Transcription of the episode “Antiracism: Lessons for the classroom and faculty lounge”

Jon M: [00:00:15] Hi. I’m Jon Moscow.

Amy H-L: [00:00:16] And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guest today is Mica Pollock. Dr. Pollock is Professor of Educational Studies and Director of the Center for Research on Educational Equity Assessment and Teaching Excellence, CREATE,  at the University of California, San Diego. Her most recent book is SchoolTalk: Rethinking What We Say About and To Students Every Day. Welcome Mica.

Mica P: [00:00:44] Thank you.

Jon M: [00:00:45] You created a project and website called US vs. Hate. What is US vs Hate and what is it designed to do?

Mica P: [00:00:53] US vs Hate is what we call an anti-hate messaging project led by educators and students. And it’s designed to amplify and uplift youth voice against hate, which we’re defining in the project as treating people as if their identity makes them an inferior type of person. So we started designing it after the Charlottesville rally a number of years ago, and also to react to a post 2016 election spike in incidents of explicit bigotry and sort of unleashed harassment along various identity group lines in school settings, K-20, meaning college campuses, as well, across the country. And, you know, bigotry, racism is not new in the United States nor in our schools isn’t new, but we had seen nationally and many folks had been tracking and educators have been reporting a spike in  kind of unleashed bigotry on school campuses. And US vs Hate is designed to invite young people, with teachers, to study issues of bias and inequality and what we’re calling hate forms – racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, et cetera, and to make public messages for their school communities against hate that then get entered into a broader contest and amplified on social media and nationally as well as recreated into products sent back to participating schools. So it’s designed to be an on-ramp for what we’re calling anti-hate work, and by that we mean into the ongoing exploration of the deep ideas and inequality systems under this current explosion of explicit bigotry. So that’s what US vs Hate is trying to be about. It’s an anti-hate messaging project, supporting teachers with lessons and resources, but also encouraging most of all, youth to lift their voices up publicly.

Amy H-L: [00:03:07] What kinds of impacts have you seen in classrooms in schools that have implemented the project?

Mica P: [00:03:14] We have seen a lot of really exciting results. We wanted to see if the anti-hate on- ramp, as I’ve been calling it, would invite deep inquiry as well as really immediately bring young people into speaking their minds on the issues of our time. We’ve seen all of the above happen in the sense of, you know, teachers really appreciating the ability of to add public messaging to existing deep units they already had going on the Holocaust or on US racism or on immigration and explore it in deep ways, but to have an invitation to young people to make public products, public messages at the end of such units has been really welcome to educators. We’ve seen students, sort of at the other end of the spectrum, having a lot of things they want to say publicly, even just after looking at the website, without any lessons, without any deep curriculum, but young people just really appreciating the invitation to say things publicly against hate and, you know, for inclusion and opportunity. We’ve seen sort of goal of the project is not only to amplify youth voices and to give resources and an invitation to teachers but also to unite school communities in a particularly divided era.

And we have seen school assemblies happen. We’ve seen the hashtag be used to really inspire young people, to feel a sense of connection to others in their school community. And so we’ve seen really exciting. I think the anti-hate frame and its pros and cons, it’s something we’ve been thinking about as a research team that’s also designing the project as we go with students and educators, and really thinking about how the anti-hate on-ramp allows for young people to sort of enter this work at different levels, so to speak. So there are some young people who are ready immediately to speak their minds on xenophobia because they’ve been experiencing it and thinking about it and living it.

There are other young people, particularly young children, who enter the work under the umbrella of sort of more general inclusion messaging. Everyone belongs. Meanness is a form of weakness. Kind of using the anti-hate invitation to speak their minds on including everybody in the school community.

And so it’s been really lovely to see how, when an invitation is offered young people and teachers, how ready people are to participate in what we’re calling anti-hate work. 

Jon M: [00:05:57] So  picking up on that and on these ideas of on-ramps and invitations to deeper inquiry, you know, most people will deny that they hate another group. So what are some of the ways US vs Hate concretely helps teachers to deepen the conversation? What are some examples that you’ve seen happen?

