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My first grade teacher stole my humanity: Enacting a humanising pedagogy in K-12 and higher education

Professor María del Carmen Salazar

This webinar will explore the need for humanisation in education, present a framework for a humanising pedagogy, and describe humanising pedagogical practices in K-12 and higher education.

Webinar: 26 November 2020, 16:00 SAST          

Webinar Series Homepage

Dr. María del Carmen Salazar is Professor of Teaching and Learning Sciences in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Dr. Salazar has authored 35 publications and given 125 scholarly national and international presentations on a humanizing pedagogy, equitable teaching and teacher evaluation, and college access and success for Latinx youth. She is the author of Teacher Evaluation as Culture: A Framework for Equitable and Excellent Teaching. This book is published by Routledge Press with series editor Professor Emerita Sonia Nieto. She is the lead author on a briefing to the U.S. Congress related to the state of the Latinx community in the U.S. In 2018, she was the recipient of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Innovations in Research on Equity and Social Justice in Teacher Education Award. Dr. Salazar’s service includes local, national, and international contributions. She served on the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC), a national collaborative to revise model content standards and develop learning progressions for teacher licensure, assessment, and development. She was a key contributor in the development of the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and Learning Progressions. She served on the Board of Directors of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and she is currently a member of the CAEP Equity and Diversity Committee. She is currently an Associate Editor for the Journal of Teacher Education, a top journal in the field of education. She is proud of her accomplishments as a first-generation college student and Mexican immigrant.

My first grade teacher stole my humanity: Enacting a humanising pedagogy in K-12 and higher education

I am a child of Mexican immigrants; my parents crossed the U.S.-Mexico border when I was two weeks old. My experience in U.S. society, specifically U.S. schools, was agonizing and dehumanizing. I entered school for the first time in kindergarten. Like most children, I was afraid of the unknown. However, Mr. Lopez encouraged me to bring my mochila (backpack) with all my treasures into our classroom. My mochila lovingly held my heritage language, culture, ancestral history, cultural ways of knowing, and my familia (family). I felt so proud as I strutted into my kindergarten classroom; my treasures illuminated the room, as bright as the Star of Bethlehem. That was kindergarten.

First grade was a very different story. The first grade felt scary, alienating, and lonely. Mrs. Kowalski was an imposing and aloof figure. The implicit message I received from my first grade teacher was: “Get rid of your old mochila. It has no value, and worse—it will be an obstacle to your success. I will give you a new mochila with new and shinier treasures, including: the English language, U.S. culture, and U.S. ways of knowing.” Mrs. Kowalski never explicitly told me to leave my treasures at the classroom door; she communicated this message with her curriculum, instruction, assessment practices, and learning environment.

The first grade curriculum excluded people who looked like me. Instead, the hidden curriculum positioned whiteness, maleness, and “Americanization” at the center. My first grade teacher prized whiteness and assimilation in her instruction; she rewarded whiteness and rejected the “other”. She elevated independence, individuality, punctuality, conformity, and objectivity. She admonished collectivism, emotionality, physical connections, and “foreign” languages. My first grade teacher used assessment like a weapon. She relentlessly tested my knowledge of the English language. I would write a word in Spanish and she would wield her red pen like a sword, aggressively slashing my papers with red marks, leaving my heritage language—and my soul—splintered and bleeding. She stabbed at the core of my humanity, for I am my language. She made no attempt to develop a caring relationship with my peers and me. We were just cogs in the machinery of education. Our humanity did not matter. We did not matter.

My first grade teacher stole my humanity. She stripped me of my love and pride for my heritage language, culture, and familia. I felt shame over the most essential elements of my humanness. I repelled my old treasures, and I embraced my new treasures with ferocity and determination. I became a connoisseur of whiteness, mimicking my white peers. I craved whiteness and wished desperately for the color of my skin to change. I felt dread that I would have to live in my dark skin forever as la morena, the dark-skinned girl.

My K-12 teachers, with one exception, were complicit in this thievery. They dehumanized my Mexican immigrant peers and I, reproducing oppressive practices. The miniscule inclusion of culture in my education was based on a “fun, food, and fiesta” approach. Most of my teachers worked to close the academic gap that my peers and I experienced as minoritized, immigrant children. In reality, they created a chasm. I had become so distanced and disconnected from my own humanity that I felt utterly lost.

I transitioned to higher education—an almost impossible feat. My parents only attained primary education in Mexico. I was a first generation college student and the only child of seven siblings to attend college. I persisted through the challenges and patiently waited for my professors to give me back my treasures. It never happened. They wielded the Western canon, a weapon of mass destruction, to keep America great—or white. The hidden, and not so hidden, curriculum privileged whiteness, reinforced white supremacy, and denied me my humanity. At this point, I took matters into my own hands. I was determined to reclaim my humanity. I devoured books about the richness of my cultural heritage. Today, I know that we, mestizos, people of mixed indigenous and Spanish heritage, cannot help but be great. We have greatness in our blood. Our ancestors are the Incas, Mayas, and Mexica (Aztecs). Our ancestors are healers, astronomers, engineers, mathematicians, philosophers, architects, inventors, and so much more.  

My experience with dehumanization led me on a journey to humanization that persists to this day. I anchor my life’s work to a humanizing pedagogy, a revolutionary approach to instruction that expresses the consciousness of students (Freire, 1970). Freire encouraged educators to reinvent his ideas. Thus, I developed a framework for a humanizing pedagogy that includes four pillars: iPower, Culture of Power, Power of Culture, and Power of Consciousness. iPower is individual and community strengths that are essential parts of one’s humanity. The Culture of Power is dispositions, knowledge, and skills students need to successfully navigate the U.S. culture & systems. The Power of Culture is cultural resources that impact students’ ways of knowing and full development as human beings. The Power of Consciousness is learning to perceive injustice and take action for social justice for self, family, and community.

I enact these pillars of a humanizing pedagogy in my work with students, parents, community members, and educators. For example in K-12, my most recent work is the development of the One Tribe Family Freedom School. Freedom Schools originated in the 1960s in the U.S. to offer Black students an education grounded in academics, activism, and racial justice. In the One Tribe Family Freedom School, Black, Brown (mestizo), and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) coalesce as one tribe that moves in unison toward freedom and justice. The mission of the One Tribe Family Freedom School is to offer a humanizing, empowering, and healing experience for BIPOC through a community and culturally sustaining and revitalizing approach. As another example, in higher education, my research on teacher preparation challenges white supremacy in teacher evaluation and provides a Framework for Equitable and Excellent Teaching (FEET) as a means to center the humanity of culturally and linguistically diverse students in teaching and learning.

I am a humanizing pedagogy. I embody this concept as a means to reclaim my own humanity and demand the full development of the humanity of BIPOC situated in the margins. Our humanity, after all, is who we are, what we strive for, what we dream about, and who we want to become—individually and collectively. Globally, those who are othered, minoritized, and marginalized, have power through our collective journey toward humanization. ¡Adelante! (onward). 

Posted on 18 November 2020 08:30:00

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