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Raising the Mirror and Opening the Blinds: Classroom Talk about the 2020 Election



The past few years have been quite the ride for many Americans and their families who have been marginalized by our past administration. I mean, let's be real...black and brown folx have experienced some of the greatest terror and trauma from such a blatantly hostile leader of the free world...AND WE'RE SICK OF IT!!! And to show how sick of it we are, we collectively gathered to ensure that he (who does not deserve to be named) quickly exits the Oval Office. With our new administration come expectations for equity in every sector of life, especially education.


Now, we can't forget the downright attack on education and the boldness of our Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, combined with (and I am ashamed to say) my own senator's attempt at erasure regarding the truth behind American slavery and his fight against the 1619 Project. To say it has all been quite ridiculous is an understatement. But now, with him (who dare not be named) out of office, Betsy is on her way out as well and we can actually discuss educational concerns with someone (prayerfully) that has the capacity to understand what is at stake in education.


Ok, now that I've got that rant out of the way...As educators of brilliant and bright students of so many diverse, cultural backgrounds, we have an obligation to provide a culturally safe learning environment where students feel safe enough to take intellectual risks. Our main priority is to build and sustain meaningful, positive relationships with our students on a daily basis. We can be the transformative light that shines and attracts a love for learning and spark the inherent desire each human has for learning through exploring their curiosities, current and newfound interests.


Where do we go from here?


As culturally responsive educators, we are always thinking of ways to provide space for the upholding of mirrors and windows within the learning environment. Mirrors are an opportunity for students to see themselves and their culture in the content and experiences they encounter while learning. Windows provide insight into other cultures and parts of the world where students do not organically hold space for these experiences. Emily Styles, credited for coining this phrase, asserts that

...no student acquires knowledge in the abstract; learning is always personal. Furthermore, learning never takes place in a vacuum; it is always contextual (Style, 1988).

Within the culturally responsive teaching (CRT) framework, educators are responsible for investing in their own professional growth as they maximize their learning capacity in the following areas:

  • Identifying, challenging, and committing to an ongoing practice of checking their biases

  • Creating a culturally safe learning environment that incorporates social emotional learning and restorative justice

  • Composing culturally relevant instructional materials and curriculum, including "deep culture" (Hammond 2015), social justice, and multicultural awareness and value

  • Investing in healthy mental health practices for the sustainment of this pedagogy (CRT)

Keeping these things in mind, the 2020 Election is the perfect opportunity for ALL children, whether they are BICOC (Black, Indigenous, Children of Color) or non-BICOC, to watch and appreciate this transition of political and state power before their very eyes. While some may not agree with the choice for our president and vice-president elect, the aesthetic segment of this historical moment is the focal point for this blog. Every. single. educator should be holding space for students to process their responses to this moment and for us to pass the mic, raise the mirror, and open the blinds so that students can truly evaluate what this shift in power means for our country.


One thing to note is that it is not our job as teachers to instruct students on how they should feel, but a time for us to celebrate this moment that has never occurred before in history...a black woman as our nation's vice-president. The only redirecting that should occur is when you have students that are echoing sentiments of racism and any phobias that arise and manifest themselves as anger, rage, disdain, or resentment for this change in history. We have to provide those students with multiple opportunities to see, through the window, that at the core, many of us share the same values for family, love, respect, and relationships, but they can be expressed differently.


Here are some overarching questions to consider using as you unpack women of color in politics and intersectionality in power:

  1. Explore the trope of power and politics and who gets to determine those in power and politics. (Background building-What makes a good leader? Who gets to make the rules? Why do we need rules? What happens when certain people are left out of the rule-making/decision-making process?)

  • Based on the traditional trajectory of white men in power, who has been left out of their decision-making processes that equal privilege? Who was included and gained access and privilege?

2. Challenge the traditional image of white men as political authorities.

  • Younger students could look at a time line of American presidents and politicians. You could ask them "What do they notice about all of these 'people'?" Students may note race, age, and if you give background, they can connect wealth, power, and status as well (maybe more with upper elementary and middle school students).

3. Interrogate the "others" that have been pushed out of politics (traditionally) and are now holding space...explore the "firsts".

  • Show more pictures and ask what differences they notice between both sets of pictures? Why do they think the differences have occurred? Do they deem the shift in power to be necessary to effectively run our country?

4.Research multiple identity markers (race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc.) who have fought for power, from the grassroots arena onwards to those who have actually gained political offices and positions of power.

  • What are the advantages of intersectionality (holding multiple identity markers that cannot be separated and create a unique experience for those people) for people in power?

Connecting self to change: How can you ensure our country continues to promote diverse people in power and that those people are held accountable for upholding the mirror for those once-marginalized groups?

This is simply a starting space for you to create this opportunity for students to explore power and politics in a way that is engaging and culturally relevant. These questions can explore a variety of texts, allow students to relay their understandings through engaging techniques (Flip Grid, PSA, podcast, Google Slides with infused audio descriptors of photos, customized and curated playlists of songs that explore these topics and their importance and connection to real life, i.e. #hiphoped, etc.) and the list goes on and on. Use this time wisely and create a culturally safe space where mutual respect and exploration of diverse ideas and identities are valued.


Here's a valuable resource from Rutgers University that includes a list of stories, children's books, biographies/autobiographies, research, fact sheets, video and web resources, and much much more. I would love to hear what you have created and shared with your students. Feel free to email me at scholars4soul@gmail.com with your ideas. I also offer a FREE 20 MINUTE CONSULTATION if you want to run any ideas by me. Go to linktr.ee/scholars4thesoul to sign up for your spot today.


Melanie Desmuke-Battles, PhD is a 12 year educator who has worked the majority of her career in the inner-city loving on BICOC. For the last few years, since she has attained her doctoral degree in Reading Education, she is now an instructional coach and the founding consultant for Scholars for the Soul. She is passionate about helping teachers to become culturally responsive through an ongoing commitment to self-reflection, self-evaluation, mentorship, and growing their teaching practice towards equity and high student achievement both academically and socially. Dr. Battles is a woman of God, wife, and mother of two daughters. In addition to instructional coaching, she teaches as an adjunct professor at a local community college and serves her community through mentorship, volunteer work, and by building familial relationships with the teachers, students, and families she serves.


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