Critical RAce Theory | SEL
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Before diving in, it’s important to understand that while social emotional learning programs and culturally responsive teaching are different teaching approaches, they both focus on building positive student identity and a supportive learning environment. SEL helps develop social emotional skills which differs from culturally responsive teaching which recognizes, values, and connects schoolwork to a child’s lived experiences and racial/ethnic identities.

Both approaches recognize the importance of students having a positive self worth, the ability to self heal and influences a students’ success in school, home, and community. SEL prior to 2020 had viewed a student’s identity much more broadly. (Umaña-Taylor et al., 2018). When teachers acknowledge rather than willfully or accidentally disregard the roles that race and ethnicity play in identity development, they sincerely affirm the value of students’ cultures. And when teachers acknowledge a child’s race and ethnicity in identity development they are thoughtful of a students culture. Therefore, this creates an inclusive learning environment for all students.

Illinois’ Newly Revised Professional Development Requirements

School district administrators, teachers, and other staff are required to complete ongoing bias and critical race theory training to identify and lessen the effect of implicit bias on when promoting teachers. Bias and critical theory training is thought to help them to identify and adjust their implicit beliefs regarding teachers of color. This also helps create culturally aware climate awareness, trauma-informed practice, and bias-free education.

Higher education institutes are now required to add course requirements for pre-service teachers and educators that center identity-based literacy development which is part of the licensure and renewal process (critical race theory courses to their teacher preparation programs ). Teachers will be required to critically look at who they are and what their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and language background means in regards to teaching and student learning.

Illinois’ new professional development requirements now require teachers to be coached by equity consulting firms in order to learn how to teach from an intersectional lens. In other words, this newly required professional development for teachers supposedly helps them address the needs of multiple and intersecting identities of students, as well as equivalent instructional goals, approaches, and plans of action in order to guarantee the needs of the whole child over all environments. 

Identity-Based Literacy is Intersectionality

Embedded within the critical race theory framework is identity-based literacy (intersectionality) Identity-based literacy is defined as the competency and consciousness of individuals to examine systems of oppression through acknowledging the intersections of race and other identities including but not limited to: class, gender identity, gender expression, sex, religion, ability, age, sexual orientation, language, etc. Educational researchers have centered critical race/ critical social theories in frameworks over the last 40 years to disrupt and dismantle dominant ideologies and to provide more equitable learning opportunities, specifically for our most marginalized and vulnerable students, students of color. 

Illinois’ new professional development requirements now requires teachers to be coached by equity consulting firms in order to learn how teach from an intersectional lens. In other words, this newly required professional development for teachers supposedly helps them address the needs multiple and intersecting identities of students, as well as equivalent instructional goals, approaches, and plans of action in order to guarantee the needs of the whole child over all environments.

In Illinois identity-based literacy is established by using three components which helps improve identity-based literacy skills for teachers therefore improving the educational experience for all students. Those components include:

 Children And Their Implicit and Unconscious Biases

According to the, “Implicit bias occurs because of the brain’s natural tendency to look for patterns and associations in the world.” The Office of Diversity and Outreach (ODOU) defines Unconscious biases as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.” With the newly revised SEL program, children will be expected to think about their own personal views and how their own particular cultures may affect their awareness, beliefs, and knowledge about other people and the world around them. So again, due to a child’s implicit and unconscious biases, the newly revised SEL program will help them identify these biases and eliminate them.

A quantitative, formal, study which is used to systematically assess the results of previous research to acquire knowledge (meta-analysis) about SEL programs uncovered that it can be assumed in regards to race and culture, that mediations are impartial (accusing researchers of being “color-blind”) (Jones et al., 2018). So in other words, SEL programs did not directly address racism, equity was not the main outcome, and there was no focus on the child’s racial identity.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), published a paper in 2018 which focused the power of social emotional learning to  “mitigate the interrelated legacies of racial and class oppression in the U.S. and globally,” (prior to 2018), that “potential [had been] underrealized”. In other words, diversity was too broad and did not hyperfocus on the social and emotional aspects of race, racism, and racial identity.(Mahfouz & AnthonyStevens, 2020)

CASEL Makes Big Changes To Social Emotional Learning In 2020

Fast forward to 2020 and you’ll quickly find that CASEL revised their SEL definition to “emphasize the skills, knowledge and mindsets needed to examine prejudices and biases, evaluate social norms and systemic inequities, and promote community well-being” (Neimi, 2020, para. 10). 

The Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety-WestEd CISELSS describes equity as something that “introduces the notion of where power resides in leadership and decision-making,” and is both the top goal and content now of SEL programs. CASEL claims by expanding and aligning the use of both SEL and culturally responsive teaching, equity can be achieved.

They are now pushing to teach K-12 students about critical consciousness and oppression because it is crucial to a child’s social and emotional development.

Critical Race Theory Is Injected Into Social Emotional Learning and Culturally Responsive Teaching

Learning social and emotional skills, it’s not the same as “teaching” CRT. Truth be told, CRT isn’t an educational program or skills to be taught to K-12 students. Instead, CRT can be thought of as one system (framework), or focal point (“lens”), for critically thinking about the significant culture, race, racism, social, economic, and power that influences all people in the United States. It requires what critical race theorists and advocates refer to as courageous conversations about diversity as a way to guide teacher/student relationships in order to challenge racial injustice. (Simmons, 2019, para. 3) These courageous conversations hyperfocus specifically on a students life, discusses social and political factors, and gets children to willingly and openly discuss controversial topics.

The ultimate goal is to have children developing critical social-emotional learning proficiencies such as empathy, social consciousness, and recognition to eventually apply critical thinking skills to the environment around them on their own. The end goal is to have children question and analyze everything in their lives such as history, issues at school and outside of school (especially at home). Once a child develops these abilities (academic and social-emotional) they will always view their world and make decisions through the lens of critical race theory.

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