Start the Movement Right From Your Living Room: Positioning Your Black Children as Change Agents, Historians & Creatives
Whew! The academic year is finally over and the summer is in full swing. The previous academic year ended in an unprecedented fashion, and left parents questioning the quality of their child’s distance education experience. Considering that several new school policies are emerging to prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents are concerned about how they can prepare their children for the “next normal” of K–12 schooling and prevent summer learning loss. But who says that K–12 schools were even teaching Black children and adolescents what they needed to learn anyway? Many U.S. schools rest on a Eurocentric platform that promotes policies, practices, and curricula that devalue and marginalize Black brilliance, self-expression, history, innovation, and societal contributions. Black students thus experience a number of cues at school that make them question how much they matter in school and in society.
We must continually recognize that most American schools were weren’t built for Black people and so they will never give us everything we need. Yet, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. We must equip Black students to strategically navigate school and society by reminding them of their innovative nature, their rich history, and their duty to contribute to racial uplift. With this in mind, the iScholar team suggests that parents should spend summer enrichment time focused on communal learning opportunities. As we explain in our most recent animated video, communal learning opportunities help students appreciate when, where, and why academic content positions them to serve their community, serve humanity, and serve one another. Below are a few approaches you can try.
Many U.S. schools rest on a Eurocentric platform that promotes policies, practices, and curricula that devalue and marginalize Black brilliance, self-expression, history, innovation, and societal contributions.
Positioning Black Children as Change Agents
Families can emphasize the importance of investing in their community by devoting their time and effort to addressing issues that impact community members. There are many pressing events today that require the immediate attention of the Black community including inequities in distance learning resources, models, and tools for students in underserved communities; structural issues (e.g., access to healthy food options, race-related stressors) that affect the health of Black people and thus increase rates of comorbidity during the current pandemic; and the senseless killing of Black people at the hands of civilians and police officers.
Given the political nature of U.S. schools, we cannot expect that Black children will receive sufficient familiarization and socialization around these topics that would position them to become change agents in school or in society. However, teaching about and addressing these issues can contribute to our children’s sense of vision and purpose, and can position them to make meaningful choices about their academic futures based on their need to identify, address, and disrupt systemic oppression in society for generations to come. Consider providing your children with accounts of Black social and racial justice movements by explaining the connections between contemporary approaches and those emphasized by such Black activists and intellectuals as W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, or Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. – DeLeon Gray
Dr. DeLeon Gray
Dr. Gray is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University.
Shamia Truitt-Martin M.Ed has served as a Social Studies teacher in urban schools for over 17 years.
Joanna Ali is an incoming doctoral student in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences with a concentration in Educational Psychology.
“Parents can encourage their children to develop their own voice by educating them about who they are, where they came from, and where they are going.”
Positioning Black Children as Historians
Helping Black children develop a sense of empowerment and ethnic pride is more crucial than ever in today’s social climate and upheaval. Such inner pride can promote resilience, empathy, perseverance, compassion, and a sense of belonging—and can prepare Black children for navigating the challenges they will face in their everyday lives.
Parents can encourage their children to develop their own voice by educating them about who they are, where they came from, and where they are going. Let’s teach them about prominent, influential change agents who are a part of their history, such as the tenacious trailblazers Sojourner Truth, Katherine Johnson, and Phyllis Wheatley. Learning about their cultural heritage—and that they come from a strong, highly intelligent, and innovative stock of people—will inspire our children. They will learn how to identify both accurate and inaccurate narratives, which, when shared, can inform and inspire their classmates—and can create communal learning opportunities in the classroom.
I’ll never forget how one of my student scholars’ eyes lit up when I started discussing the accomplishments of the 14th-century West African ruler Mansa Musa. He asked, “Can I tell the class about what I know about him?” I was elated and said, “Of course!” His knowledge about this historical figure astounded his classmates, and watching their thirst to learn more from him was exhilarating! He became a formidable change agent and teacher in our classroom. And this knowledge can be attributed to his family’s encouragement of scholarship and curiosity. – Shamia Truitt-Martin
Positioning Black Children as Creatives
Black children are in dire need of being mentored and positioned as creatives. When children are challenged to think creatively, they will increase their mental capacity for developing higher levels of conceptualizing, reasoning, theorizing, and innovating. This is particularly crucial for Black children, who are so often marginalized and underserved in traditional school settings. The summer is a perfect time to help children get a head start on acquiring the cognitive skills and processes that will enable them to harness their creativity.