Mica P: [00:06:18] Right. I think we’re using the anti-hate on-ramp precisely because hate is not something anybody wants to defend. And so it’s a sort of invitation for all to, as we put it, consider what it means to treat all people as equally valuable. It’s an on-ramp that we’ve seen people be able to take in schools of varying demographics, varying you know, sort of political divides. And so that’s precisely why we’re using the anti-hate frame as an on-ramp is because of its kind of universal appeal even as we also then invite people into the deeper work of grappling not only with lessons that. . .

We have two lesson lists, one that’s about building an inclusive school community and then in a second that’s directing people’s attention to grappling with specific hate forms, so to speak. And so we’re seeing that some educators start with lessons that are about being allies generally rather than bystanders and then inviting youth messaging and youth themselves then take it deeper to say  public things against homophobia or public things against racism and  then youth deepen the work.

We’re also seeing that with the sort of lesson collections that we have on more specific forms of hate, bias, and injustice that teachers who might start with a group of fourth graders talking about hate in general, then seek a, you know, a film from Teaching Tolerance teaching about the civil rights movement and all of a sudden they’re working with their fourth graders talking about how youth have participated in the past to change it society through, you know, standing up for civil rights. And so we were seeing people take the on-ramp, which is designed to be a sort of, you know, take this project where you want and need to take it locally kind of project. We’re seeing people go deep with the work and invited to. 

And another thing I would point out that’s been really exciting about US vs Hate is that a message created by a young person in one community can spark deeper thinking by a young person in another part of the region, we started in San Diego, or another part now of the country. So we’ve seen students say that, you know, seeing a message that a young person, a 10th grader in San Diego, made a several years ago that says “Being Mexican is not a crime,” that seeing that message prompted them to think more deeply about the inclusion of all populations, whether they be immigrants, whether they be, you know, born in the United States, but that seeing a youth voice or hearing a youth voice, pushing the conversation deeper, encourages next youth to do that. And so that’s a really exciting aspect. I think, of this project is the public voice piece of it.

Amy H-L: [00:09:11] Have there been student messages or memes that have surprised you? 

Mica P: [00:09:16] That’s a really great question. I have been,  I would say, surprised overall by kind of how pithy and just to the point youth can be. I often, you know, as someone who is very deep into anti-racism and is also a very sort of self-critical practitioner of it, in the sense of that I’m always asking myself about the pros and cons of what I’m saying and the way I’m going after pursuing anti-racism or equity effort. And in fact, I bake that same self-critical orientation into every book I write for teachers, ask, invite other people to join me in it. I often do what I can call or what many people call, you know, sort of three dimensional chats or maybe for me, it’s 10 dimensional chats about my different moves and the way I talk. 

Young people have this ability to get right to the point, right and make messages that just capture things that need to be said, right. And so, as one example, a I believe also a fourth grader in this case made a winning message after a unit that apparently was about athletes speaking up for justice in sports, made a message that youth voted a winner and we turned it into a sticker and it had an image of seemingly a young woman in a hijab and it simply says in kind of childlike writing, “We’ve got your back.” And there was something about that image that sort of cut right to the chase and said what needed to be said. You know similarly I believe a kindergartner, it may have been a first grader, making one of our first winning messages that simply said “Everyone belongs.” And the way the child drew it had a sort of circle of multicolored people. And there was something about in a, in a sort of heart-shaped world in the middle. Well, and there was something about the image that just put it out there, “Everyone belongs,” and it was a sort of insistent call for including everybody in a diverse community or nation, and they just cut right to the chase. And so I’ve been really surprised by young people’s ability to do that. 

Jon M: [00:11:23] You were talking about how messages from one part of the country can impact elsewhere and also how teachers find themselves going in different directions. Once the on-ramp is leading, you know, into those kinds of places, what kind of resources does US vs Hate provide as teachers are doing this? So if somebody finds themselves exploring something that they hadn’t necessarily thought a lot about before, what do you recommend that they do?

