By Meredith DeCosta, PhD
Online Full-Time Faculty Manager and Assistant Professor, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
We’ve all witnessed the “heroes and holidays” phenomenon. One month a year an ethnic group is celebrated for their most popular heroes and accomplishments.
Sounds like a good idea, right? While this approach is nice in theory, it simply isn’t enough to lead us to a more socially just society.
As teachers, we have a big impact on the kinds of people our students turn out to be. Every day, they are shaped and molded by what and how we teach. This means we have to choose our curriculum and instructional strategies carefully.
Instead of focusing solely on “heroes and holidays,” build a transformative classroom space that encourages students to view the curriculum and the world from a variety of perspectives.
Here are a few ways to make this possible:
- Encourage assignments where students can “walk in someone else’s shoes.” Rather than asking students to respond from their own points of view, have students adopt someone else’s perspective. For instance, if you read a book in class on the Civil Rights era, you could encourage students to take on the perspective of a child affected by segregation.
- Encourage open discussion. One of the best ways to teach students compassion and empathy is to show them what other’s lives are like. Select texts where students can make real-life connections. This allows students to share their voices, reveal their realities and open their hearts to their classmates. As a class, read a non-fiction or fiction text where students can share freely about their home life and their language and cultural practices.
It should be said that this approach isn’t easy. It takes a self-aware teacher who is willing to take risks. The possibilities are endless, though, if the teacher makes time every day to reflect on students’ needs and the structure of the classroom.
If we want a society where everyone is lifted up and uniqueness is valued, we have to start that transformation now inside the four walls of our classrooms.
More about Dr. DeCosta:
Meredith DeCosta, PhD, is a former public school teacher and current faculty member, researcher and writer at Grand Canyon University. Her work focuses on literacy education, teaching English as a second language and educational equity in urban, multicultural contexts. She has written more than 12 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and has a co-authored a book with Columbia University’s Teachers College Press, titled “Real World Writing for Secondary Students.” Dr. DeCosta’s most recent award for her work is the Grand Canyon University Leadership in Research and Scholarly Activity Award.