Header image

How does the EL Education K-8 Language Arts curriculum address topics of race, racism, antiracism and cultural proficiency?

  • Date

  • Author

    EL Education

EL Education prepares students to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use as active citizens and ethical people, working for social justice, environmental stewardship, and healthy, equitable communities. With that goal in mind, EL Education designed the K-8 Language Arts curriculum to empower children to grapple with complex ideas from the real world around them, including racism and racial justice. Here’s how:

    1. Module topics and texts explicitly educate children about racism and racial justice.
    2. Characters, authors, and stories represent diverse cultures, helping students build self awareness and cultural proficiency.
    3. Protocols and prompts help students develop a critical eye for racism in language, character portrayals, and author points of view in different kinds of texts.
    4. Protocols empower students to develop habits of character, beginning in Kindergarten, that can help them develop antiracist practices and perspectives.
    5. Performance tasks encourage students to celebrate the diverse voices and perspectives studied in the modules beyond the classroom.

Read on for details and examples of each as well as our opportunities for improvement. While EL Education is an aspiring antiracist organization, we are accountable for bringing our curriculum up to speed with our values. We built our curriculum with equity in mind. We must iterate on our curriculum with antiracism at the core.

1. Teaching about Racism and Racial Justice

We selected contemporary and historical topics and texts across grade levels that provide opportunities to educate students about racism and racial justice, including the following:

2. Self Awareness and Cultural Proficiency

We draw inspiration from Rudine Sims Bishop by giving students “mirrors and windows” to the world to build self awareness and cultural proficiency. Mirrors reflect students’ assets and identities, while windows open their eyes to diverse experiences. Guided by recommendations from teachers and students, science and social studies topics and texts include authentic characters, authors, and stories representing diverse cultures. Authentic and first person texts and contemporary contributions were prioritized in lieu of the traditional canon, which is biased toward white experiences.

3. Developing a Critical Eye for Racism in Literature

We help students develop a critical eye for implicit bias and racism in literature, even in texts that don’t explicitly address race or racism. Through prompts and protocols, teachers may challenge students to interrogate the author’s point of view, critique racist language, or unpack stereotypes in portrayals of characters. These activities allow students to uncover different kinds of oppression--ideological, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized.

For example, in Grade 3, Module 3, students explore the racial and gender stereotypes in Peter Pan. After reading the novel, having discussed their reading with peers and with family members/caregivers, they write a book review explaining whether they would recommend the book to a friend using evidence from the text to support their ideas. Students are given the opportunity to discuss any of the issues they encountered in the text grounded in a literacy exercise. In Unit 3, students rewrite a scene from the novel to address or ‘fix’ the issues they encountered. Through this module, students practice respect, empathy, and compassion with gender and race related issues. They also understand that once you dig deeper to analyze a canonical story, you can often gain a different point of view.

4. Habits of Character

A central goal of the EL Education curriculum is to give students the tools to become effective learners and ethical people who contribute to a better world, beginning in Kindergarten. We believe that the characteristics of ethical people are many of the same characteristics of people committed to antiracism, including self-reflection, active listening and valuing diverse perspectives, and compassion for others.

For example, in Kindergarten Module 1, Toys and Play, students practice respectful behavior as they engage in conversations and play experiences with peers, and practice caring for one another and classroom materials. Students co-create “Commitments for Playing Together” and “Ways We Take Care” anchor charts for their classroom communities and hold each other accountable throughout the year.

5. Performance Tasks in the Community

The curriculum promotes presentations of learning within the community that have a positive impact. Performance tasks encourage students to celebrate the diverse voices and perspectives studied in the modules beyond the classroom, in dialogue with community members who represent diverse perspectives.

For example, in Grade 6, Module 4, inspired by Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, students create illustrated pages for a narrative nonfiction picture book for younger students about the remarkable accomplishments of someone whose important work is relatively unknown.

Room to Grow

EL Education is revising the curriculum in partnership with communities based on the following growth areas.

  • Representation of diverse authors: The majority of core texts in grades 6-8 were authored by people of color (53%); however, a minority of core texts were authored by people of color in grades K-5 (12%). We are increasing diverse representation among authors across all grades.
  • Multiple stories: A majority of texts in the EL Education curriculum feature central characters who are people of color (66%, not including books about animals). However, we are working to ensure that these texts are not telling a “single story” of adversity, but rather including stories of creative change-making, and accomplishment, and agency. Multiple stories are necessary to provide students with an understanding of the wide diversity of experiences of people from varied backgrounds, cultures, and communities.
  • Aspiring to antiracism as an organization: EL Education unequivocally stands against racism in all its forms and embraces a vision of education as a powerful engine for disrupting structural racism, and fulfilling our nation’s promise of equal opportunity for all. This means we must continue to take a critical look at ourselves: our 27-year history is rooted in beliefs about equity, but we must clearly and urgently be an antiracist organization, even as we are still on a journey to fully embody all that means in our curriculum and in our actions. To align with our vision and values, future iterations of our curriculum will more explicitly empower students to be antiracist, contributing, compassionate human beings.
  • Professional Learning Support: EL Education will expand and enhance its suite of professional learning supports for teachers to more explicitly be antiracist and teach antiracism. If the EL Education curriculum is going to be a vehicle for developing antiracist students, teachers must be empowered to recognize bias and support students to go beyond awareness to disruption.
  • Culturally responsive curriculum: EL Education is auditing the curriculum for equity and developing new culturally responsive content in partnership with students, families, educators, and researchers. We are planning ways to further support schools in adapting elements of the curriculum to be more informed by students’ cultures and local contexts.
  • Primary learners: There are no topics or texts in grades K-2 that explicitly address racism or antiracism. This is a priority opportunity for growth.
  • Critical consciousness: Throughout the curriculum, students demonstrate their learning through authentic performance tasks that have a meaningful impact on their communities and address issues they care about. EL Education has an opportunity to ensure students are developing critical consciousness of systems of oppression at the root of social challenges in the community, and that they are empowered to disrupt injustice at its roots.