Most of us are familiar with the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. It’s an insanely awesome, student-centered school that has an intense commitment to students’ cultures.
Teachers at RCA use highly-engaging, culturally responsive teaching methods to reach their students. Their lessons are so engaging, in fact, that many of their students’ projects end up going viral on social media. Like last year, for example, when Ron Clark announced that the school would be taking every single student to see Marvel’s Black Panther.
Doesn’t this look like the littest middle school dance party you’ve ever seen?
But as others have pointed out before, the kids here aren’t busting a move because they like the acting or special effects. It’s much deeper than that.
Black Panther made waves because of its unique showcase of Black brilliance and creativity. For Black students who often feel underrepresented in the curriculum they’re studying schools, Black Panther takes a different approach. It paints an image of Africa that’s so unlike what schools usually teach about the continent: pestilence, famine, and war. Black Panther showcases Black brilliance and creativity, and empowers young Black students with superheroes who look like them.
It’s a case study on why student cultures matter. Not just during Black History Month, but every month.
That doesn’t mean that showing students Black Panther is a quick-fix for educators wanting to infuse students’ cultures into their teaching. Cultures are complex things. No movie could ever explore the breadth and depth of an entire culture. Heck, Black Panther may not even represent Black culture to some Black families.
And that’s precisely why we can’t just sit around and wait for blockbuster movies or yearly celebrations to come around before we acknowledge our students’ backgrounds. Teachers should celebrate their students’ cultures every day.
It doesn’t take a Hollywood production team to do that, either. It takes students having access in every classroom to adults, role models, music, characters, or texts that represent their culture. It may sound like a small thing, but it actually has a tremendous impact on kids. Just check the research.
I mean, just think about those RCA students in the video. What if every child that enters our classroom doors could feel that pumped to be at school? The thing is, they totally can be. We just have to start teaching in ways that connect with them and make them feel engaged with what they’re learning.
Like this teacher, for example, who built an entire STEM lesson around the holograms from the Black Panther movie.
— Dr. Valerie Camille Jones (@drvcjones) February 21, 2018
Or this teacher, who uses Fantasy Football to help teach her high school students math.
Of course, not every student is an avid football fan. But for those who are, these kinds of interactive lessons are really effective because they build upon their own interests. Who wouldn’t want to learn math that way?
Examples like these prove that schools can close the gap and empower diverse students to achieve academic excellence, but it starts with embracing our students’ culture every day.
Of course, you should absolutely still celebrate Black History Month. Introduce your students to Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and reiterate that not all scientists are White guys in wrinkled lab coats.
Just don’t stop once February is over.