"Teach-in" facilitates discussion of curriculum and censorship
by Claire Miller
College of Education Assistant Professor Rhina Fernandes Williams asked attendees at “Teach, Think, Do: A Teach-In on Tucson” to stand up if they were from the metro-Atlanta area. Of the more than 170 people who attended the Feb. 4 event, the vast majority stood up.
This exercise continued for a few more questions: A handful stood up when asked if anyone got lost on the way to the COE for the event, a few more stood when asked if there were any students present, and several more stood when asked if any teachers were in attendance. But the final query in the exercise had the entire room on its feet.
“Stand up,” Williams asked, “if you are here today to stand up for liberty and justice for all people.”
The “Teach-In,” coordinated by students, faculty and staff from the COE, Emory University, Clayton State University, Kennesaw State University, Georgia Gwinnett College, Metro Atlantans for Public Schools and the Georgia chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education, was one of many events happening across the U.S. designed to discuss a ban of ethnic studies courses in public schools in Tucson, Ariz., and how it could impact local schools.
To give attendees a firsthand account of the movement to ban Mexican American studies classes in the Tucson Unified School District and to discuss the ramifications of such a movement, the event began with an online panel discussion featuring Norma Isela and José Gonsalez, Tucson Unified School District teachers; Nico Dominguez, Tucson Unified School District student; Debbie Reese, author and consultant on American Indians in children’s literature; and Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post writer and American Book Award-winning author.
While Isela, Gonsalez and Dominguez spoke via Skype about their personal experiences with the ban, Reese and Biggers offered reasons for keeping culturally-specific texts in classrooms.
“I advocate for the use of multicultural literature, and this matters to me because I know that it matters to children to see themselves reflected in the books that they read and the curriculum that they’re being given in school,” Reese said. “I think it’s astonishing that the program in Arizona was showing gains in attendance, grades and graduation rates – the things that we as scholars of literature have been saying literature can do – and to see it shut down is a huge step backwards.”
Following the panel discussion, attendees had their choice of three breakout sessions: One focused on the books censored in Tucson schools, one that offered curriculum and lesson planning strategies and one where participants wrote letters to legislators and other stakeholders around the country. The three groups then came back together to brainstorm ways to continue the dialogue on censorship, curriculum and multicultural education moving forward.
Alyssa Hadley Dunn, COE clinical assistant professor of urban teacher education and the founder of Georgians for Freadom, the newly formed group that coordinated the event, told attendees that she hoped they gained a better understanding of what is happening in Arizona and how to successfully advocate for social justice in local classrooms.
“We are here to stand in solidarity with those fighting in Tucson and around the country,” Dunn said. “It is up to us to understand the issues, to know what we’re fighting against and fighting for, and most importantly, why we are fighting. We hope that today inspires you to teach, think and do more to work for social justice and educational equity in every part of your life.”