonging where students can engage constructively in a diverse and changing world. The opportunity to engage with other students in an identity course -- Asian American, Black, Gender, or Latina/o/x -- provides a haven for a deep dive into what it means to be uniquely you in America today. Here, we share three commitments to honoring Black identity and the history of the African Diaspora:
Black identity is reflected in our curriculum and catalog. Our course, Black Identity in the United States, takes a transdisciplinary approach to exploring cultural, social, and political movements. Other, more traditional courses don’t shy away from engaging with similar questions. For example, our Civics and Politics course asks students to read Frederick Douglass’s speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” alongside the Declaration of Independence, ensuring that the United States’ founding documents can be understood in their historical context, examining the wide range of their impact.
Curriculum constantly widens perspectives. In our Modern Language sequences, we’re asking what it means to decolonize the teaching of a colonizing language. For example, the majority of French-speaking people live on the African continent, but language learning materials–including ones that we’ve used in our courses–spend the majority of time exploring Francophone culture in France and Canada. We’re committed to ensuring that our curriculum doesn’t replicate distortions and erasures, and accurately reflects a diverse world.
Our courses have to address how we innovate to evolve. We aren’t afraid to rebuild courses so that students can explore the legacy of slavery or the impact of racism on modern society, and ask questions that connect the past to real-world issues. In our AP European History course, for example, we’re examining not only European colonialism but also African resistance in a deep inquiry into the Mau Mau Rebellion, which leads students to ask their own questions about imperialism, hegemony, and cultural identity. In this course, “AP Readiness” is just one of the four course competencies, making space for students to explore the essential context and information that illuminates the course content.
No one at One Schoolhouse should check their identity at the door. We are more effective and joyful when we embrace the fullness of ourselves, tackle privilege, and open ourselves up to change. Everyone at One Schoolhouse -- students, teachers, administrators, board members -- is accountable to and for their identities, and every day we work to make this explicit in our work.
Lunar New Year Celebrations
As part of our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, we work to recognize observances and holidays that center the voices and experiences of historically excluded peoples in the United States. Below, we include voices that share our commitment to learning, and to amplifying all voices and experiences.
Learn about Lunar New Year celebrations: This article by the Asia Society recognizes the many traditions in Asia that mark the new year, including Chinese New Year, Songkran (the Thai new year), and Tet (in Vietnam), among others
Recognize the Lunar New Year at your school: “Learning About Lunar New Year”, from WeTeachNYC and the New York City Department of Education provides sample lessons and activities for exploring Lunar New Year with grades K-8.
We encourage you to seek out writing about and celebrations of Lunar New Year: In “Celebrating Chinese New Year Far From Home and Family,” writer and educator Frances Kai-Hwa Wang writes about preserving and evolving traditions “Our Chinese school New Year’s celebrations may not be completely traditional, but we are together.”
The first step is to understand AI– what it is, and what it isn’t. How deeply you want to dive into the details is up to you, but take it far enough to understand that AI uses machine processing and learning to complete tasks previously associated with human intelligence. AI can now automate text and image generating processes. It does not do so by “thinking” but by copying and recombining previously absorbed text input in microseconds. It’s learned the ways that text makes sense to us from the text we’ve already written. AI doesn’t have new ideas, but it creates new text passages and images. What does this mean? It’s a progression of the idea that once a technology exists, it keeps getting faster and more powerful. You’ve known for a while that your phone can predict what you’re likely to say in a text to your mom, or that you’re likely to want to see the faces in a picture more clearly. Your email client thinks it knows how to finish your sentence in a message to a parent; how often is it right? AI “creates” text based on what it finds with its bots, which means that it can be grievously wrong, full of error and prejudice, and sometimes perfectly correct and “worthy of a four” on an exam. One of many great tutorials written with educators in mind is this one from Ditch That Textbook.
The big picture is that now AI is coming for “intellectual professions” just as mechanization and robotics replaced humans in manufacturing. Is this a good thing? Maybe. Calculators enable math-heavy professions to focus on bigger problems by handling number crunching. AI can generate the “routine creativity” elements of work done by people who draft reports or analyze data in their professions. What this means for the world of work is fascinating (and beyond the scope of this post)….and yet that’s the world of work our current students will be entering. So, Academic Leader, get your head around AI, if for no other reason than the chances are that you’ll be reading AI-generated text sooner rather than later.
After you’ve looked around a bit, it’s time to focus inward and lead your community in forging the path forward–which is another competency for Academic Leaders: make decisions with resolve and empathy. A caution: don’t focus on this as an academic integrity issue, but recognize AI for what it is, a powerful tool rapidly on its way to being ubiquitous. What are your school’s existing values and culture around assistive technology? What are the exact competencies that assignments and assessments are evaluating and how well do they do it? If these haven’t been clarified at your school, there’s work to do, and as is almost always the case, you’ll need to differentiate your “right now” needs from the longer term.
For those “right now” issues, you probably have teachers who are looking at next week’s assignments and realizing that AI can now turn in perfectly reasonable responses. Worse, they’ve got major papers and semester assessments that now need interrogation. What’s the immediate solution? One consideration is to shift what happens during in-class and out-of-class time. There are calls for teachers to only accept hand-written work that is completed under the watchful eyes of an adult; is that realistic or desirable in your community? Other voices are suggesting that pedagogy should be reconsidered so that students examine or critique the AI-generated response as part of their learning. Many wonder how teachers can design assignments so that the conversations and feedback around writing are more visible and present. No matter what approach, your school will need to teach students about AI, because they’ll certainly be learning about it from somewhere, and you want your values to be part of that conversation.
Teachers have questions, and Academic Leaders can help them arrive at answers by drawing upon the expertise of those who have been through some of this thinking already. You have internal experts on campus. Engage with your world languages department leader and ask how they’ve handled the development of translation software that operates in real-time. (And maybe ask how they’re planning to handle voice-mimicking AI, too.) Math leaders have pretty significant experience managing the intentional use of problem-solving technology tools! Other in-house experts undoubtedly include library/media specialists, the technology team, digital arts, and learning support staff. Gather the right folks around a table (real or virtual) and have a practical conversation about what to do right now and what to postpone for a thoughtful professional exercise later this spring/summer. Don’t forget the school’s communications team–AI text and image generation is exploding in their world, too. And you can certainly bet the college counselors are talking about AI-generated essays!
Once you have a plan, it’s time to put another one of our competencies into action: communicate effectively across multiple domains. In your voice, share and clarify how you’ve been researching AI, along with your expectations, understandings, plans, and yes, penalties. Share that this is work in progress, and you’re watching the technology evolve. You certainly learned how to communicate during an evolving landscape over the last few years– use that competency now. Conduct demos for those who need or request them so that they can build their own understanding of AI. Include uses such as “write an email to a parent or guardian about a student’s successful project.” Share links to articles you found helpful, but make sure your primary communications pieces (emails, videos) are authentic to your voice and community.
You’ve got this!
For more on this topic, check out these accompanying blogs:
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)