Sunday, November 7, 2021

Equity is not a “four-letter word,” the “boogey man,” a political statement, nor the enemy…IT’S JUST GREAT TEACHING!



Sheesh! When did the word, equity become so politically charged? I mean there are people out here who are literally terrified by it. I have had clients to politely ask me to refrain from its usage in my presentations. Recently in a Q & A after a keynote address, I had an audience member ask me in the breakout session how I navigate the usage of the word equity in presentations knowing that there are people sitting in the audience who are critical of the word. In that particular instance, I felt compelled to provide a long response so I asked my breakout session audience if I could spend some time on responding and they said yes. They seemed eager to hear my response so I devoted the entire session to responding to the one question.

As I state in the title, equity is not a “four-letter word,” the “boogey man,” a political statement,” nor the enemy. It doesn’t have a racial connotation, ethnic connotation, cultural connotation, sexual-orientation connotation, socio-economic connotation, etc….no…it has a “great teaching connotation.” In a nutshell, in classroom usage, equity means, “Meeting young people where they are…as they are.” Over the years, I have extended that definition to say that “Equity can never be solely something that you do. Equity MUST be who you are. Equity is therefore a reflection of the educator’s humanity toward the students that he or she serves.” In other words, in this context, equity is a reflection of the educators love and compassion for children….which CANNOT be taught I might add. Either you have it or you don’t. Only the rollout of equity in the classroom can be taught…the “how to” which is “what you do.” The compassion  which is “who you are” is either in you or it is not. If you happen to fall into the category of lack of compassion for your students, introspection is in order because the "what you do" and "who you are" go hand in glove.

 

So how and when did equity become such a controversial, politically-charged word? In several states across the country, the anti-Critical Race Theory folks who were / are legislating CRT out of schools (its never been in schools by the way…it’s really an absurd fight) wanted to include equity in the same legislation….they wanted to legislate equity out of the schools…unbelievable! I mean, they are treating equity as if it’s a “four-letter word” and imposing consequences if this “four-letter word” is uttered. This is absolutely absurd. Again, equity means, “Meeting young people where they are…as they are.” Of course, the problem lies when there is a focus on historically oppressed communities…Black and Brown students in this regard. So in other words, the racism kicks in. An “equality-mindset” pedagogy in a classroom of diverse learners where there are students of historically oppressed populations present and all students “receive the same thing at the same time at the same rate” is inherently insensitive and oppressive, whether implicit or explicit. One has to know who’s in the classroom. One has to “analyze the audience.” One has to “read the room.” There are children in that classroom who have life experiences that are overwhelmingly challenging historically due to either the skin they were born in or the circumstances upon which they find themselves that require a teacher who understands this reality fully and makes the necessary adjustments toward meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of EACH of the learners. We cannot pretend that racism never happened in this country nor that it doesn’t continue to exist. It did and it still does and its implications for children in classrooms are immeasurable. The “equity-mindset teacher” eagerly embraces this reality and strives to create an “equity-mindset classroom” where each of the learners have equitable opportunities to soar. This is equity. Again, equity is simply “meeting young people where they are…as they are” which translates into GREAT TEACHING.

 

For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Message to Superintendents About Your First Year Principals

As I type, I am on 5-hour flight from Los Angeles to New York City. As we are at the start of a new school year,  I've got those first year principals on my mind. There are a lot of them out there all over the country. Trust me, I know because many of them have shared the news of their appointment with me throughout the summer. But now that they are in these important positions, the question now is, "Now what?" Literally, what is the plan for them from the day of their appointment all the way to the end of quarter number one - and then from the end of quarter number one to the end of quarter number two all the way to the end of the school year?

There are new principals in schools across the U.S. with various different prior work experiences including but not limited to:

  • highly successful in the classroom and as assistant principal.
  • worked in various administrative capacities successfully such as an assistant principal, supervisor and director.
  • bad experiences as assistant principals and therefore never had exposure to the fullness of school leadership.
  • went from the classroom right into the principalship and never served as an assistant principal or other administrative positions and therefore do not know school leadership.
  • great assistant principal and served well in a #2 capacity but the jury is still out as to whether or not they can be a successful #1.
  • didn't go the traditional route and instead of starting as a teacher, started as a counselor, social worker, school psychologist etc. or came out an entirely different industry but had leadership experience.
  • appointed because the applicant pool was slim.
  • and of course, there are those who were appointed because they knew someone of influence

    Whatever their background coming into their first principalship, they are going to need mentorship and ongoing support. Within the field of education, one of the worst things we can do to students, teachers, a school and a community is to literally throw a non-experienced, first year principal into "the fire" with no ongoing, consistent support and mentorship and expect this individual to be successful in Year One. Of course, there are many who do in fact have solid years in Year One. I would like to think that I was one of them. But there are also many who do not. There are many whose first years are so challenging and overwhelming that their tenure as principals are short-lived. They either become frustrated and resign or the district relieves them of their duties. Ongoing support and mentorship could have been the game-changer for so many first year principals.

