Diversity Lecture Explores Education’s “Contradictory Intersection”

Diversity Lecture Explores Education’s “Contradictory Intersection”

Photo of Kevin Kumashiro

Kevin Kumashiro, PhD

Advocate Kevin Kumashiro, PhD, spoke to students, teachers, and education leaders in stirring talk.

How can we ensure that today’s classrooms benefit all students and not just some? One way is to take a close look at the practices we take for granted, says Kevin Kumashiro, PhD, internationally-recognized expert on educational equity and social justice and former dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco. In his moving keynote address at the GSEAP Diversity Lecture last March, Dr. Kumashiro called on attendees to consider what is the prevailing ‘common sense’ in education today that must be changed.

Recalling past examples of ‘common sense’ of the time and day, Dr. Kumashiro pointed out how conventional wisdom 100 years ago was that girls shouldn’t be educated for too long for fear that they would grow up to challenge men for jobs, and that their place was ultimately in the home. Just fifty years ago, he continued, the ‘common sense’ was that if you had darker skin, you shouldn’t receive too much education.

“What an incredibly racist thing, but at the time, that idea went unquestioned,” Dr. Kumashiro said via Skype to students, teachers, advocates, and educational leaders who gathered in the Oak Room on March 4, 2020. “I bring up these examples not to make fun of people, but to raise the question, how would you complete the sentence: I can’t believe in 2020 it was commonsensical to think this?”

“What is the common sense of our time that prevents us from seeing what is really going on?” he implored attendees to consider in his talk, “Teaching for Social Justice in Schools: Examples From the Classroom.” “What has become so commonsensical that we are not even questioning it, even in our profession.”

Referencing teacher strikes, proposed massive budget cuts, and other recent challenges, Dr. Kumashiro observed that it now seems like a time in the U.S. when public education is under heightened attack. However, it has always been under attack, he emphasized.

“It’s a project that has the promise of democratizing,” said Kumashiro. “But education always sits at this contradictory intersection of having the promise of democratizing, but at the same time it fuels inequities and injustices.” At its heart, he added, education needs to be about grappling with what is the ‘common sense’ of our time.

“Education should be about getting people to think and that often means they should be questioning the very things that they are learning, and it should not be about fitting into the world as it is,” Kumashiro noted. “Some would argue that is assimilation, colonization… many of us argue education should be about preparing the next generation to imagine and create the world that doesn’t yet exist.”

That is why education is often the site of revolution, he emphasized. He encouraged attendees to consider what an education system in service of democracy should look like.

“The curriculum needs to build our capacity to be active and equal participants in a democracy… that includes questioning the stories of those in power,” Dr. Kumashiro answered. “Imagine how hard it is to teach controversial issues like diversity, inequity, privilege, supremacy, oppression.” Kumashiro asked educators to ponder why historically there has often been such a battle at schools. “That’s because they shape how people think,” he said. “This is our challenge.”

He went on to reason that social justice work happens when you’re working against the legacies of the very institutions you are working in.

“I ask what commonsensical ideas need to be addressed to make education more democratic,” he said. “Our job is to dive in and surface among these enduring contradictions. We need to dive in, explode it, and mine it for its usefulness. Our job isn’t to try to tinker with things so that schools can be better at what they’ve always done, which is to get us to fit into the world.”



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