Dora Medrano Ramos and Linda Le share why they created Learning in the Making: Live! as a powerful response to the persistent omission of youth of color and educators of color from the dominant narratives surrounding maker education. As many people across the United States come to grips with the violence resulting from this erasure — and with the anti-Black legacies and realities of policing and public education — Dora and Linda publish their personal statements of intent, originally composed on May 8th, 2020.
Growing up in a low income refugee household meant that we were always making. Divorced from toys and materials, what we had were our hands, our imagination and what we could find around the house. Whether it was my parents, making a new life here in the United States — or my siblings and I making cages to catch birds that we observed in our yard, “making” was and still is how we see the world.
Years later as I became a teacher in both rural Hawai’i and East Oakland, working with some of the most amazing educators and youth of color, I am reminded about the power of making. Making music. Making food. Making community. The list goes on. For communities of color, making has always been a way of life and has always been a part of how we taught, learned, survived, and more importantly thrived. At the intersection of making and learning is where we see the creativity and brilliance of communities of color. Seriously, people are doing some cool shit out there.
And yet, so often when we talk about or hear about “making”, we see stories about white boys with robots and expensive 3D printers. Now, don’t get me wrong, youth of color should have access to those too. But what about our black girls and the beautiful stories they weave or our latinx youth learning to fix appliances by taking things apart? The educators of color, masterfully stitching together learning, joy & agency in their community? Where do we tell their stories?
When the opportunity arose to make an online video series about making — we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell these stories. So in the frenzied days at the beginning of shelter in place, we asked ourselves, what would it look like for us to produce a rich, hands-on-learning experience that reflected and validated the experiences of educators and youth of color? How could we highlight the direct service educators who are already doing this work? How can we make it accessible and fun? Learning in the Making: Live! is our imperfect, first pass at what this work could look like.
We gave ourselves 3 guideposts:
- Activities needed to be accessible, low tech, can be done at home: preferably with materials that we were helping distribute to families in Oakland.
- We would highlight activities which don’t have a lot of public attention already or provide a new perspective. It would be tied to learning concepts or provide educational value outside of just a making tutorial. We ask ourselves, what is the enduring understanding, skill or practice that youth will take away?
- Lastly, our videos and projects will be fun! Joy is very important for healing.
Dora Medrano Ramos
I’m tired of the lack of representation in “making” and “makerspaces.” There is an overwhelming presence of white makers and creators who are seen as the definers of “maker education” or “hands on learning” when in reality, communities of color have been “making” for many generations as a way of living, surviving, thriving, learning, and growing.
Despite the prevalence of making in our communities, traditional school settings (and even untraditional settings like makerspaces) don’t often validate the wealth of knowledge that communities of color express through making. Youth of color are disproportionately targeted for compliance and behavioral issues. They often aren’t given opportunities for rich, relevant and engaging forms of learning because what’s seen as “rigorous” for YOC is obedience and an ability to follow the rules. However, highlighting how our communities are already making can be a powerful tool to validate how we create, learn, and grow. I’ve seen my mom engage in critical computational thinking when knitting patterns using yarn and needles; I’ve seen my brother connect advanced engineering and scientific concepts together when taking apart and rebuilding a car engine; I’ve seen my peers forms bandas and compose complex musical pieces in order to play música norteña; I’ve seen my own students design and build the most amazing projects out of cardboard and trash, simultaneously speaking two languages and navigating the intricacies of existing in this society as youth of color.
These examples showcase important ways that making can be used as a vehicle for rich and rigorous learning. Yet, growing up as an undocumented latinx in a mixed status family, the communities I’ve lived and taught in are largely seen through a deficit mindset – as underserved, low income, immigrants, lacking fluency in English, and needing to be “saved.” In reality, our students of color already have the ability to create and innovate on the same level as more privileged and overserved white students when they are given the agency and opportunity!
We can no longer afford to ignore the existing funds of knowledge and experience that YOC have outside of school and if youth are already making, we should highlight the ways making enhances their academic competencies, their social-emotional capacities, their identities as makers, and their ability to understand and engage in the world.
However, the stories and voices that are so often presented in “makerspaces” and “maker videos” are about affluent white males using high tech materials with expensive and inaccessible tools, like 3D printers and laser cutters. Though these are important tools to learn in our scientific and technologically skewed society (and our YOC should have access and entry points to learning these tools!), we need to be more inclusive of the diversity of ways that making can leverage rigorous mathematical and scientific concepts using everyday materials & activities. Making & learning can look like: cooking for a large family gathering that supports cultural traditions, collaborating with others to compose music and choreograph dance, producing videos to tell stories with complex messages, gardening and growing your own food, sewing and creating your own clothes, repairing and maintaining lawnmowers, crafting your own centerpieces for your quinceañera, and so much more. Only by broadening our aperture of what learning can look like, can we then use maker education as a tool for liberation.
In our attempt to navigate how to support remote ways of making and learning, we considered the following criteria (and more) in our Learning in the Making: Live! Videos:
- Provide accessible inspiration and ideas for projects with multiple entry points and opportunities for creativity. Making & learning can be done anywhere with anyone at any time with anything! The materials used in our videos should be accessible, open ended, and aligned with our simultaneous initiative to distribute maker kits & learning materials to youth in Oakland with project guides being developed in both English & Spanish to make independent and family learning more accessible
- Highlight diverse ways of making – with topics ranging from engineering to music to cooking to sewing to poetry to storytelling – in order to validate the different ways that knowledge is created and can access rich learning outcomes, especially in communities of color
- Invite guests of color as equal and valued partners – to tell their stories and to showcase the amazing things they are making! Because YOC deserve to see engineers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, creators, and makers of color!