    As my mentor said to me during my admin internship and my first years of principal leadership, "The purpose of your supervision of teachers is their continued improvement in instruction." It is my contention that every first year principal appointed understands this. In fact, I am sure that they stated it in their interview. But because they understand it doesn't necessarily translate into them knowing HOW to be effective instructional leaders. That has to be trained. That has to be taught. There are a plethora of occurrences that can and will arise on any given school day that can prevent a principal from setting foot into a classroom, not to mention engaging in pre and post observation conferences. There is so much to learn and to know as a principal that have absolutely no relationship to previously being an effective classroom teacher and an effective assistant principal. This means that first year principals must once again have ongoing support and mentorship. It can't be circumvented.

    To the superintendents out there, I know you know this. This is just me "thinking out loud" on an airplane. No one within the school community can afford for a first year principal to be assigned to a school and that person is subsequently left to "figure it out" on his / her own. That would be leadership malpractice. That first year principal must be nurtured, cultivated, developed, trained, taught, "schooled," led, guided, pushed and challenged by a seasoned leader....and that seasoned leader just might be you or someone on your team.

    I have never been a superintendent and they jury is still out as to whether or not I will ever be one but be that as it may, I will say this - if I ever decide to take on the role of superintendent, with everything on my plate as a superintendent, my number one priority will be the first year principals in the district. They matter and it will be on me to make them great. When the principals are great, everyone wins.

    For further information, read my books, The Principal 50, The Aspiring Principal 50, The Assistant Principal 50 and Is My School a Better School BECAUSE I Lead It? Also, join me LIVE every Saturday morning at 10:55 EDT for the Virtual AP Leadership Academy on YouTube at my Virtual AP Leadership Academy channel.

    Friday, August 27, 2021

    "Principal Kafele, Please Refrain From Referencing CRT in Your Presentation"



    About a month ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, Critical Race Theory, Sleight (Slight) of Hand, Smoke & Mirrors ("slight" in parentheses because I had no idea until I wrote it that the correct spelling is "sleight"). Although the blog post was widely read, a month later, I feel a need to write a follow up and hence, this essay.

    The banning and the push to ban what is called Critical Race Theory has really picked up steam over the past few months. Politicians in many of the states have made the banning of CRT a legislative priority, and some of my clients in the affected states are literally requesting / saying to me prior to my presentations, "Principal Kafele, please refrain from referencing CRT in your presentation." Talk about the misguided paranoia that has been created! The premise is that CRT is inherently racist and has no place in a K-12 classroom. The purpose of this essay is not to discuss what CRT is or is not. I discussed that in the aforementioned essay...please refer to it. The purpose of this essay is to argue that for those of us who are strong advocates of "curriculums of inclusion" for students of color, coupled with culturally-relevant pedagogy and teaching the truth and fullness of American history with fidelity, the CRT battle is NOT a K-12 battle. It is not a component of the K-12 fight for "classroom curricular and instructional justice" for children of color in general and Black children in particular. This CRT banning is nothing more than a distraction from the decades long fight to ensure that Black children are afforded the right to curriculum and instruction that are inclusive of their reality as Black people in America.

    I want to share a personal story that I have never gone public with until this essay. Back in the fall of 1997, my last calendar year as a 5th grade Social Studies teacher before transitioning to administration, I made the decision that my 5th graders needed exposure to and could handle the classic, The Miseducation of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. My school was located in East Orange, NJ, one of the "Blackest" cities in America and it was my intent to ensure that learning was always culturally-relevant for the population of students I served.  In using this book, I started with a paragraph from the introduction that was a game-changer for me personally when I was evolving from a "misinformed boy" into a "socially-conscious man" in the 80's. As I tell anyone, this paragraph was the impetus for me becoming a classroom teacher. In the introduction, Dr. Woodson said,

    “When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

    As the teacher of my students, I wanted to take a deep dive into the meaning of this quote in a historical, cultural, socioeconomic context. This meant that in teaching American history, I had to ensure that each and every era of American history was inclusive of the Black experience in America as well. I wanted my students to see the relatability of America's past to themselves in everything that I taught. In doing so, the aforementioned Carter G. Woodson quote made that much more sense to them.

