Excerpted from "Identity Affirming Classrooms: Spaces that Center Humanity" by Erica Buchanan-Rivera. Published by Routledge.
Decolonize Your Mind and Classroom
A third-grade teacher attempted to take a brown crayon out of my hand and exchange it for a peach color after she noticed my depiction of Jesus as a Black man—yes, a lot of Crayola curriculum back in those days. Little did the teacher know, my house was full of Black Jesus (and Santa too) as my mom collected figurines, and I was also intelligent enough at the age of nine to know that a dark pigment (despite all the pale, fair-skinned images of Jesus in school) would be evident in a biblical story that took place near the equator. Yet, this teacher was passionate about “correcting me” and set a standard for my work due to her social construction. She deliberately overlaid her adopted norms over my reality.
The emotions and practices we bring into the classroom are a product of our experiences. Due to the nature of living in an unjust world that upholds forms of oppression within every system, many of us have been socialized to adopt norms while existing in spaces under the confines of whiteness. Many of the systems, policies, and procedures developed by humans in positions of power reflect the ways they have been conditioned to see and live in the world. Therefore, we must interrogate the dominant ideologies and how whiteness influences the spaces we design for children. Teachers also hold power over the decisions made in the classroom. We can determine the content and supplemental materials that need to be taught, and co-construct learning experiences with students. We can honor the native languages, culture, and racial experiences of students within the classroom, having critical conversations about social justice. We can help students to see that there are different methods to showing proficiency. To hold power means that we also have to engage in a practice of ideological unlearning.
One of my most powerful teachable moments occurred during my first year of teaching. While administering a math journal problem to a group of kindergarten students, I was approached by a student who was eager to show me her results. The problem read as followed:
Miss Buchanan only has four chairs in her home. She invited Sydnee, Ashton, Arius, and Jacob over for a snack. Will there be enough chairs for everyone, including Miss Buchanan, to sit down and enjoy the snack?