Mica P: [00:11:54] I curated, with the help of some educator colleagues, spent a long time curating resources from almost 20 national educator support organizations that fill our lesson lists that I’ve already described, but also a number of professional development resources that range from great tools for norm setting at the beginning of dialogue, for sparking and then facilitating conversations about particular fraught topics. We also, I created definitions and concepts, tools that helped, you know, sort of lead people and encourage people to read foundational reading sources and also to continue learning. I mean, so a big sort of orientation of US vs Hate is, you know, we can not let hate just go so we’re going to stand up now. At the same time, this is an ongoing quest to learn and go deeper and work throughout our lives on these issues. And so this is not a one-off experience.  This is an on-ramp to ongoing work.

I think another core tension that I tried to navigate in this project is must stand up now, but also, you know, wait to stand up until you’re prepared to do so. I mean, it’s a sort of a core tension, you know, we don’t want to do harm when we broach fraught topics in classrooms and, you know, we’re underprepared on talking through issues of race and racism. And here we go down the rabbit hole of a conversation we’re not ready for. On the other hand, this is, I think, particularly noticeable in an era when explicit unleashed bigotry is exploding. Just because we’re anxious about engaging certain topics does not mean we should be letting racism roll uninterrupted in our schools. And in fact, you know, what I’ve worked on for most of my career is the daily forms of racism that we too often let roll uninterrupted in our schools in terms of opportunity, provision, and how students are treated by adults. But particularly with slurs, you know, rolling through our hallways, educators cannot sort of wait until they’re they have doctoral degrees in, you know, race and racism studies to start in grappling with the issues of our time and issues affecting young people and in adults on a daily basis in our society. And so we see this, that’s why I like the idea of an on-ramp in that it’s, you know, a structured invitation to join work that then continues you are then on the highway with many people. And this is an ongoing quest to pursue getting better at addressing these issues in school. 

Amy H-L: [00:14:34] Mica, what does  what’s the on-ramp look like in high school or college?

Mica P: [00:14:40] And that’s another great question. We have actually been trying US vs Hate at the university level on our own campus at UC San Diego. And in that case, we’re seeing instructors add a public messaging invitation to deeper curriculum that they’re already in the middle of offering in the form of their course, rather than a single lesson that would then prompt messaging. And we’re seeing then that similarly in college classrooms, young people, I mean, you know, college students, are rarely asked to speak publicly on the issues they’re learning about inside a classroom. And so even deep thinking, you know, critical analysis happening inside the room, it’s not then often invited to be shared outside that room. And so that I think is the exciting add that a project like US vs Hate gives the higher education realm. We also have had community college students participating in US vs Hate since the beginning. And in fact, in some of our earliest participants in winning messages and it’s really beautiful to see, you know, older students continue to, you know, the messaging goes deeper.

It can be, you know, in some cases kind of, you know, it’s tackling harder hitting issues, but young people, given the invitation, younger students are ready to tackle those issues as well. They just do it in, in, in a way comfortable to them. So we’ve seen it have kind of a K20 potential.

Jon M: [00:16:20] And in high schools, I mean, you were just talking about colleges, but what are some examples from high schools?

Mica P: [00:16:28] We have seen, I think really interesting results where, for example, one of the partners I’m thinking about right now is a high school English teacher from a community closer to the border in our region and taught a very deep unit on the Holocaust, but also on deep issues of voice  and standing up against injustice when it is in one’s own community and in one’s own lifetime. And then invited US vs Hate messaging and her students took that on-ramp  to address a wide range of different issues. We that, from that classroom, we got “being Mexican isn’t a crime.” We got a message saying, “We are all human” that had sort of a beautiful arra sort of signaling diverse identities inside a human figure. We had what, a young person, another young person, called an “intersectional message” that tackled Black Lives Matter and feminism and homophobia in the same message. We had,  I think it was called, “When you fight for equality, fight for everyone,” was another message from that community. And there was another student who made a message against sex discrimination and wages. And so we, we saw from this sort of deep lesson in this case, but also I think the sort of broad umbrella of the invitation to make public messaging on a hate forum or a sort of anti-hate message of your choice. We saw young people raising their voices to address a really wide range of social issues. So I think that’s one thing we’ve seen in the high school level from this project.

