11 Simple, Powerful Ways To Create An Antiracist Curriculum

Do you hear that? Yup, those are crickets. I remember not so long ago, it seemed like everyone was posting about antiracism on Instagram. The cynic in me was like, “Yeah, let’s see how long this lasts.” I hate to say it, but the cynic in me was right. Everyone who became woke six months ago are now silent. The only posts I’ve seen about antiracism and social justice are from accounts dedicated to antiracism and social justice. Guess what? Racism and injustice aren’t over just because we went back to work. It’s still time to fight for injustice, and one way to do that is by making an antiracist curriculum.

I first wrote about this when Fox News pundits were talking reckless antiracism.  Like Laura Ingraham’s claim that:

“They will learn capitalism is racist, history as conventionally taught is racist, literature — most of that — is racist, patriotic songs are racist, and the Declaration and the Constitution, of course, they are racist. Are you sensing a theme here?”

Sorry to tell ya, Laura, but some things ARE racist. We’re not over here claiming that EVERYTHING is racist. But some things are, and we’re going to discuss them with our students.

She also throws shade at Howard Zinn, claiming:

“When you watch that, you imagine the worst of Howard Zinn plus maybe the 1619 Project,”…” Every subject, every extracurricular activity will be perverted to turn your kids into mini-Ilhan Omars”.

If by Howard Zinn, she means teaching the experiences of the American people. Not just the robber barons and oligarchs. Then yes, there will be more Howard Zinn-esque discussions in our classrooms. (Want some great resources for teaching many perspectives? Check out the Zinn Education Project).

Another thing that came out of all this was Trump’s Patriot Education Act.

Its goal is “Protecting America’s Founding Ideals by Promoting Patriotic Education.”

First of all, most history classes are taught from a patriotic point of view. We teach a white-centric, pro-capitalist, pro-bootstraps perspective. So what are we protecting here? We know what he’s doing.

We all know the Patriot Education Act has obvious racist undertones. But, it’s an interesting discussion to have with your students. (If you have the energy for it).

I’d start with this quote from the Act:

“We will state the truth in full, without apology: We declare that the United States of America is the most just and exceptional Nation ever to exist on Earth.” – President Donald J. Trump.

Hell, that could be the entire discussion prompt. I bet a conversation about this would take an entire class period.

Here are a few articles about it:

All of this is fear-mongering. Plain and simple. Most educators want to include MORE versions of history. We want to add more voices. More perspectives. More experiences. Making a curriculum anti-racist doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach the Eurocentric version of history. We are saying we shouldn’t teach ONLY the Eurocentric version of history.

Our mission as teachers should be to tell the whole story to the best of our abilities. American history isn’t all bad, but it sure as hell ain’t all good. You can love your country and still want to improve it for all people.

All this got me thinking:

How the hell are we going to overhaul the education system? We want to give our students a more well-rounded social studies education. On top of everything else, we have to teach. We can’t even get to the year 2000 in U.S. History classes.

I know a lot of teachers want to shake up the system, and that’s great. We need to make antiracist curriculum. But I fear that people are going to try to take on too much. Then burn out.

creating antiracist curriculum and being an antiracist teacher

Here are 11 ways to add antiracism into your curriculum without wanting to pull your hair out:

#1 Create a classroom climate that supports an antiracist curriculum

Before you can tackle tough issues, you’ve got to create an environment for it. For many students, talking about racism and other injustices is uncomfortable. Ok, let’s be real. It’s uncomfortable for everyone.

Expectations for behavior need to be set from the get-go. Otherwise, you won’t be able to have difficult conversations about uncomfortable topics.

Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • Tell the students the kinds of conversations and topics you will discuss during the year. Then, tell them your explicit expectations for behaviors.
  • Let the students help you create classroom expectations. This will make the students stakeholders in the class. And encourage them to hold each other accountable.
  • Give the students choice and voice. I know this part is hard because there is so much to cover throughout the year. Letting students choose the topics will provide them autonomy to explore challenging topics. Also, student voice is essential in social justice education. So we should all strive for it anyway.
  • Model good discussion behaviors. Give the students sentence starters if you have you. Many students don’t know how to use accountable talk because it’s for sure not modeled for them in the media. This is a great way to teach students how to agree and disagree with each other in a respectful manner.

#2 Make modern connections to antiracist topics

I know. This is easier said than done. But there are a lot of opportunities to make these connections.

