Education is a political space, and it is dangerous to think of education as neutral.
The transition into 2021 did not cure a global pandemic, deep racial injustice in America, unprecedented unemployment, and a political landscape that allowed for a violent insurgency against democracy in the name of white supremacy. As calls for unity and healing come from the new Biden-Harris administration, we must also continue to ardently defend the truth, confront the many inequities steeped in our education systems, and hold those systems accountable. This is no small feat and we’ve been asking how we, as maker educators, continue the path forward.
Driven by learners. Hands-on. Equitable.
Maker education has three goals: be driven by learners, be hands-on, and be equitable. It is a practice to ensure every young person is seen and respected for their inherent genius and joy. Maker education draws on home knowledge and validates lived experiences. It allows for an information exchange that helps learners gain content knowledge, learn skills, and develop the ability to think critically, collaborate and communicate. At bottom, it’s a tool for developing 21st century skills and resiliency. Maker Ed’s work helps educators find and frame that.
Reimagining our nation’s schools
As the federal government calls for reopening, state and local education departments, educators, and students continue to grapple with the new normal of post-pandemic classrooms, virtual learning, and hybrids of the two. We continue to be awed by the compassion, creativity, energy, and love that educators are giving to their learners. Our young people deserve no less, but that task is momentous and educators can’t go it alone. I am hopeful that we are able to embark on a path of healing and restructuring that our youth, families, and teachers need to move forward together.
This past year, as I have engaged with educators around the country and watched my own children grapple with distance learning, I have some hopes for how maker education might support reopening with intention, healing, and a true redesign of our nation’s schools.
Push against racist systems and white supremacy.
In the days after January 6th, “this is not America” had become the refrain of many talking heads. As educators, we need to acknowledge and confront that this is, and has been, America. Recent reports of rising incidents of anti-Asian violence are happening in the America I’ve always known. America is built on the foundations of white supremacy and entitlement. Education is a place where these ideologies thrive and are fostered. While maker education, as a field, is grappling with the whiteness of maker identities and “who is a maker” I believe that there are strategies in maker education that can lead the way for anti-oppressive pedagogy in education because education should impact us as whole people: physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
BIPOC youth, educators, and families should be the center of the design.
A quote from a post about our Learning in the Making Series illustrates this for me:
“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.”
As we work to model this in practice through our organization, there are 3 guideposts that drive our team:
- Activities need to be accessible, low tech, and able to be done at home.
- We must try to highlight activities that don’t have a lot of public attention already or provide alternative perspectives. These activities are tied to learning concepts that provide varied educational value. We are asking ourselves, what is the enduring understanding, skill or practice that youth will take away? Why does it matter to their lives and understanding of the world?
- Lastly, our videos and projects should be fun! Joy is very important for healing.
Our team looks to Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, Zaretta Hammond, and Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture to support our critical and continuous learning in our programming and work, and what it would look like to center the brilliance and the needs of BIPOC youth and families as we engage in plans to reopen.
White educators and students need social justice education too.
How do white educators and students unlearn the insidiousness of white supremacist thinking?
“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.” – from Maker Ed’s web series Learning in the Making
When roughly 80% of teachers in America are white women, and Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or kicked out of class than white students, there is a power dynamic here that intentionally blocks access for youth of color.
We hold this information in parallel with a September 2019 Department of Homeland Security finding on domestic threats of terrorism:
“Among DVEs [Domestic Violent Extremists], we judge that white supremacist extremists (WSEs) will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland through 2021.”
Dr. Bettina Love’s article, “Dear White Teachers: You Can’t Love your Black Students if you Don’t Know Them” is a good place to start. For educators looking for resources, I recommend getting to know Dr. Bettina Love’s work. We need to tell the hard truths of America’s legacy and be able to navigate the feelings that come from holding those truths while we work to build a better world.
Education requires relationship building and care.
In my 20+ years working in education I’ve made a habit of asking educators to take a moment to quietly reflect on their most powerful learning experiences. I’ve asked them to consider the conditions that were present in the moments that come to mind for them. 100% percent of the time the themes of being seen, respected, heard, and validated are in present memory. This tells me that learning is as much, or more, of an emotional experience than an intellectual one. Social and emotional learning will be a critical part of healing from the trauma of COVID-19 on the educational experience, and the long-term and continued racial trauma that schools perpetuate. How will districts and schools plan for this? As we move forward, with this inquiry, this article by Donna Ford warning us against color blindness is shaping my understanding and action. Maker Ed is engaging with the Flourish Agenda to shape our approach to healing-centered collaboration and communication in 2021.
Working for justice is not inherently divisive, it just doesn’t have room for hate.
It is going to require collective commitment to justice, to truth telling, and to rebuilding something better together, where everyone can access what they need. The Abolitionist Teacher Network has the most comprehensive resource list I can find on the internet. After all, education is a political space, and it is dangerous to think of education as neutral.
With hopefulness and in community,
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