Jon M: [00:18:19] How do teachers or school become involved in US vs Hate?

Mica P: [00:18:24] We worked really hard to make, a site that people could find and sort of, from that, join the effort without any training, without any program they had to buy, but could sort of join almost a movement easily. So that’s one way people have been joining the work. 

We also are adding this year, a aspect of the work that I have been trying to add to my work on anti-racism with educators generally, which is the informal dialogue of folks supporting one another as they do this work. And so we will be scheduling a lot of what we’re calling meetups over the course of this year, where people trying out US vs Hate, but also people, you know, taking other on-ramps that I’ve designed, for example, using my book “Schooltalk” for professional development or small group reading where they work, but to shepherd and support a group of educators actually applying that book in change effort, they work. So that’s another way to get involved in these efforts is to join an informal support community. And I’ve been using my Facebook group called Schooltalking to invite people into those kinds of dialogues. 

Amy H-L: [00:19:44] Does an entire school need to get involved with US vs Hate, or can a teacher or a small group of teachers implement that’s the program? 

Mica P: [00:19:53] To date, it’s actually mostly been individual teachers or small groups of teachers who have found the work exciting and decided to join it. We all know in our field that deep change happens when more people who share a school or who share a system do work together. And we have one district in our region that has expressed interest in joining US vs Hate as a district, which I think is an incredibly exciting concept because then the us becomes the entire district uniting against hate and for inclusion and opportunity, but we have not yet framed it and will not frame it as a sort of required top-down project. It’s been a voluntary excitement-driven project to date.

Jon M: [00:20:41] So some teachers who want to implement US vs Hate may find themselves in a school that doesn’t want to talk about these issues or opposes the messages. Do you have suggestions for how these teachers can initiate US vs Hate conversations and activities? 

Mica P: [00:20:59] That’s also an excellent question. The, you know, the anti-hate on-ramp is once again designed precisely to sort of offer a universal portal into grappling with these issues. Again, it’s hard for a community decide that it’s pro-hate. And so, you know, the anti-hate on-ramp is designed with that in mind. It’s also designed to neutralize any concerns about addressing these issues being a partisan endeavor, because again, I’m including all members of school communities. It’s  really educators’ basic job and sort of ethical imperative.

And so I think we are we’re in a moment where there are some really intense, pressing, and important dynamics happening with folks in a sense, trying to frame such work as a partisan endeavor, but I think it’s crucial that we continue to calmly say that including all members of communities is in fact not partisan.  It’s simply our job.

So I think some of the sort of calm, of course, this is what we do. Of course we are about valuing all human beings equally. Of course, we are an anti-hate community. These kinds of descriptions of ethical norms and values, I think, are a really, really important starting place.

So those are some of my reactions to your question. I think another interesting point is that as I’ve already said, we designed it and the sort of anti-hate on-ramp to invite youth voice on everything from kindness to inclusion, to anti-bullying to tackling homophobia and anti-semitism. And so what’s been, I think, really important is that youth voices then sort of live as a collection,as a collectivity of messages, such that a message against homophobia lives alongside a message calling for inclusion overall or refusing bullying as something of course schools should be doing. And so that’s, I think, another way of making this work possible in schools is sort of inviting all of these efforts under the common umbrella of refusing hate.

Amy H-L: [00:23:25] Many students are attending school remotely right now because of the pandemic. Have you been able to adapt the US vs Hate program for online or hybrid schooling?

Mica P: [00:23:37] Yes. We’ve found that, you know, the invitation to speak your mind and use your voice and make a message in any media. And I should’ve stressed at the beginning that US vs Hate messages are invited in any medium. And so we’ve had a poster and sticker-type images created. We’ve also had TED talks and op-eds and poetry and spoken word and a PSA and all kinds of forms of messaging.

And those are things that we’ve seen young people be able to make at home. There is always the equity issue of who has art supplies and the ability to make sort of gorgeous messaging in visual form, but with phones and with, you know, sort of the ubiquity now of making things for social media, many more young people have the tools at their disposal to make messages that they want to make.