We are always saying these tired tropes: “history repeats itself.” “If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” blah blah blah.

That’s all well and good, but what are we doing to actually connect history to our students?

Remember. We teach teens. They are self-centered. How can we make history relevant to them? Here are a few examples:

  • When teaching about the robber barons v. captains of industry, talk about today’s robber barons and captains of industry. Compare and contrast them.
  • When teaching New Immigration, talk about current nativism. Who are we trying to keep out now? Why? This will help add to our discussion of the experiences of many people of color in America.
  • When talking about urbanization, why not discuss gentrification? Gentrification disproportionately impacts people of color. Even better, do you teach in an area that is currently experiencing gentrification? Talk about it with your students! Better yet, have them explore the impacts of gentrification on their city or town.
  • When teaching about the Haitian Revolution, make connections to modern Haiti. (Look at me assuming you teach about the Haitian Revolution ;-)). Check out Haitian Money Pit from Vice. I like to use it as an intro to the Haitian Revolution.

The list goes on and on.

But please, don’t give modern connections as homework. I’ve made this mistake several times. The students either won’t do it or won’t get anything from it.

Take some time out of your other lessons so you have time to teach about current connections in class.

#3 Let students choose which antiracist topics they want to talk about

Most kids have an opinion. They know what’s going on in the world, and they want to talk about it.

You can create a list of topics and have the kids answer a survey. Then add the winning issues to your content throughout the year. If the kids have no idea what’s going on, have them take some time and read a few headlines and articles. Then have them vote.

An important aspect of antiracist teaching and social justice education is student voice. So, have your students help you make your curriculum antiracist…when you can. The kids will think of things you’ve never thought of. It happens to me all the time!

Here are a few ideas:

  • Race riots in the 20th century
  • Confederate Monuments
  • Police brutality
  • Experiences of Latinx Americans in the 20th century
  • LGBTQ issues
  • Civil Rights issues in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s
  • Healthcare issues for people of color
  • Experiences of Asian Americans (beyond a quick mention of Japanese Internment Camps)
  • Women’s issues throughout the 20th century
  • The creation of ghettos
  • Redlining
  • Activism

#4 Add a few antiracist topics to your curriculum each year

I know this work is daunting. There’s pressure (whether from ourselves or our admin) to fix everything. And fix it quickly.

Welp, sorry to burst your bubble, but you can’t. We all have lives outside of school, and we deserve to rest. I recommend updating 1-2 units per subject per year.

That way, after a couple of years, you will have your antiracist curriculum. You can’t do a good job overhauling everything every year. This will lead to a quick burn out. For a lot of us, teaching is our lifelong career. And antiracist teaching is new.

Give yourself time to learn and grow. Then use that new knowledge when you make your lessons.

How to include antiracist teaching in your classes and how to make an antiracist curriculum.

#5 Revamp your timeline or teach thematically

It’s vital to think about WHY we teach what we teach. Yes, we have state standards to follow. Yes, many of us have state testing.

But, other than that. Why do we teach what we teach? Is there any reason why we can’t breeze through some things and focus longer on others? If we teach World War I in World History, how long do you need to spend on it in U.S. History? Where can you sprinkle in antiracist topics? Looking at how long we are spending on each issue is a way we can add more narratives.

I’m a strong proponent of teaching chronologically.

For me, learning based on the time period is a great way to include multiple perspectives. It show kids that many issues are going on at the same time. When I was a kid, I had a hard time making connections. I didn’t understand that many different world events and issues were happening simultaneously.

But, I know that many of you like to teach thematically.

And that’s great. I see the value in it, and I know why it could help make an antiracist curriculum. It’s just not my area of expertise. If you want to teach thematically, check out this article from Let’s Cultivate Greatness. Erin is an expert at teaching thematically, and her website is a great resource to help you get started!

#6 Discuss many perspectives

This is one of the easiest ways to add antiracism issues into your curriculum.

You can teach the white narrative and other narratives at the same time. There are ways you can add different narratives that won’t take all that much time.

A good example is Reagan. (Haha, I know, like we ever get to Reagan). Most high school curricula tell us that Reagan was a fantastic president. A lot of people still think so. History tells us that Reagan was a fantastic president. A lot of people still think so.

While it’s important to teach the positive stuff Reagan did, you need to dig deeper. There were tons of problems with his presidency. Have the students look into what they were and why they were problems.

