Culturally Relevant Teaching Isn't 'Indoctrination.' It's The First Step Toward Justice.

Jun 8, 2020 12:35:00 PM


Back in 2018, I was really fed up with the major incidents of discrimination and hatred going on around the country. (Remember Charlottesville? Or when two Black men were wrongfully arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks?) It led me to write this piece, challenging educators to appropriately call out discrimination when they see it. The feedback was mixed. 

My message was that silence is complicity, but a few keyboard warriors framed it as some slippery slope towards political indoctrination. It was disheartening to read those reactions because the need for culturally relevant teaching and school policy felt so real and urgent to me. I couldn’t understand how some folks were so dismissive. And now, as communities across the country are joining together to shine a light on the harsh realities of systemic racism, I feel like I’m watching it happen all over again. 

Culturally Relevant Education is About Confronting Injustice

So allow me to push back directly. Culturally relevant education is not about partisanship, indoctrination, or conspiracy. It’s about confronting injustice and doing everything in our power to ensure a more fair society for the next generation. 

Consider where we are right now.

[pullquote position="right"]If schools function as a microcosm of their community, we clearly have a lot of work to do.[/pullquote]

As teachers, that begins with a culturally relevant disposition. We must hold high academic expectations for all students, affirm and reflect our students’ cultural backgrounds within our instruction, and facilitate opportunities for students to think critically about social structures and develop a better sense of sociopolitical awareness. That’s not indoctrination. According to Kentucky’s evaluation system for educators, that’s just good teaching

  • Teacher actively seeks knowledge of students’ levels of development and their backgrounds, cultures, skills, language proficiency, interests, and special needs from a variety of sources. This information is acquired for individual students.
  • Teacher’s communication with families is frequent and sensitive to cultural traditions,with students contributing to the communication.
  • Teacher makes a concerted effort to challenge negative attitude or practices to ensure that all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, are honored in the school.

Under Kentucky’s framework for teaching, these are all indicators of exemplary instruction. And while I would argue that this framework doesn’t go far enough to really embolden teachers to pursue culturally relevant teaching as their primary approach, it’s still clear that cultural competency matters. [pullquote]It’s not about indoctrination, it’s literally just about doing the right thing.[/pullquote]

Show me where the partisanship is in introducing students to characters who look like them. Convince me that there’s anything ideological about encouraging students to advocate for each other’s differences. You can’t. In fact, I would argue that such steps are necessary for producing a system that’s more equitable for our most vulnerable students.

Amid these very troubling times, I’m hopeful that more teachers from across Kentucky—and across the nation—will embrace culturally relevant pedagogy for the benefit of their students. To that end, I’m committing this summer to my own personal education and edification, and I’m starting with the resources listed below.

I hope you’ll join me.

Garris Landon Stroud

Garris Stroud is an award-winning educator and writer from Greenville, Kentucky whose advocacy and scholarship have been recognized by  USA TodayU.S. News and World ReportEducation PostThe Louisville Courier-Journal, and  The Lexington Herald-Leader. He served as a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow from 2017-2019 and became chair of the organization's editorial board in 2018. Stroud received bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Murray State University and is currently a doctoral student in educational leadership at the University of the Cumberlands, located in the heart of Kentucky's Appalachian region. Read more about his work on the  Kentucky School Talk and  Rural Ed Voices blogs.

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