    Since The Miseducation of the Negro is in public domain, it is published by a plethora of different publishers which is unfortunate. There are no copyright violations when one publishes or photo copies this book. I therefore created small booklets of the introduction and the first two chapters for each of my students. I used to observe them walk with those booklets with pride. It was an amazing thing to see. I knew I was doing the right thing by my students.

    Since we were departmentalized, my students had several different teachers. One of the teachers was a young white woman who took issue with me using The Miseducation of the Negro in my classroom and subsequently providing the students with copies of the chapters I referenced above. She confronted me one day and told me I gave them a racist document. I was stunned and appalled and proceeded to educate her about the book and the author, who happens to be the founder of Black History Month. I thought she was "hearing" me until a week later, my homeroom students returned to my classroom one afternoon for dismissal with a gift from this teacher - each of them had a book in their hands entitled, Robert E. Lee, My Hero. I will never in life forget this day and I'm surprised it took me this long to write about it. How dare this teacher give my class of Black children a book that calls the leader of the confederate army a hero. A hero to whom? Certainly not the ancestors of my students. We subsequently had an "interesting" discussion and consequently, the books were returned to the teacher and my class and I discussed Lee the next morning. 

    This CRT hysteria that we are seeing play out is not new. It is decades old. There has been a battle to keep the Black experience in America marginalized, distorted, trivialized, caricatured, hidden and omitted for over 100 years. Why? Because there is power in that narrative and there are forces out there that never want that power to be shared. The Black experience is NOT Critical Race Theory. I REPEAT - the Black experience is NOT Critical Race Theory.  The Black experience is the experience of Black people in America. There is nothing "theoretical" about it. It is documented, although hidden history. So with my new reality of some of my clients in the affected states asking / requesting that I refrain from mentioning CRT, I will continue to enlighten them to the fact that "Critical Race Theory" will never be mentioned by me in a presentation because it isn't my fight....never has been. My fight is to ensure that the truth and fullness of the American story is told with fidelity....no matter how painful it may be.

    For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.

    Friday, July 30, 2021

    Sometimes, It Takes Hitting Rock Bottom to Realize You Were Born to Soar!


    I don't know who this is for, but I hope it benefits someone....and in full disclosure, this message started out as a simple Facebook post, but as it got unintentionally lengthier than I intended for it to be, I decided to turn it into a blog post.

    I have been walking in my dream as a self-employed, independent, unaffiliated, national education speaker, consultant and author for ten years now. At the age of 50, I left my purpose as a principal ten years ago to walk into my passion as a trainer of principals. The springboard to getting here however was my 6-year tenure as the principal of Newark Tech HS in Newark, NJ...the best 6 years of my professional life. Prior to my arrival to Newark Tech in the fall of 2005, I had hit rock bottom professionally. When I say "rock bottom," I mean ROCK BOTTOM...which had an obvious adverse impact on me emotionally. In today's lexicon, we would say that my mental health took a significant hit. I was not well...at all. I was in bad shape. I was on the verge of losing everything I worked so hard for over the previous 17 years...and I was on the verge of a breakdown emotionally, because I dared to "go against the grain" professional. I dared to do certain things my way which I felt strongly were best for children...decisions I don't regret one iota today and if given the same circumstances again, I would proceed in a similar fashion. Said differently, we all have principles that we stand beside but the true test to your commitment to your principles is when they are challenged. Mine were challenged and it almost cost me my career.

    My point - there's someone out there reading this blog post who's either at rock bottom or on a downward spiral toward approaching rock bottom. Rock bottom isn't always a bad place though. For me, it was the absolute best thing that could have happened to me both professionally and personally...a blessing in disguise. It forced me to dig deep into my soul to locate....to identify...to find aspects of me that I didn't know existed. I was "comfortable" for a long time...TOO COMFORTABLE...but this experience forced me to become "uncomfortable with being comfortable and comfortable with being uncomfortable." I had no solid Plan B. Yes, I was a public speaker on the side, but not to the extent of making a career of it. I was on my backside now. I was literally suspended from my principalship - I was a local news story (television, radio and print) and my termination hearing was the following week. I'M TALKING TO SOMEONE OUT THERE....I STOOD FIRM ON WHAT I BELIEVED WERE THE RIGHT DECISIONS FOR CHILDREN....I STOOD FIRM BESIDE MY PRINCIPLES...AND NEARLY LOST IT ALL.I remember it like it was yesterday...September 22, 2004...the school board voted unanimously...7 to 0 that the decisions and actions that I took in question were appropriate and that I be reinstated immediately. Again, I stood firm by my principles.