And that can happen in a COVID-19 remote schooling era. And we’ve also seen some school communities really need some hook for bringing people, young people, back into community. We had an educator we talked to in rural Texas who, you know, really appreciated the project in late spring this past year and sort of COVID shut down a pandemic mode to sort of pull young people back into a feeling of community.

And so, I would say a really interesting and important issue that we will be ,I think, thinking through this year with educators, particularly in these meetups, is the issue of what it’s like to teach these issues remotely in that, I think, unprecedented way. Families are in the room when we are teaching now in the K-12 space.

And so what does that mean when a district or a classroom, for example, has committed to curriculum that refuses homophobia or transphobia? As in one of the districts we talked to in Wisconsin, for example, which really had district wide professional development on issues of, you know, chosen pronouns and refusing homophobia and transphobia, et cetera. What is it like to talk through those lessons when families are right there in the room? And so I think, um, it, it raises this issue of kind of the always existing triangle or, you know, we’ve talked about it in my research group is maybe a square or some larger shape, but the teacher, the student, the family, the administrator, and then various other stakeholders who are all kind of involved in how a teacher teaches a fraught subject.

And so I think in a remote era, those dynamics will be on overdrive. And, you know, we’re already seeing, I don’t know if you’ve seen, these controversies. Teaching Tolerance just tweeted about one of them yesterday where a teacher, I believe also in Texas, had made a Zoom background with lots of inclusive images and sent it out excitedly to all of her students. And somebody in the community got a forward of it and it blew up into a teacher being put on administrative leave for. You know, fraught images were like once again, to a teacher, having a rainbow on the wall of the classroom or, you know, importantly even saying Black Lives Matter was not a fraught thing to do. It was simply saying all people are equally valuable and Black Lives also Matter.

And so too, we’re in this moment where. our debates over what to some are just basic inclusion, our job, what we do.,Uh, and to others are some kind of third rail, highly fraught effort. We’re in a moment where those dynamics are now kind of in overdrive.

Jon M: [00:27:41] So is that, those examples, have you been able to figure out yet ways of responding in sort of a coordinated format to be able to give support to people who find themselves in those situations?

Mica P: [00:27:56] We have tried, you know. I think the quest to figure out how to link people in dialogue that is also confidential is a real nut to crack in that I’ve tried, you know, I have a Facebook group, it has a thousand plus people on it now. And. It’s much easier for people to weigh in on situation in other people’s systems than it is to talk, you know, with their name on it, about a system and a situation in their own system. So then that leads to the need for confidential meetups, which then leads to the need for small group meetups, which then leads to sort of an unscalable, you know, need to talk in very small groups of people over time. And so I’m really trying to crack that nut with with other educators, because I really believe in that, you know, in the deep need for personal interpersonal dialog on issues, you know, in my work, particularly of anti-racism and its potholes and, and its the pros and cons, as I said earlier, of different ways of taking action and that’s really done more easily in small groups, but a lot of people, you know, ideally they would form those small groups where they work and do that work where they live. But I think there’s also a need for people to talk with folks outside their systems. And so I’ve been trying to figure out how to participate in supporting, meeting that need.

Amy H-L: [00:29:20] Well, as usual, schools are reflections of the largest society. We’re seeing workers in  Whole Foods with  Black Lives Matters facemasks being laid of because they refuse to change them. How have the Black Lives protests influenced the conversations in schools participating in US vs Hate?

Mica P: [00:29:45] We will be seeing that as the fall begins. I would say I have been seeing that more in the realm of anti-racism work generally and folks that I’ve connected to through the broader work I do on anti-racism in schools, you know. And that’s an umbrella that includes US vs Hate, but in the world of, for example, professional development of educators and by educators on issues of race and racism, I think there is, you know, obviously there has been an explosion of anti-racist book lists and then a sort of important counter narrative saying that, of course, booklists are not enough and moving to action is the key here and then an important counter to that saying, well, you know, we need to not jump immediately if we’re not fully thinking through these issues to action, because maybe, you know, we need to continue to check ourselves and read and go deeply.

And so it’s this, I think we’re in a really important moment where, you know, more educators than ever have taken  different on-ramps and been reading books and in book groups and in summer professional development and giant webinars and, you know, using Twitter to share resources. And there’s a lot more people doing work on race and racism in education.

