Monday, July 17, 2017

Conference On Teaching Race in the Classroom - Part 1

Last week I had the privilege of and honor of spending the entire week at the National Museum of African American History and Culture for a professional learning event entitled Let's Talk: Teaching Race in the Classroom. Here is the description that led me to register for this experience:
Race is an aspect of our American culture that is often ignored, glossed over or mishandled. Additionally, to succeed in promoting equity, tolerance, and justice, childhood is the time to address these issues by understanding children’s development and encouraging positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity, as well as others’.  Working with youth makes it incumbent that educators are prepared to address issues of race whenever they surface such as in history or social studies lessons or when current events brings them forward such as events in our recent history.
Through presentations from researchers in the field, small group discussions, and reflective exercises participants will engage in conversations about race/racism, explore ways to address issues and topics that will meet students where they are in their racial development, and practice techniques for creating safe space for difficult discussions.
I walked to and from the museum each day, giving myself time to reflect and think about what I was learning. Even after a long train ride home, and a weekend to further reflect, I still have much to process. I don't think I've ever learned as much at a conference or workshop before this, and after 29 years in education, that's really saying something.

We met in the education classrooms of the museum for our sessions, but we had time each day to wander through the exhibits. Even after 5 days, I didn't get to see everything the museum had to offer.
The layout of the museum is both inspirational and metaphorical. To get to the history galleries, you descend in an elevator, moving back through time.
When the doors open on the third concourse level, it is dark and cramped, and your exploration begins with the transatlantic slave trade. This level, Slavery and Freedom, covers the years 1400-1877.
When you reach the end, you wind your way up a ramp into another time period. This level, Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation, covers the years 1876-1968.
When you reach the end of this level, you once again walk up a winding ramp, slowly moving out of darkness into the light. This level, A Changing America, covers the years 1968 and beyond.
Once you leave the history galleries, visitors can enter the "Contemplative Court" for a bit of quiet reflection. In this large open space, water cascades down from the Oculus, a glass circle on the north side of the building that allows natural light to filter down into the center of the waterfall.

The upper floors are comprised of an interactive gallery, Community galleries (L3), and Culture galleries (L4).
Being in this place, this space, was so important to understanding issues of race. In the previous years this workshop was taught, participants did not have the benefit of spending their time in the space that is the museum. I am grateful to have had this opportunity as a member of the 4th cohort.

I was struck by so many things while here, but experiencing the history in this way laid a strong foundation for the ideas I had to grapple with during the week. During our time in the exhibit spaces we were encouraged to find artifacts and stories that could serve as entry points into conversations on race. Here are a few that struck me.
Ticket stub for Washington, DC to Montgomery, AL for Selma-Montgomery March.
Denim vest worn by Joan Mulholland during Civil Rights Movement.
Straw hat worn during the 1966 March Against Fear.
Bust of Maggie Walker.
Desks, sign, and wood-burning stove from the Hope School.
Quilt made from suiting samples with embroidered flower details.

Dress designed by Anne Lowe.
Shards of stained glass from the 16th Street Baptist Church.

This is just the beginning of the story of my week. Stay tuned for more. I'll be back tomorrow to flesh out some of the content of the conference.


  1. I've been reading Monica Edinger's posts about this weekend as well - it sounds like it must have been so huge. I kind of feel like in the last five years I've learned so much vocabulary to articulate things I've felt or thought that it still doesn't all fit into my head -- I can imagine that this weekend will take you a year to digest.

    1. Funny that even before you titled the photograph of the church window... I knew what that was. I knew what it stood for, but thought it was an artistic portrayal. That it's real leftover shards is ... something.

    2. Yes to taking time to process. I left every day feeling like my head would explode. I don't think I've ever learned so much important, life-changing information at one time.

      I did go back and label the photos as an after thought. I'm not sure why I didn't do this to begin with. I was shaken by the Emmitt Till memorial and the exhibit on the Birmingham bombing. The fact that activists stopped to pick up the pieces, saved them, and donated them to the museum is astounding. The fact that the shards of glass hang in front of a photograph of the aftermath of the bombing is simply heartwrenching.