    At the end of that school year, I transferred to a school district that I knew nothing about and became for the first time, a high school principal. What an experience it was. It gave me a reset. It gave me a new lease on life professionally. I found a fit where I truly belonged. I was able to be "Principal Kafele." Those six years at Newark Tech were the springboard to the work I have been doing over the past ten years, but in order to get here, I had to leave the situation that was taking a toll on my mental health. Newark Tech was my cure. My mental health and that situation were not compatible and something had to give. I made what turned out to be a life-changing decision...to start all over in a place where I had peace of mind.

    I'M TALKING TO SOMEONE OUT THERE TODAY. Someone reading this essay is going through something. Someone reading this essay has been challenged. Someone reading this essay is being tested. Someone reading this essay is contemplating quitting, giving up or throwing in the towel. Someone reading this essay is contemplating walking away from your dream...your purpose...your passion. Someone reading this essay feels that they have hit rock bottom....a point of no return. My response to you is WAIT...STOP...HOLD ON! Rock bottom isn't always a bad place. Sometimes, rock bottom is the blessing you were waiting for but it came to you in a disguise. That situation you are in just might not be the right situation for you but you needed to hit rock bottom in order for you to realize it. There is so much more in you. There is so much more to you. There is so much more for you. There are so many gifts and talents that are laying dormant within you that you haven't identified or unleashed yet. There are so many people in the world waiting for you to soar in another direction....a new direction...directly toward them...people who NEED YOU! That situation you are currently in doesn't have to be your final definition of who you are. It is time for you to redefine yourself. It is time for you to pursue a new breakthrough. It is time for you to blossom into your fullness....but you might not be able to do it there.

    Hey somebody out there, if I am in fact speaking to you, GET UP OFF OF YOUR BACKSIDE, start writing your new goals, devise and write your new strategy and begin to walk in it everyday in the spirt of a RENEWED YOU. Get yourself a trusted accountability partner too. Start this process right after you finish reading this essay. Don't put it off for another second. Procrastination is the enemy of all pursuits. Start today....RIGHT NOW and do know that the road will be bumpy at times, but that's okay. That's just life. Keep your eyes fixated on the prize. And realize that "flying" was always in you, but sometimes, it takes hitting rock bottom for us to fully realize that we were all born to soar in the first place.

    Thursday, July 15, 2021

    Could the Banning of Black History Month Be Next? (More CRT Madness)


    Like wildfire, the banning (and the consideration of banning) of what is called Critical Race Theory is spreading across the country in various different states to the detriment of tens of millions of children and to America overall. As indicated in an essay I wrote yesterday entitled,
    Critical Race Theory, Sleight of Hand, & Some and Mirrors, I see this as nothing more than subterfuge, deception, a ruse. In my eyes, it’s not CRT that they want to ban because as I read and listen to countless individuals, they don’t even know what CRT is. No….what they want to ban is the truth of America’s ugly history over the past 402 years relative to Black-white relations in this country. For example, you will recall that in the summer of 2020, then President Trump was scheduled to speak in Tulsa, OK on Juneteenth (June 19) which sparked outrage from the African American community in particular. It brought the Black Wall St. race massacre and the meaning of Juneteenth to the center of media attention nationally. Millions never heard of either prior to this moment. What we see with these "Critical Race Theory" state bans is the consequence. These legislators in these red states are essentially saying, "Oh hell no...there's no way in hell we are going to allow the truth of America toward Black people historically to make its way into our classrooms. We will suppress that truth by any means necessary!" This is where we are now in America’s schools.

