Friday, July 24, 2015

The CARLE Institute: Critical Analysis of Race and Learning in Education

In early July I had the good fortune to attend the week long CARLE Institute, a program designed for white educators in the independent school system. In the words of the program's founders "The CARLE Institute for White Educators in Independent Schools is structured to give white faculty members the necessary historical framework, interpersonal skills, and curriculum development strategies they need to teach a diverse student body."

I was not exactly sure what to expect from CARLE, although I was struggling with what my role as a white woman ought to be in my school's diversity/inclusivity work, and CARLE seemed like a good place to explore this. On the first day we heard from many attendees who said they came to CARLE because of colleagues who had deemed the previous summer's workshop, "life changing." High praise indeed, but, as I came to learn over the course of four intense days of work, "life changing" was indeed an accurate descriptor for the institute.

I am still working through all that I learned at CARLE, so rather than blog a complete account of the program, I'm instead putting down a few of the important concepts I have been ruminating on for the last few weeks:

  • White Privilege: I have begun to notice that I've started to see the world through the lens of the white privilege I have always been afforded, and have always been able to ignore. This is perhaps one of the fundamental lesson of CARLE: As white educators, we have the luxury of ignoring our race, but also the responsibility to recognize our privilege, understand our history, and do the work of forwarding anti-racism*.
  • Race as a Social Construct: Margery Freeman of The People’s Institute spoke about how race is not based in science or DNA, but rather is a specious construct, a classification system designed to put white people at the top of the pyramid under the guise of “scientific” evidence. This history was new to me, and something I feel eager to make others aware of. It’s a hole in so many of our educational experiences and one that is important for us and our students to be aware of. For those who want to know more about the history of race as a social construct, "Race: The Power of an Illusion" by California Newsreel is a good resource.
  • Intent vs Impact:  A great emphasis was placed on understanding that good intentions do not negate the impact of our words and actions. A well-developed sense of identity as a white person, along with a strong understanding of the power and privilege that comes along with that identity, is necessary for us to teach our students about what it means for them to grow up in this country. Good intentions are not enough - we must act purposefully and consider the impact of our intentions.
  • Organizing: In a powerful session on white racial identity development, Elizabeth Denevi said, “You have to be rooted in your own identity in order to understand the identity of others.” Schools cannot rely on the people of color in their community to do this work alone, and so it’s critical that we engage as many of our white faculty members as we can in the process of developing an understanding of white racial identity and privilege among our students and faculty. Seeing race is not racism, nor is racial colorblindness a solution to the problem of racism.

I cannot overemphasize the value of the CARLE Institute. I highly encourage white independent school educators to seek out the organizers of this program. 

*Anti-racism was a new term for me. I had never come across it before my work with CARLE. While I am hesitant to link to the wikipedia definition, I found the site to be preferable to many others on the internet.