Especially in the midst of widespread protests in the U.S., in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, individuals and groups (including CSTA) are increasingly dedicated to opposing racism and discrimination, and affirmatively asserting that Black Lives Matter.
Ibram X. Kendi suggests that in terms of racism, there is no “not racist”: you are either antiracist – actively working to dismantle systems of inequity – or you are racist. Many computer science teachers have been actively working to recruit members of underrepresented groups into their classes for years – working with counselors to enroll students of color, encouraging young women, creating new courses that don’t rely on extensive prior experience with computer science – all in the name of lowering the barriers to participation in computing and increasing diversity in our discipline.
However, as I have talked to my colleagues from marginalized groups in the last few months, I have been reminded that there’s a huge difference between inviting someone in vs. truly making them comfortable in the room. Yet many of the examples I see are about corporate life – from companies resistant to changing policies to microaggressions such as being called “bossy.” White supremacy culture can show up in subtle ways, which makes it much harder to change.
One of those ways is in thinking that these issues don’t affect how we teach. I was struck by a (very accessible! Go read it now!) article imploring us not to frame classroom conversations about diversity as “difficult.” The part that struck me – and prompted this blog post – was this:
“Difficult” allows us to dismiss and avoid – to further marginalize those who surface identity by labeling them myopic or as promoting identity politics. Yet all course content reflects identity politics.
For example, in my conversations with STEM faculty members, I often hear that their disciplines are evidence-based and identity-free. But when prodded, those same instructors might admit to not assigning readings with women as the lead authors, to assuming a level of prior knowledge in introductory classes that favors students from upper-middle-class high schools or to having group projects in which female students often assume a housekeeping role (e.g., note taker). In other words, these instructors eventually admit that underrepresented students do not introduce identity into the classroom, but rather identity is always present in the classroom. Identity is enacted through readings, assignments, classroom structures, and classroom norms – choices made and identities prioritized by faculty members.
If the first step is recognizing that we all bring our identities into every situation we’re in and that as teachers we need to accept and embrace our students’ whole identities, the second step is figuring out how to teach in an inclusive manner. Many teachers are already aware of the importance of a “funds of knowledge” or asset-based perspective, where instead of focusing on which students don’t know what things (i.e., deficits), we instead identify the strengths that students do bring to our classes.
Even better, would be to engage in anti-racist teaching and build an anti-racist classroom. Chelsea Troy has a post specifically about becoming an anti-racist computer science teacher, albeit in a graduate program.
I encourage you to reflect on your own path to anti-racist teaching, and share your experiences, as a teacher or as a student.