    Since I became a teacher back in 1988 in Brooklyn, NY, I have stood firm that cultural-relevance, cultural-responsiveness and equity must be inherent components of America’s classrooms; particularly when Black and Brown students are present. I consider these to be nonnegotiable components of the teaching and learning dynamic. But I stand equally as firm on the teaching of African American History and this, I do not confine to the presence of Black students. America is comprised of each race and countless cultural groups but there is only one race of people who came to these shores involuntarily – Black people. Black people are uniquely American. We all have roots in Africa but most of us do not have fam back home in Africa (that we are aware of) that we can call and say we will be coming home to visit on a summer vacation trip. America is home. It’s all we have. What family we know is here and throughout the Western Hemisphere. Our story is therefore a uniquely American story. There is no such thing as American History without the fullness of the African American story. To write us out of history is to pretend that we don’t exist and to pretend that we did not come here as slaves (captives). The banning of CRT is nothing but a modern day attempt to further suppress the story and experience of Black people in America. It’s a way to control the thinking of the masses of children in America’s classrooms.

     

    Dr. Carter G. Woodson, considered to be the father of Black history in America due to his creation of Negro History Week back in 1926 which evolved into Black History Month in the 60’s wrote sixteen books but the one that is most pertinent to the times is a classic and perennial best-seller, the Miseducation of the Negro, written in 1933. There’s a paragraph in the introduction that is often cited and recited, and recited by me countless times over the past 35 years. It reads as follows:

     

    “When you control a man's thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

     

    He said it best when he said, “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions.” This is my interpretation of the goal of banning CRT. It’s about banning the Black experience so that control of the minds of America’s children may be maintained in classrooms relative to the truth of the past.

     

    So what about Black History Month? Of course the reading, studying, learning, researching and celebration of Black history can never be confined to one month and in this case, February. But February is still most significant because it provides us with the opportunity to highlight…zero in if you will, on Black history during that particular season. I look at it as a month long “celebration” of Black people. But when you juxtapose it with the banning of CRT, it raises legitimate questions. Is the banning of Black History Month next in America’s schools? Will it be watered down? Will it be reduced to “nothingness?” Will teachers be intimidated from teaching it? I said it a “zillion” times and I will say it again, YOU CANNOT TEACH NOR DISCUSS THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA DEVOID OF A DISCUSSION ON RACE. It is an impossibility. It cannot be done. And this is why I call the banning of CRT ”sleight of hand” & “smoke and mirrors.”

     

    As I close, I want to draw your attention to 50 questions that I added to the conclusion of my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50. The book is written for educators and my premise for the questions is that teachers must be conversant in these eras of Black history, regardless of the racial composition of their students. These questions represent American history and not having familiarity with each is just unacceptable for a multiplicity of reasons. But in the context of this blog post, in a state where CRT is banned, these questions would be considered violations of the ban because they require discussions of race…which may make some of the children feel uncomfortable…which is the deception that is being used to ban CRT.

     

    Please take a look at each of these questions and ask yourself whether or not you are conversant in these eras of American history.

     