This way, you’ll get all sorts of voices: women, black people, rich people, poor people, even LGBTQ people. The list goes on. You can do this for any era you are teaching about.

Another idea for this topic is the social class system in Saint Domingue.

(Can you tell I just taught the Haitian Revolution??). One issue that would be interesting is the Gens de Couleur (free people of color) and the enslaved Africans. Many of the Gens de Couleur wanted to maintain slavery. Their interests were different from the enslaved people of Saint Domingue.

You could also talk about antiracism at that time? Who were the antiracists? Hint: Sonthonax.

Now, the conversation I’m going to suggest is controversial. So you might not feel comfortable talking about it.

Make connections to other examples of people of color disagreeing on how to get equality. From Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X v. Martin Luther King, Jr. and even Terry Crews, Kanye West, and Candace Owens. There’ so much to discuss here. You’ll need to ensure you’ve created a classroom environment that”ll allow this discussion. (See tip #1).

If you’re interested in more ideas, check out my blog post, Black History’s Important. Here’s How To Teach It All Year.

For more resources, grab my Free Guide For Teaching Black History All Year.

#7 Use alternative ways to assess students

Remember, assessments don’t always have to be tests and essays. Alternative assessments can engage students in ways that traditional forms can’t.

You want to make history relevant to your students. So, you’ve got to find a way for them to see the history that continues to impact us. One of the best ways to do that is to get the kids talking to each other. There are tons of ways you can assess students. You can use debates, deliberations, Socratic seminars, and pinwheels.

I’m also loving Fligrid and Easel.ly.

This way, it will be easy to include different narratives and perspectives. Plus, the kids can do all the prep work.

That’s a win-win.

Also, these strategies are perfect for social justice education in general.

#8 Don’t go it alone

Making an antiracist curriculum is a lot of work, so divide and conquer.

You don’t have to do this work alone. Many of us work together in our departments or in PLCs. Divide up the work. You can co-create lesson plans or divide up research.

Plus, some people know more about antiracism and antiracist teaching than others. 

But remember, not everyone is going to be onboard or agree with you. There will be people in your department who will want to stick with the status quo. (I bet you’re thinking about who they are right now ;-)).

F-em. As long as you’re doing what your department expects of you, I say do you, boo.

#9 Ask Better Questions

One of the best ways to fit antiracist issues into class is by asking good questions.

We’ve got to start thinking about the questions we are asking kids.

Are they truly higher order? Are they forcing the kids to use their critical-thinking skills?

Changing a few of the questions we ask kids can change an entire lesson. Do you care about basic facts, or are you more focused on the how and the why?

I’m sure you’ve seen the lack of critical thinking that’s rampant on social media. It’s our job as social studies teachers to get people to think. To do that, we need to ask hard, thought-provoking questions.

Another thing to consider:

  • Do your questions focus on the people in power? If so, this a great place to change the perspective.

#10 Give Yourself Grace

Antiracist teaching is HARD

This is going to take time, and it’s not going to be perfect. There will be roadblocks, and you’re going to get tired. That’s ok. Cut yourself some slack.

The learning curve will be higher for some people than others, but keep going.

Even if you teach one new topic or perspective this year, that’s one more than you did last year. Add more next year.

Give yourself a pat on the back and keep moving forward.

#11 Ignore The Haters

Not everyone’s going to be down for making their curriculum antiracist.

Change is always going to trigger people. Many people feel that their way of life and thinking is being threatened. It could be parents (let’s be real, it’s probably going to be parents).

It could be other colleagues. Some districts don’t allow you to teach certain things.

But there has always been push back when it comes to change. There always will be.

You need to figure out how far you can push and what you can teach based on your district. Some of us will be able to completely revamp our curricula, others of us will have to take baby steps.

That’s fine.

Take those baby steps.

Eventually, you’ll get where you’re headed.

Some final thoughts on antiracist teaching:

As social studies teachers, we need to re-evaluate our job. Do we teach history to have our students regurgitate facts? Or do we teach SOCIAL studies? Do we teach them how to think? Can they connect the impact the past has on our lives today?

Yes, there are state standards and standardized tests that teachers have to consider. But I argue that excellent teachers can teach to the test and teach kids to think. We can make our curriculum antiracist and meet state and Common Core standards. Is it hard work? Yes. But that’s our job.

What have you been doing to create an antiracist curriculum? Comment below!

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