Over the past year, I have been able to read a ton of great books focused on social justice, culturally relevant pedagogy, and disrupting white supremacy culture in our schools. With a new school year upon us and racial tensions being higher than ever within our society, schools must be intentional about structuring their professional development plans to support their teachers in building their capacity as anti-bias, anti-racist educators. Below are five books that are definite must-haves for your schools:
“RATCHETDEMIC” BY CHRIS EMDIN
I just finished reading Chris Emdin’s new book, “Ratchetdemic,” and there aren’t enough words to fully express how great this book is! So often, we hear educators spew out terms such as culturally relevant/sustaining pedagogy, anti-racism, student-centered learning, and many other terms without having the receipts and lived experiences as classroom teachers to justify their application or expertise in these areas.
So many informational gems were dropped throughout the book, but if I could attempt to sum up the book in a few key points to do it justice, here’s what I would say:
Teachers must model authenticity in who they are and how they show up in the classroom in order for students to feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves in the classroom and beyond.
Our students are already brilliant as they are! It’s our responsibility, as teachers, to position our students to showcase their brilliance academically. That must be accomplished through our lesson planning, pedagogical approaches, and the way in which we involve our students as co-creators of the learning process.
Teaching is an art form in itself. Even if we don’t have the textbooks, curricular frameworks, and the scope and sequence plan, our innovation and creative gifts as teachers is what shines through for our students and makes us special to them in the end.
We can no longer be timid and indifferent in this time of civil as racial unrest. We must follow our intuition and do what’s right for ourselves and our students. This means pushing the envelope and challenging norms rooted in white supremacy culture within our schools and districts.
“START HERE, START NOW” BY LIZ KLEINROCK
Liz Kleinrock’s debut book, “Start Here, Start Now,” is the perfect book for any educator in the infant stages of their Anti-Bias Anti-Racism (ABAR) journey. It is a smooth and engaging read that is accessible to all teachers in all content areas. This is probably the fastest I’ve ever read any book — I finished this book in FIVE HOURS and I couldn’t put it down! It was THAT good! Even my son Thaddeus had to read along with me for a few pages. Kleinrock provides us a restorative approach to addressing the racist actions we witness with our colleagues, staff members and students within our schools.
Throughout the book, Kleinrock is open, honest, and transparent about her own shortcomings on her own journey, and how she’s been able to continue building her own capacity as an ABAR teacher. Her humility and own insistence on being a work-in-progress as an ABAR educator brings about a sense of authenticity that allows her to connect to the everyday educator trying to figure out how to engage in this work. She emphasizes the relevance of ABAR work in curriculum, instruction, family and parent engagement, all the STEM fields, and in building an inclusive school climate.
With the abundance of strategies, anchor charts, lesson plans, and other teacher resources provided, this book covers all the bases. Every educator needs to have this book in their library, especially if they’re truly committed to doing ABAR work. With all the anti-CRT craziness still happening, every school should use this book as a guide for their ABAR professional development work this coming school year.
“CULTIVATING GENIUS” BY GHOLDY MUHAMMAD
Gholdy Muhammad's "Cultivating Genius" is an incredible read! I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I read, I found myself reevaluating my own teaching practices and thinking back on those opportunities where I didn't follow my gut and provide a more historically responsive experience for my math students due to fear of consequence from my school leaders.
Reading this book affirmed my belief that EVERY teacher is a literacy teacher — regardless of the subject matter they teach. It has given me the language to articulate the need for Historically Responsive Literacy (HRL) and the courage to implement the framework because it's what my students need. This book will transform the way that we prepare preservice teachers, evaluate teacher performance, and rethink our pedagogical approaches to account for the cultural identities of BIPOC students.
“BLACK APPETITE, WHITE FOOD” BY JAMILA LYISCOTT
Last year, I had the opportunity to finally read Jamila Lyiscott's "Black Appetite, White Food", which was a GREAT book. What I love the most about the book is that Dr. Lyiscott unapologetically embraces the dualism of her identity as a distinguished scholar and a proud Brooklynite. Her authenticity and transparency shine throughout the read.
This book eloquently captures how we, as Black and brown educators, are hungry for liberation and justice but, in the process of our journey, we consume and unconsciously internalize Eurocentric ideals that have been embedded in our brains through our K-12 schooling. That's how many of us are socialized and then it isn't until we get older that we begin to deconstruct these white supremacist ideologies that we unconsciously project on our students. (I've been guilty of this in my own career.)
This is a quick and informative read with a plethora of activities, resources, and tools that you can implement in your classrooms. I highly recommend this book, especially during this crazy time in our world where there's so much racial tension.
“READING, WRITING AND RACISM” BY BREE PICOWER
Bree Picower’s “Reading, Writing and Racism” is a must-read, especially for white educators. In this book, Dr. Picower addresses how instances of overt racism appear in K-12 curricula and teaching practices. Additionally, she describes problematic strategies, which she defines as tools of whiteness, that teachers sometimes use that can be harmful or traumatizing for students of color and gives tips for how to avoid or correct those practices. She describes, in detail, how whiteness manifests itself in teacher preparation programs and the actionable steps that these programs must take to disrupt it. Additionally, she describes how white educators can evolve as social justice educators and use their positionality to be active co-conspirators for their BIPOC students and teacher colleagues.
There are so many great books out there that I could easily name but these selections are perfect for a year-long book study with your colleagues. At this point, we cannot make any excuses for not engaging in THE work within our school communities. With the overabundance of anti-racist books and teaching resources available to us, there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be able to engage in proactive and continuous capacity building. The books are at our fingertips … we just have to put in THE WORK.
Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the ...