In 2016, 10 Philly based white educators banded together with a mission: to “dismantle white supremacy in school curricula and communities.” according to Charlie McGeehan, core member of Building Anti-Racist White Educators (B.A.R.W.E.).
McGeehan said antiracist work began years earlier but accelerated in 2017 following the protests in Charlottesville. In that incident a woman was killed, and many others were injured when a white nationalist follower deliberately drove his vehicle into the crowd.
“Before Charlottesville, we were a little timid. We weren’t being direct and we weren’t even saying white supremacy in the name of our work,” McGeehan said.
B.A.R.W.E. develops monthly Inquiry Series which are available to subscribers who complete the series on their own time. Among each months’ materials is a lead article meant to jump start discussions.
For January, the series builds on the prior month’s lead article: Ending Curriculum Violence. According to the article “curriculum violence” refers to the trauma caused from certain teaching methods, such as reenactments. The trauma occurs when students of color are led to first-hand experience slavery, as an example, yet the exercise often fails to link the past with a present-day context. The article also states that lessons frequently omit examples of triumph and further, that slavery is often the only teaching around Black history.
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To address this, the January series challenges educators to undergo an audit using the Critical Analysis of a Curriculum Unit. One of the questions asked is whose voices are heard. A host of resources are included to help change curricula where necessary, starting from an antiracist perspective.
Keeping B.A.R.W.E. honest is the Melanated Educators Collective (M.E.C.) which according to educator and core member, Ismael Jimenez, strives to “unify and empower educators of color in Philadelphia. M.E.C. aims to provide a safe space for Black and brown teachers of color to network and express themselves without the ‘white gaze’,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez said a group of educators of color began meeting initially as a social and networking outlet. He agreed with McGeehan that racial clashes, both locally and nationally, dictated a tactical response; and M.E.C. officially formed in 2018.
The two organizations have deepened their collaborative particularly within the last year. Each month’s Inquiry Series is first reviewed by M.E. C., for both content and ensuring that resources are largely from authors of color.
M.E.C. helped take the Inquiry Series from a perfunctory structure to one allowing for time to “marinate on and forgo the politeness of talking about race,” Jimenez said. A recent grant allows B.A.R.W.E. to compensate M.E.C. for its input, helping B.A.R.W.E. honor its commitment to not unfairly burden Black educators in building antiracist work.
M.E.C.’s primary focus is supporting educators of color and increasing their presence in schools. The Philadelphia School District reports that more than 50% of its students are Black. But another reality is that less than 30% of District teachers are Black. One way M.E.C. helps to keep Black educators engaged is awarding grants for projects that might not otherwise receive funding.
Through its partnership with Black Lives Matter Philly, M.E.C. funded over 20 projects last year.
For McGeehan, building antiracist curricula has been transformative. “I realize now that I came to teaching with a white savior approach.” He said that unlearning similar attitudes is key if white educators want to be successful in this work.
B.A.R.W.E. is leading its third Inquiry Series, and currently reaches educators nation-wide with over 6,500 subscribers.-30-
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