After my first year, I decided to start teaching dance, which allowed me more freedom to experiment with curriculum. This is when I started infusing lessons with culturally relevant history about Black and Latinxs art forms. If my students were going to learn the 1,2,3, hip rise steps of Bachata, then they were also going to learn about its African and bolero influences and unofficial censorship by the Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. During Black History Month, I decided to put on a staged reading of “Now Let Me Fly” by Marcia Cebulska with my 2nd grade students. As we were in the middle of reading the play, one of my black students looks up at me and asks, “Ms. Lebron, how come almost all of the books we read in school have characters that don’t look like me?” I was speechless, angry and frustrated that this bright little boy wasn’t seeing himself reflected in his learning unless it had to do with Slavery or the Civil Rights Era, which were barely glossed over. I knew I owed my students more. That this country, as Gloria Ladson-Billings has put it, owed black and brown children an education debt that has long been overdue. This moment served as the catalyst for what has become my life’s work.
Moreover, in learning about social justice issues and inequalities, students become informed, critical thinkers and problem-solvers. For example, during our Unit on Breaking Down Gender and Racial Stereotypes, students often engaged in respectful and heated debates, where they discussed their views on questions like “Do all girls like the color pink?” or “Are all Muslims terrorists?” When students learn the skills necessary in order to engage with one another critically and respectfully, they are able to form informed opinions and use their knowledge to raise awareness in their communities about the injustices they wish to combat, while coming up with effective and collaborative solutions to said problems. This is the goal of my curriculum, to provide students with the tools to become caring, socially responsible agents of change who spread awareness and work to tackle the inequities they wish to dismantle in their communities and beyond.
For those who want to do this work with young children, but may not know how or if they should, I need you to know that it’s not only possible, but it’s incredibly powerful and necessary. Our kids need to know that they are seen, that they matter, that they have the power to change the course of their lives, their communities and the world for the better.
Kathy Lebron is a former Social Action Teacher and School Culture Coach with a Master’s in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from the Hunter College School of Education. She is a lover of education, social liberation and travel. She developed a social justice and culturally responsive curriculum for elementary students and her goal is to help educators, families and students use education as a vehicle to produce transformational social change for all people.