Professional Development with Ibram X. Kendi

This past Monday, Parker teachers and administrators were honored to take part in a virtual professional development hosted by NYSAIS and led by the famed historian and author and leading antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi entitled How to Be an Antiracist School. 

Kendi is a National Book Award-winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author of seven books. He is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. Kendi is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News Racial Justice Contributor. He is also the 2020-2021 Frances B. Cashin Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for the Advanced Study at Harvard University. In 2020, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Kendi is the author of many books, including HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACISTan international bestseller that has been translated in several languages. This book also made several Best Books of 2019 lists and was described in the New York Times as “the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.”

During the professional development, Kendi took questions from educators on a range of school issues pertaining to antiracism including institutional changes, training for educators, student assessment and discipline, and choosing curriculum. Parker was lucky enough to be chosen to address TWO questions submitted by our teachers to Dr. Kendi. We are sharing the conversation that followed below, as it pertains directly to our goals and efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion here at Parker.
How can a white faculty bring genuine learning experiences about race into their classrooms?

Dr. Kendi: “First, I would say that the racial makeup of the faculty member does not matter when that faculty member is choosing the books that are being read, the types of projects that are being conducted, and the perspectives (including cultural perspectives) that are being introduced from multiple different vantage points. If you are a white faculty member, that does not preclude you from offering books by authors of color. It does not preclude you from using cultural examples rooted in other cultures. If you are a white faculty member, that certainly doesn’t preclude you, when you are having conversations about racism or even antiracism with your students, from sharing with them that you are learning too — that you are having to unlearn too. If anything, you can say to your kids, “I would rather be in your position instead of having to unlearn and learn at the same time. You all just get to learn this stuff!” 

Be vulnerable with your students about the things you may have said and done that were racist, especially if you are a white teacher in a predominantly white classroom. You are instructing by your vulnerability how to be antiracist. You are showing your students how to be willing to be open and honest about the ways in which they may have hurt people so that they can begin the process of repairing. Finally, I will just add that, just like with any other subject, in order to be an effective teacher we have to do a tremendous amount of studying and learning on our own time.”
One struggle we encounter as a school is that our teachers of young children are very aware that they may be introducing racism and systemic racism as a concept to their students for the very first time; these are not ideas that the kids may have learned in their homes. What advice would you give to teachers in this situation?

Dr. Kendi: “So let’s talk a little bit about the data. Studies show that kids between the ages of 9 months and 3-years first begin to understand race as a concept the way in which adults do. This is the period during which they begin to start understanding, and in some cases internalizing, racist ideas. So, by the time they are three years old, there are studies that show that kids choose who to play with based on skin colors: “I don’t want to play with that dark-skinned boy” or “I do want to be white”. All the while, we are assuming that these two and three-year-olds don’t have a racial consciousness, don’t already understand race on some level — but they do. 

It is critically important for us to ensure that young children are also understanding antiracism. Some teachers and caregivers are leery about directly teaching systemic racism and directly teaching antiracist ideas because they want to protect younger children. What I would contend is that actually by teaching a child who is 3-years-old that there is nothing wrong with you because of the color of your skin or, conversely, that there is nothing right about you because of the color of your skin, is actually protective. There is nothing wrong with any of these colors, and nothing right. This is the human rainbow. And just like the colorful rainbow, we should value all these colors equally. Those ideas, those lessons from teachers, are protective. As early childhood teachers, we need to aggressively teach them a different way of thinking. We need to ask ourselves what affirming messages can we promote to protect them from whatever they are hearing elsewhere?”
New Winter Traditions
*Click on each of the first three images below to see three different videos of our Kindergarten and 1-2 students skating on the pond during their outdoor time.
The highlight of winter here at Parker has traditionally been our Winter Fridays program, designed to encourage and celebrate outdoor activities during a time when our inclinations are to hibernate indoors. This year, our official Winter Fridays program was suspended because we cannot transport students off campus due to COVID. Thanks to the tireless creative energies of our teachers, however, a new host of exciting outdoor traditions have sprung up right here on our own campus. One of the most beloved by all is skating on the Parker pond.
It is hard to remember that our Parker pond has not always been here, but it was only just built in 2013-2014. Born out of the strategic idea to capitalize on our natural science environment, the pond was originally built with the intention of enhancing opportunities for scientific discovery and analysis as part of our outdoor-based science program. For years, the pond has served as a centerpiece for exploring water ecosystems, clean water advocacy, and STEM projects. However, it has also grown to mean so much more to our community as space for unstructured, fully engaged, natural childhood exploration.
Now, thanks to the pandemic, we have discovered yet another incredible feature of our treasured pond: When frozen, it transforms into a magical, winter wonderland. For the past few months, students have observed and engaged with the pond as it slowly froze, thawed, and re-froze in the milder winter temperatures. The moment temperatures dropped permanently and our ice was deemed safe, students were out on the ice exploring. Our Kindergarten teacher, Leigh, brought ice skates and demonstrated their use for her class, which immediately prompted questions from many students, wanting to know if they could skate too. Fully embracing this opportunity, our Parker teachers have organized and flexed their lacing-finger muscles to enable this special winter activity that is sure to become a staple of our outdoor culture here at Parker.
Here at Parker, we put student interests at the forefront of learning. This practice promotes confidence, increases motivation, and shows students that their education is tied directly to the passions they want to pursue. Another important component of highlighting student interests is finding ways to showcase student talents and projects in school that may have taken place outside our classrooms. Parker teachers are experts at making these connections and creating opportunities for each student to shine. 

Over the past few months, two seventh graders have spent hours of their own free time writing and producing an original news broadcast called NewsCrunch. The duo devotes HOURS to creating each episode, and it SHOWS! Although this was not a school based project, they were clearly eager to share the fruits of their labor with their classmates. In support, Parker’s middle school teachers organized a NewsCrunch watch party for all middle school students at today’s advisory. Teachers and students alike thoroughly enjoyed the rousing performances, and all are looking forward to more episodes in the future.