It’s a sensitive process, but districts are encouraging teachers having Courageous Conversations about race and diversity issues.
In Lawrence Kansas, Leidene King, a slight, middle-aged African-American woman stood to one side of the crowded room so people could see her PowerPoint slides projected onto a screen at the front.
To get the conversation going, she asked the audience to look at the first slide, the title slide, and discuss among themselves what they thought it meant:
“Beyond Diversity: An Introduction to Courageous Conversations and a Foundation for Deinstitutionalizing Racism and Eliminating Racial Achievement Disparities.”
Greg, a white man, said he was still relatively new to Lawrence and wasn’t sure what institutionalized racism looks like here. “I can see it in other districts,” he said. “I’ve seen it before.”
Heather, a white woman, said she had the same response. Having moved here from a large, urban environment, she had seen blatant forms of racial discrimination in neighborhoods and workplaces that didn’t seem to exist here.
Yet another woman said she found the words themselves to be “clinical and sterile.”
Each time someone shared their observation, King would respond in a caring and understanding tone with the same phrase: “Thank you for your truth.”
King, a consultant with the San Francisco firm Pacific Education Group, was there to lead the group of educators, pastors and others through the difficult process of learning how to talk about race directly and honestly, and in particular with people from a different race.
The method is called Courageous Conversations, a structured way of discussing race, based on a book by Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton. Singleton is president and CEO of Pacific Education Group.
Superintendent Rick Doll said it’s the cornerstone behind the Lawrence district’s equity program to address and eliminate racial disparities in the district.
“Beyond Diversity is kind of our baseline professional development,” he said. “It just gives the basis of the protocol that we use when we talk about equity and race issues. So it gives us that protocol about how to talk about it, and then it gives some basic data about achievement gap issues.”
The program is rooted in a discipline known as Critical Race Theory — the idea that racial divisions are embedded into every fiber of American social fabric, often in ways that most white people seldom recognize, but which most people of color experience in every facet of their lives.
To bring that out and enable people to talk about it, the program steers participants through a highly structured regimen, starting with each person identifying themselves on a four-point compass – thinking; feeling; believing; and acting – then guiding conversations around four “agreements” and six “conditions” that form the ground rules for how participants should talk to one another about race.
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