Beware the danger of a single story. This concept, inspired by the Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk by the same name, forms the basis for our new 6th-grade class, I.D.E.A.S. (Identity, Diversity, Equity, and Action at Severn). Developed by Middle School History Teacher Ms. Lisa Clarke, the class navigates historical perspectives on race, culture, and inequity in the U.S. through the lens of groups and individuals whose stories have been hidden throughout history.
The Purpose Behind Our Practice
How do we ensure that our students recognize and celebrate differences among people and develop genuine empathy for others? As stated in our inclusivity vision, our school-wide goal is to “develop thoughtful programs and practices to broaden a culture of belonging and respect and an appreciation for the complexities within ourselves and others and foster the desire to participate in a dynamic, global society.” I.D.E.A.S is part of that vision. Through this class, our students explore cultural and racial identities and learn to identify and understand prejudices that fuel inequity in our country.
“We learn about the histories of Native Americans, Black Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans. These are the stories that aren’t usually told and they need to be amplified. I help my students connect those histories to our world today; how race and culture impact the way people experience life and what privileges or disadvantages they have. I know that other schools have classes like this, but their context is different than ours. I wanted to create something that reflects what our students need and at the right developmental level.” — Ms. Clarke
We Are Made of Many Stories
Before talking about identity and race on a broader scale, Ms. Clarke encourages her students to think deeply about the concept of identity and how it impacts their day-to-day lives. They create an identity collage incorporating elements that represent how they see themselves and how they want others to see them. The class talks about how it might feel if others focused on one small part of that collage rather than looking at the bigger picture. Focusing on one part of a person tells an incomplete story of who they are. It opens the door for judgment, stereotypes, and prejudice.
Building an Inclusive Timeline of History
Although the class continues conversations about personal identity throughout the quarter, their primary focus turns to developing an accurate timeline that gives voice and weight to the experiences of marginalized and persecuted people in American history. The class conducts research using library databases, they read poems and literature, and they explore video and audio recordings of Native, Black, Latino, and Asian Americans to hear first-person perspectives. They work together to distill their research into entries for the timeline that stretches down the length of the Middle School hallway. Ms. Clarke works with her students to make sure that their research is correct and that their language is culturally appropriate and free of bias.
”We talk about race, culture and inequity from a historical perspective. But we also discuss that history is made of people that are just like every one of us, people with individual identities as part of those larger groups. It’s a very complicated topic, but one that we need to teach. Hopefully, this class is helping my students understand that not everyone experiences the world in the same way. Once we can acknowledge inequity throughout history and today, we can start to address it.” — Ms. Clarke
As an advocate for inclusion and equity at Severn and in preparation for developing this class, Ms. Clarke attended the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) "People of Color Conference" and Pollyanna’s "From Diversity to Community" conference along with several other Severn faculty members. She has conducted extensive research on racial literacy and inclusion-focused curriculum and continues professional development to best meet the needs of our students and community.