    1.  What do I know about the circumstances upon which the first Africans arrived to America?

    2.  What year and location did the first Africans arrive?

    3.  What do I know about the Middle Passage?

    4.  What do I know about Black participation in the Revolutionary War?

    5.  What do I know about the intricacies of the “peculiar institution” known as enslavement?

    6.  What do I know about the abolitionist movement including the rise of the Black press?

    7.  What do I know about the Dred Scott decision?

    8.  What do I know about the Emancipation Proclamation, including Black participation in the Civil War?

    9.  What do I know about Juneteenth?

    10.  What do I know about the Black Codes?

    11.  What do I know about the 13th Amendment?

    12.  What do I know about the 14th Amendment?

    13.  What do I know about the 15th Amendment?

    14.  What do I know about the reason for HBCUs?

    15.  What do I know about the reason for Freedmen’s Schools?

    16.  What do I know about the reason for the Freedmen’s Bureau?

    17.  What do I know about the intricacies of Reconstruction?

    18.  What do I know about the Compromise of 1877?

    19.  What do I know about Plessy v. Ferguson?

    20.  What do I know about the founding of the NAACP?

    21.  What do I know about the Garvey Movement?

    22.  What do I know about the Harlem Renaissance?

    23.  What do I know about the Negro Leagues?

    24.  What do I know about the plethora of inventions and discoveries of Black inventors and scientists?

    25.  What do I know about the history of lynchings of Black men and Black women?

    26.  What do I know about the history of race riots and white mob violence toward Black men and women?

    27.  What do I know about Black Wall Street?

    28.  What do I know about the Rosewood Massacre?

    29.  What do I know about the Tuskegee Experiment?

    30.  What do I know about the Great Migration?

    31.  What do I know about Black participation in World Wars I and II and the Tuskegee Airmen?

    32.  What do I know about Brown v. the Board of Education?

    33.  What do I know about Emmett Till?

    34.  What do I know about the Montgomery Bus Boycott?

    35.  What do I know about the Little Rock Nine?

    36.  What do I know about the Greensboro Four?

    37.  What do I know about the 4 Little Girls?

    38.  What do I know about the March on Washington?

    39.  What do I know about Bloody Sunday?

    40.  What do I know about the treatment of Black soldiers after the Vietnam War?

    41.  What do I know about the Civil Rights Movement?

    42.  What do I know about the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

    43.  What do I know about the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

    44.  What do I know about the Black Power Movement?

    45.  What do I know about COINTELPRO?

    46.  What do I know about the Black Studies Movement?

    47.  What do I know about the struggle for Black racial justice beyond the ’60s and ’70s?

    48.  What do I know about the historical and contemporary tensions between the Black community and the police, which include the mass incarceration of Black men?

    49.  What do I know about contemporary issues of racial and social justice in the Black community?

    50.  What do I know about the infinite number of examples of “Black excellence” that has existed since the arrival of the first Africans to America as indentured servants and subsequently throughout the period of enslavement through the present?

     

    For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.


    Wednesday, July 14, 2021

    Critical Race Theory, Sleight (Slight) of Hand, & Smoke and Mirrors

    I have been watching the debate and banning of Critical Race Theory (CRT) with great interest over the past several weeks. I have so many thoughts and emotions about it that I want to share but I don’t have the space in a short blog post so I will keep it simple. First, what is CRT? I’ve watched so many anti-CRT people on television being interviewed about it and when asked the question, they typically do not have a clue. In other words, angry people fighting against something that they know little to nothing about.

     

    Let me take you back to my undergraduate school days beginning in 1984. After spending 5 years in high school while attending 4 different high schools and doing absolutely nothing academically and finally graduating with a 1.5 GPA, I attended a junior college for the next five years as a full time, unemployed student and never graduated. I had a comparable GPA with zero ambition for my life. In an effort to do something with my life, I enrolled in a 4-year university in my home state of NJ, maintained a 4.0 for most of my tenure there and graduated Summa Cum Laude. How so? On the first day of classes, I stumbled on African American history. This did not occur in classes. It happened in the campus library. I stumbled on a book about the parallels of the lives of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. This occurrence changed my life forever. The one book led to another…and another…and another and I became a voracious reader of African American history with an insatiable appetite for more and more. As I read, I was simultaneous fascinated and angry throughout that initial year and for decades after. Fascinated because I never knew that as an African American, I had a history that was so vast, replete with joy and pain but angry because I never learned not even a modicum of this in the classroom from K – 12. I discovered through all of this reading that Black people in America had overcome tremendous odds…some of the most overwhelming odds known to humans over the past 400 years. I was angry. I needed to know why the truth and fullness of the American story was never told to me in a classroom. To date, I have never taken a Black Studies course but I built a personal library that I am most proud of. The question again – why was I never told? Learning this history literally made me feel invincible. I felt like I was some sort of superman because I came into an understanding that I was a descendent of a magnificently strong and brilliant people which is why and how I went on to graduate near the top of my entire class.

     

    In 1988, I become a 5th grade teacher in Brooklyn, NY. The students were Black. It made sense to me that with all of my new accumulated knowledge of American history with an emphasis on the African American experience, that this content should be infused in all of the content areas in an interdisciplinary fashion, and that is exactly what I did while staying true to the curriculum. What a refreshing year that was. I soon after went back home to Jersey and once again, taught 5th grade and implemented the same approach that I did in NY. At the completion of my 4th year in NJ, I was named the school, district and county Teacher of the Year and NJ State Teacher of the Year finalist. I knew instinctively that my students were performing at the high levels that they were performing because of the infusion of African American history into their learning. In other words, I used an approach that was culturally relevant, culturally responsive and equitable. And obviously, I brought I high degree of cultural competence to my students.

     

    In 1998, I became a school administrator and in 1999, a principal. I went right to the superintendent’s office upon my appointment and sold him on the significance of infusing cultural relevance into student learning with an emphasis once again on the infusion of African American history into the content areas and a couple of stand alone courses in African American  and African history. We subsequently went on to outperform the rest of the State of NJ of students of similar demographics solely because we put the students on the pages and in the lessons – in other words, we were culturally relevant.

