Voices in Education

Let's reflect, what do we mean when we say inclusion?

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There’s nothing that says America more than a warm traditional oven-baked apple pie. First, you have your choice of delicious juicy red apples. Then there are the other ingredients; butter and flour. You put the pie in the oven and go read a book or play with the kids until the timer stops.  The kids come into the kitchen smiling ear to ear as they await receiving their slice. There is, however, one huge problem. The pie is missing ingredients! The dish you baked doesn’t have a crust—the foundation is missing. Not only that, but the sugar, butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar are missing. You take a spoon, dig into the pie and what you hoped to be a delicious delight is just a bland and tasteless disaster. 

When Missing Ingredients Miss the Generational Mark

For some reason, maybe due to being fed crustless and flavorless pie your whole life, you decide to feed your pie to others, even knowing that the dish didn’t meet its full potential. And so, you pass on those same ingredients and directions to your children; apples, butter, and flour. They then grow up to do the same for generations to come.

But on the other side of town, there’s a household that has included all of the necessary ingredients into their apple pies for years—delicious apples, sugar, butter, cinnamon, flour, brown sugar, and of course, a nice firm pie crust. With that approach, their pies are just right, creating a warm and delightful dish for anyone fortunate enough ever to take a bite. 

After a while, the family who made the sweet, well-balanced, and delicious pie move into the neighborhood where the unfinished pies were baked. The family’s first stop as the new neighbors is to offer everyone a freshly baked pie they’ve prepared with all of the right ingredients. 

Some neighbors don’t take well to the new flavors introduced in the complete form of the correct recipe and move out of the neighborhood. Some are more accepting than others, but over time people begin to change their views on the change that is happening and give the new family a try only to discover how truly amazing the tasty treat is, when baked correctly. At that moment, lives and perspectives change forever. 

For years, families in the neighborhood had been baking and eating structureless and tasteless pies by excluding these flavorful ingredients. To their surprise, they love the new tasting pies, and even more importantly, they make friends with the new neighbors through fellowship and generosity. Although some families refused to try new things and were hesitant to leave their comfort zones, most of the neighbors can’t believe what they had been missing. Lastly, people even begin to question what else in life they missed.

How to Add Diversity's “Flavor” to Community and Classroom

What else in life are we, as an educational community in America, failing to experience when leaving out certain aspects that add value to our classrooms? In addition to that, if we fail to share our rich, diverse cultures, we also limit building a more inclusive community. 

When it comes to teaching our children about history in America, our traditional education system has neglected teaching the correct foundation and essential historical details and information.

As a social studies teacher in Washington, D.C., I have identified and analyzed countless resources that left out tons of facts that have left me with a bland and bitter taste in my mouth. Instead of teaching America’s founding with an inclusive approach to history, we as an education system overall have failed to tell the whole story. 

While white Americans have had a chance to resonate with their past as the heroes and creators of all things good, the Native American, Black and African American communities have not had the proper representation within the narrative of the country’s development that includes achievements, accomplishments, and contributions. 

Do you think our Black students and students of color have confidence that they can grow up to become whatever they want if the history books say otherwise? 

How to Make A Hard Case for Inclusion

In the wrong environment, the stark differences in the representation of white Americans in history in comparison to their Black and Native American counterparts can be extremely harming. This can contribute to entitlement and racial division through subliminal, implicit messages. White students see 44 out of 45 presidents in textbooks. However, Black students know of their history and culture from the vantage point of slavery within those same frameworks. Learning communities with a limited perspective that lacks an inclusive approach can also lead both white and Black students to feel that Black students are somehow unworthy or incapable of achieving high levels of success and achievement.  

By the time we teach U.S. History, we do so from the lens of a white European ideology, excluding what Native Americans or African Americans have contributed with any degree of celebration or pride. Therefore, children are left to believe from an early age that the only people who contributed to the country’s overall success were white Americans. Sure, there are brief moments of celebration embedded throughout the school year, but even those moments are done so in isolation. 

We shouldn’t teach or explain any of our history’s evolution in isolation or by cutting out significant stakeholders. 

Most children in America receive only the highlights of highly distinguishable individuals, often taught during heritage months or as a novelty of supposed best practices. While white students in America experience a positive approach to seeing their ancestors as the founders and leaders of our nation, there is never transparent dialogue that exposes the harsh reality of that complicated truth. 

The whole story of the pioneers of color needs to be embedded alongside their white American counterparts to encourage all students. Of course, there are the hard facts regarding who the Founding Fathers were and where they originated. America, while led by white men, was at one time and in many cases, the villain of the story in regards to the actions and behaviors these white founders demonstrated to obtain land and found this nation. Masking the true facts and details behind America's much celebrated founding history is both deceptive and inexact. 

Taking an exclusive approach to teaching is similar to baking that apple pie without the proper ingredients. It creates a bland, tasteless, and bitter experience that has unfortunately been force-fed into the mouths of millions of students every year. Without teaching about the rich, dynamic culture, resilient men, women, and children of Black people and people of color, we leave out a critical component of our country’s entire fabric.

I am a firm believer that you can’t teach an accurate account of our history without including rich and engaging information about the Native and African American experience. Teaching social studies from a critical lens that includes an inclusive approach is more than just the right thing to do, it’s harmful not to.

How can we experience the full inclusive joy that America has to offer if we leave out ingredients that maximize the dish? By appropriately planning and taking a more inclusive approach to teaching the whole story of our country, you’ll almost be able to taste the finished pie before you even place it in the oven to bake.

Glen Mourning

Glen Mourning 4th Grade ELA Teacher at Friendship Public Charter school in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @GLENMOURNING

Glen Mourning is a former graduate of the University of Connecticut. As a Division 1A scholarship football athlete, he completed both an English and Gender studies degree. In 2010 Glen finished his masters degree in Elementary Ed. He then began his teaching career working along side of the nationally renowned Educational contributor Dr. Steve Perry, Star of the CNN Special "Black in America II" and the host of TV One's "Save our Sons". Glen is currently an elementary reading teacher and author of The Crunchy Life kid’s series chapter books. Throughout his career, he has motivated and encouraged minority youth to fall in love with reading and develop social and emotional skills to improve their lives. 

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