As an educator, I have seen that the time teachers spend in preparing students for standardized testing and on remediation prevents them from having the lesson time to give students a creative platform. Creativity is strongly associated with subject areas such as visual and performing arts classes and is associated less with core academic subject areas. Therefore, it is particularly important that creativity is taught at home: Children can learn their own family’s history and relate that to who they are culturally, what they have learned in school—and can use that knowledge for collective work and for developing responsibility to and in their community.
One successful way to teach children to see relationships and patterns and to solve problems creatively is by going back to the basics. Drawing helps children develop visual analysis, concentration, critical thinking, and fine motor skills. They must determine the best way to express their ideas and figure out the best methods and design elements, as well as the relationship between the objects they have drawn. They can begin with drawing a cultural portrait or landscape. Parents can help them to develop problem-solving skills by discussing their design choices (such as colors, shapes, textures, and symbols) and by exploring the meaning behind what they have created. Children can then advance by sketching a design that will relate to and help their community. Once the sketch is complete, they can 3D model it online and even use a 3D printer to print their design. – Joanna Ali
You have the power to magnify your child’s brilliance and confidence. Teach them what they really need, and reinforce the idea that your child is more than a standardized test score! You have the tools to prepare them to be the change-agents they are meant to be. The time is now.
DeLeon Gray, PhD
DeLeon Gray is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University. His program of research has been recognized by receipt of prestigious honors including a 2018 Best Article Award for his collaborative publication in Educational Psychologist entitled, “Black and Belonging at School: A Case for Interpersonal, Instructional, and Institutional Opportunity Structures.” He works jointly with education stakeholders to disrupt structural aspects of schooling environments that leave students of color vulnerable to anxieties about belonging. His efforts involve (1) developing culturally sensitive observation and survey tools to assess students’ opportunities to belong in the classroom, (2) disseminating user-friendly resources the can inform public discourse on ways of honoring and affirming students in academic settings, (3) educating funders and school administrators as they make strategic investments in research designed to shape students’ sense of psychological membership at school, and (4) establishing a networked community of educators and researchers who are firmly committed to making schools places where students are accepted, respected, included and supported. DeLeon enjoys bowling, karaoke, listening to feel-good-music, playing Connect 4, and having a winning fantasy football team.
North Carolina, USA
Shamia Truitt-Martin M.Ed
Shamia Truitt-Martin M.Ed has served as a Social Studies teacher in urban schools for over 17 years. She currently holds an appointment at Carrington Middle School in Durham, North Carolina and has previously taught in Atlanta, Georgia. She partners with North Carolina State University on the iScholar initiative where she develops culturally-informed STEM lesson plans with an interdisciplinary focus. She has disseminated her work at conferences such as the Bill Gates Melinda Gates Mind Set Belonging Conference, the North Carolina Middle-Level Educators conference, NCCU Equity Conference and has been featured in books such as “Getting to The Common Core: Using Research-Based Strategies that Empower Students to Own their Own Learning.”
North Carolina, USA
Joanna Ali is an incoming doctoral student in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences with a concentration in Educational Psychology. She is currently a research graduate assistant with The SMART Collaborative and a part of the iScholar team where she supports community engaged research and works closely with teachers and students. She was a middle school Art and STEM Educator for six years before she decided to pursue her graduate degree. She pulls from her experiences as an educator of Black and Latinx youth to keep her research grounded and relevant. Her research interests are focused on the motivation and empowerment of Black and Latinx youth, Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), motivationally supportive instructional strategies and community engagement. In her free time, Joanna enjoys spending quality time with her family, dancing, being creative and traveling.
North Carolina, USA