     

    Now what I am sure stands out for the reader of this blog post is that my students were Black so the challenge compared to a racially diverse student body will look different but attainable. Due to space, let me use one singular example – Black Wall St. in Tulsa, OK. Much of America never heard of Black Wall St. until the summer of 2020. I was deeply familiar with it since the 80s when I began my reading journey. I taught my students about it in the 80s and 90s. Black Wall St. is a part of the American story but it is only one example of the American story relative to African Americans. Black Wall St. is both a story of triumph and a painful story of America’s ugly past as it relates to African Americans. Here we had in the Greenwood section of Tulsa an economically thriving community….a self-sustaining community where there was little need for the dollar to ever leave the community. Everything that the people needed was there and it was built by them…which is key….a total of 35 square blocks. It was built out of survival. Racial oppression and racial injustice was real (and continues to be real) and opportunity was limited. Black people in Tulsa and other parts of the U.S. had no choice but to build their own thriving economies…out of survival. This began in 1906. In 1921, 100 years ago, there was incident on an elevator where a 19 year old Black young man was accused of attempted sexual assault of a 17 year old white young woman who was the elevator operator. He was subsequently arrested (although never to date proven guilty) but the angry white mob outside of the jail where he was being held wanted access to him in order to lynch him. The events that followed led to the massacre of Black Wall St….the entire Greenwood section of 35 square blocks burned to the ground including over 300 deaths whose remains to this day are still unaccounted for....due to an allegation of an attempted sexual assault that was never proven. This is a part of the American story that to this day, many don't want ever to be told in a classroom. No race theory...just facts.

     

    My point – opponents of “Critical Race Theory” argue that CRT is inherently racist and it will make white children feel uncomfortable in the classroom. HEAR ME WELL – nothing that I have written above is CRT. What I have done in this blog post is to share with you my personal journey and to share briefly with you the origins and destruction of Black Wall St. – again, a part of the American story. Black Wall St., both its origins and destruction must be an inherent part of the Social Studies and American History curriculum. But the story cannot be told devoid of a discussion about race toward ensuring that the white students in the classroom do not feel uncomfortable. You can’t tell this story without a discussion on race because Black Wall St. was birthed in race and it was destroyed in race. There is no aspect of American history relative to the African American experience that can be told without the mention of race. It is an absolute impossibility. The existence of Black people in the Western Hemisphere is a story about race.

     

    In terms of what CRT is, CRT argues that race is a social construct and that the policies and laws that shape America are inherently racist. As progressive educators, we are not demanding the teaching of CRT. That has never been our fight. Our fight is to simply be allowed to teach the fullness of the American story inclusive of the African American experience. Here, I am talking about the only population of people on these shores who came here involuntarily as slaves (captives). The African American experience is inherently American, but it is an experience that has been hidden, omitted, marginalized, distorted, trivialized and caricatured. It is a story that must be told. Yes, there will be children in classrooms who will feel uncomfortable but those very children need to be informed as well. We can no longer hide the truth of America’s past and present. If real change and progress are to occur, honesty must be at the heart of the evolution.

     

    As a retired K-12 educator, CRT is not my fight at the K-12 level. This is all smoke and mirrors, deception, sleight of hand, a ruse. CRT is not the issue in K-12 classrooms. The issue is telling the truth…the fullness of the American story in classrooms. And one of the consequences in telling the truth about the American story is that the racist enforcement of its laws and policies will come to light through the discussion and this is what the opponents of CRT never want the children to know.

     

    For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.


    Monday, June 15, 2020

    School Leadership, Black Lives, Systemic Racism, Social Unrest and Social Justice Education


    We’re at an interesting place in education in 2020. Although police killings of unarmed Black men is nothing new….in fact, it has been occurring for a very long time, what is new is that these killings are now being captured on cell phone video, surveillance video and police body cam video and broadcasted on television for the world to see. For the first time, the world is seeing what the Black community has been crying out about for over a century. With the recent cell phone-recorded police killing of George Floyd, the surveillance and subsequent body cam videos of the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, and the home invasion and subsequent police killing of Breonna Taylor, America has shifted. The America of today, June 15, 2020 is not the America of May 24, 2020. In other words, when George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020 where a Minneapolis police officer (knowingly being recorded) kept his knee on Floyd’s neck to the point of suffocation for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, America shifted. Starting with Minneapolis, the masses immediately “took to the streets” in the form of marches, protests, rallies, demonstrations, rebellions and rioting. As I write on June 15 (21 days after the George Floyd murder), masses of people are still “in the streets” of America and the world, across racial / ethnic groups, demanding justice, solutions and immediate change relative to the policing of citizens of the Black community.

