Working locally, Daniel HoSang helps make teaching less colorblind
In his scholarly work and teaching, Daniel Martinez HoSang examines issues of race and racial injustice.
Beyond the Yale campus, he’s putting the lessons he’s learned to practice in Greater New Haven area schools, where he helps teachers create more racially equitable learning and curriculum for K-12 schoolchildren.
For the past two years, HoSang has taught a seminar through the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute called “Teaching About Race and Racism Across the Disciplines.” The seminar educates primary and secondary school teachers about the way racism runs through current teaching in nearly all subjects, including music, history, art, literature, and science.
As part of the seminar, the teachers design their own anti-racist curriculum units.
“When first teaching the seminar in the spring of 2019, I got to work closely with 11 New Haven middle and high school teachers, helping them think about changes they could make in their curriculum and pedagogy that would be more attentive to issues of race and racism,” said HoSang, a tenured associate professor of ethnicity, race & migration and of American studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “I was inspired by their skill, their passion, and by how quickly they could bring these types of ideas to their teaching.”
This summer, HoSang, who also holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Political Science, also taught the two-week seminar to nine K-12 teachers from across the nation.
His commitment to changing racist or inaccurate educational practices — and supporting others with that mission — also led him to co-found the Anti-Racist Teaching and Learning Collective (ARTLC), a network of Connecticut teachers, students, and youth organizers who are advancing anti-racist pedagogy, curriculum, and practice in the state’s schools. The group formed in response to a Connecticut law, passed last year, which requires all public high schools to offer an elective class on African American and Latinx studies by 2022.
“We thought there was a need for an organizing group that could help support that legislation,” said HoSang of ARTLC. “We talked about how this legislation should be the floor and not the ceiling — how we should be offering anti-racist curricula in schools at every level and in every subject — math, English, Spanish, and so on — and not just history.”
Some of the members of ARTLC are teachers who participated in HoSang’s Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminars. The group meets bi-monthly, and has been doing so virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With insights gleaned from HoSang’s seminars, the teachers have developed curricula that bring Black, indigenous, and Latinx histories, perspectives, and voices to their classrooms, countering long-established systems and practices in which they have been silent, ignored, or marginalized.
For example, Carolyn Streets, a seventh-grade English teacher at West Haven’s Engineering and Science University Magnet School, developed a curriculum unit for teaching the Newberry Medal-winning novel “Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry,” about a young child’s experience of racism in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era. Streets’ curriculum unit includes nonfiction readings to examine the historical backdrop of the novel and power structures that influence the characters, as well as “resistance music,” such as gospel and other styles, to explore the novel’s themes.
At Metropolitan Business Academy, social studies teacher Nataliya Braginsky developed a curriculum unit on New Haven history that engaged her students in researching Black and Latinx history in the city and creating a map and virtual walking tour that brings that history to life.
Both teachers are part of ARTLC, which emphasizes in its mission statement that all teachers — like their students — are learners, and that students have critical roles to play as thinkers. ARTLC is anchored by two youth organizations: the New Haven-based Students for Education Justice and the New London-based Hearing Youth Voices.
“We advocate for a much more collaborative approach to teaching and learning,” said HoSang, noting a major aim of ARTLC is to promote communication between teachers and students committed to anti-racist teaching. This summer ARTLC hosted a webinar, “The Anti-Racist Education We Need,” which drew 260 participants.
“Teachers often talk about the importance of having cohorts of teachers inside their schools to share ideas with and to gain support from their administrators,” HoSang said. “It is very hard to do this work in isolation. Teachers want to be connected to other people, to learn from each other and to share ideas.”
For one ARTLC project last summer, HoSang enlisted the help of 22 Yale students — from a range of backgrounds and with diverse majors — to interview nearly 40 teachers about how they think about anti-racist curricula, the challenges of introducing it in their schools, and how they put their own anti-racist teaching practices into effect. Some of the students are still working with ARTLC to analyze the results. The Yale students also created an ARTLC website that features profiles of Connecticut teachers and student organizers engaged in this work, curricular resources, and more.
One of the topics that HoSang addresses in both his Yale classroom and the seminars is the harm of pervasive “colorblindness” — not acknowledging race and racial histories in the curricula.
“Teachers really understand colorblindness because in their teacher education, they are often reminded that every student is an individual,” said HoSang. “That in itself is not a problem, but it is not attending to history, to context, to racist structures and inequalities of power. Treating everyone as equal does not by itself produce justice. We have to acknowledge histories of inequality.”
Before his teaching career, HoSang worked as a community labor organizer in Oakland, California, and he also was engaged in youth organizing. “It made me interested in collective and collaborative projects with many voices, and thinking about the capacity that everyday people have in contributing to learning and knowledge,” he said.
Through his work with ARTLC, HoSang said, he has come to see that everyone is continually learning how to be more mindful about dismantling racism in school classrooms.
“I have had teachers who tell me they want to teach indigenous history but don’t know how, because they were never taught that history,” he said. “I don’t take it as a failing that someone feels they don’t have a particular skill. We are all in the process of learning and recognizing we have the capacity to change. Effective teachers know they that are always going to learn new materials and be responsive to their students.”
The Yale faculty member said he is hopeful that anti-racism curricula will become more common in K-12 schools. “Even if an entire curriculum doesn’t change and schools don’t change, students win when teachers change, and it’s been exciting to see how teachers treat students as co-participants in shaping the learning agenda,” said HoSang.