In her book "Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation", Beverly Daniel Tatum encourages readers to think about the many difficult issues still surrounding race both in and out of American classrooms.
This book not only describes the problem of the de facto resegregation of American schools, it offers strategies for beginning and supporting cross-racial relationships. These strategies include the ABC's of creating a climate of engagement: affirming identity, building community, and cultivating leadership.
As the current president of Spelman College in Atlanta, Dr. Tatum exhorts us "to find our way into such conversations, not only because they benefit our communities but because they strengthen our capacity to help our students have them. . . . Such a shared understanding not only creates common ground for the cultivation of friendship, it also is a prerequisite for the transformative education we need for a more just society."
The book itself is very engaging, with policy studies, history, and personal stories woven together to make the case that educators must talk about race in order to achieve the goal of educating all children well. This volume would be an excellent choice for any individual or group that is interested in moving this conversation forward.
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A necessary prelude to having difficult conversations is getting to know each other better in a respectful way. Diversity Rounds can be used as a team-builder to help groups become aware of our overlapping identities and to think more deeply about what diversity means. Feel free to make up your own categories, and keep in mind that it is usually easier for participants to start with a less "charged" category such as geography.
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Dear Donna: How do I push my colleagues to have difficult conversations about seemingly taboo topics like race and economic class? When a conversation turns political or personal, my colleagues get quiet. –READY TO MOVE FORWARD
Dear Ready: First of all, I’d like for us to think about the phrase "push my colleagues." I wonder if your colleagues are afraid of being pushed aside or pushed down if they share viewpoints that are different or seem risky. Instead, how can you figuratively "hold their hands" and pull them over to join you in a dialogue?
Second, has your group done the groundwork of building a safe, supportive learning community? Do you have norms that function? Do the norms include confidentiality?
Finally, why don’t you try something like Constructivist Listening Dyads to work on the skills of listening and talking in depth? Sharing with just one other person is often less risky than having a whole group conversation about difficult topics.
Let me know if these strategies work for you.
If you have questions for Dear Donna, send them to CFGCoach@houstonaplus.org. Donna Reid is a Houston-based National CFG Facilitator and a consultant with Houston A+ Challenge.