    The aforementioned has implications for the classroom every day that cannot be disregarded. The social unrest that we’re all currently observing and will in all likelihood continue to observe for some time to come cannot be ignored, circumvented or “swept under the rug.” At the district and school levels, it must be met head-on. It must be welcomed and embraced. Why? Because it impacts every child sitting in your schools and classrooms. Schools across America must be willing to embrace and infuse America’s new reality into every classroom in the country under the banner of Social Justice Education. Of course, there are many schools that have embraced Social Justice Education long before 2020, but there are other schools where Social Justice Education is “way off the radar.” The times dictate that Social Justice Education is an inherent part of the teaching and learning process across all disciplines…Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, etc. For the purpose of this essay, I am making the case for Social Justice Education in schools where Black children are enrolled because I am writing specifically here about “Black Lives.”

    What is Social Justice Education (SJE)? First and foremost, I was a social justice teacher and principal because it was just natural for me professionally as it emanated out of who I am personally. I took on the tough topics and issues with my students because I felt it was my duty to do so. I owed it to each and every one of my students to have the courage and audacity to be a social justice educator...for them. But secondly, I have read extensively about SJE over the years and there are so many definitions and perspectives out there as to what it is and what it is not. For me, it’s simple. SJE is the ongoing student-centered exploration, examination, assessment, critique and analysis of the world upon which your students exist…the world around them relative to their relationship with it and how they fit into it relative to issues of social justice (and injustices) and overall systemic, institutional and individual racism (unconscious, implicit or explicit). As it relates to your Black students for example, the question becomes, “What are the realities of being Black? What are the realities, experiences, challenges, obstacles, needs, interests, goals and aspirations, across genres, of being Black in America? What challenges does being Black pose to your Black students?” Depending on the age of your students, chances are that your Black students have very strong, emotional and intellectual thoughts and opinions about the reality of being Black in America. As I indicated previously, SJE along with your Black students’ thoughts and opinions therefore cannot be ignored, circumvented or “swept under the rug” because the implications and correlation between their world and their academic success in your classroom and beyond are immeasurable. For example, they see the current unrest; they can relate to the current unrest; they understand the current unrest and many even may be participating in the current unrest. You must therefore ensure that SJE is an inherent component of learning and discussion in your school which not only enables your Black students to put their world’s in perspective toward confronting it, but equally enables your non-Black students to better understand and appreciate the world of their Black peers.

    So what does this all have to do with school leadership? EVERYTHING. It requires leadership…strong leadership…purpose-driven leadership…visionary leadership…courageous leadership…passionate leadership to ensure that Social Justice Education occurs in all schools toward educating the “whole child.” Toward the implementation of Social Justice Education in your schools, I offer you the following ten self-reflective questions to guide your thinking, planning, organization and implementation:

    1.  What do I know about Social Justice Education?

    2.  What would Social Justice Education mean for the students of my school?

    3.  Why would Social Justice Education be necessary in my school?

    4.  What are the reasons that Social Justice Education exists in my school?

    5.  What are the reasons that Social justice Education does not exist in my school?

    6.  Can our students; particularly our students of color articulate, beyond emotional reactions, the injustices that surround them?

    7.  Do the teachers that I supervise have the necessary cultural competency to engage our students in issues of social justice?

    8.  What type of PD do we provide staff toward developing a comfort and confidence in engaging our students in issues of social justice?

    9.  How knowledgeable am I in issues of social justice?

    10.  How competent am I in incorporating issues of social justice in my overall instructional leadership with staff?

    Principal Kafele is the author of seven ASCD books including his recently released Amazon best-seller, The Assistant Principal 50: Critical Questions for Meaningful Leadership and Professional Growth. For further writings authored by Principal Kafele visit PrincipalKafele.com.

    Equity is not a “four-letter word,” the “boogey man,” a political statement, nor the enemy…IT’S JUST GREAT TEACHING!

    Sheesh! When did the word, equity become so politically charged? I mean there are people out here who are literally terrified by it. I have ...