Thanks to this, the Movement for Black Lives and the Black Lives Matter protests and calls for justice that  have been so important in the last months, I think the field is now going to be asking the question that we, many of us have been asking for a long time, which is how do we move to the implementation of a book group or, you know, deep action in schools and systems. And I have found it really interesting. You know, a lot of the points I’m making here been ones I’ve been grappling with my doctoral students and teams of folks and thinking a lot about, you know, how even in using very action-oriented books, like ones I myself have crafted as on-ramps, it still is possible to just kind of read a book and then not take action where one works. And, you know, my books are filled with action assignments and action plans. And even then, I think there’s such often limited time given to this work in schools, but also I think just kind of a sense of reading, being enough and reading, being the work that we often don’t push ourselves to that next step in the anti-racism world of pursuing real change where we work.

And so one thing I did this summer was craft a sort of scaffold that I’m calling an anti-racist equity action planner that literally has open boxes on it saying, “Okay, what step am I going to take now? Okay, I just read this chapter. What’s a principle and strategy and try tomorrow I take from it right now. Who will I next talk to in my system about this idea, but trying to sort of force ourselves to apply. And you know, of course they, the higher ed field is just as guilty, if not more so, of, you know, reading, reading and not applying. And so, I think that’s the moment we’re in, after we’ve had a really important summer of demands for anti-racist learning.

Jon M: [00:33:08] So speaking of what happens in schools as workplaces, you’ve done a lot of work on language that teachers use in schools. Including in “Schooltalk.” How does the language that teachers use casually, say in a faculty lounge, for example, how does that impact student lives?

Mica P: [00:33:28] One of the points I make when I start professional development on “Schooltalk” is to, I think it’s a point I make in the second paragraph of the book or something, but it’s that talk is action. I think that we have a really important script in the field, born of a frustration of just talking, talking, and then never taking action, which is what we were just discussing together. Uh, that says, you know, can we stop talking and just take some action? And I understand completely that frustration.

And as I’ve said, you know, what we mean by that is dialogue about steps we should take that then we never take. So I understand, you know, the sort of talk vs action binary, but the point I’m trying to make in “Schooltalk” is to demonstrate how communication has consequences. It actually is an action that shapes student lives. And, you know, one of the questions I often ask educators, that is also in the beginning of “Schooltalk,” as a think discuss question, is to ask people to think about communication from their own K-12 path that fundamentally shaped their lives. And from that simple invitation, you really do hear stories of, you know, on the one hand, single communications that shaped trajectories, where somebody was told that they weren’t a math person or that they shouldn’t apply to a top college because they were Latina or that they were not that smart. And where people really got tracked away from opportunity in those moments and with real implications for student lives. There are other ways in the book that I demonstrate how communication has real consequences. You know, what happens when people are talking about, you know, whether the school should hire more college counselors and somebody says, “you know, folks from this community are  really not college oriented. These are not families that really are committed to learning,” which is a script that happens across the country, that is deeply harmful to youth and families because decisions pivot on those assumptions and statements about communities. The book also addresses how a failure to communicate or gaps in our talk can be harmful to young people, such as when, you know, data displays never, ever launch conversations about youths’ full skillsets or moments when, nobody has really tracked whether Jake has completed all of his credits for graduation and that there are gaps in our communications that are really do hurt young people.

And that often plays out along race, class lines, gender lines, national origin, or lines of one’s first language. And so there are all kinds of race, racism, equity issues embedded in our daily communications and “Schooltalk” is trying to get people’s attention on that, both so that nobody can say, “Oh, you know, racism or equity work isn’t my thing. That’s what the specialist on race and equity does,” or “That’s the, the diversity, equity, and inclusion folks’, you know, wheel house.” I’m trying to demonstrate that this work is everybody’s work because everybody talks and everybody fails to communicate in some really consequential ways in schools. And so it’s our hook in this project, getting people to think critically about how we talk in schools.

Amy H-L: [00:37:16] Do you find the language of ethics at all helpful in discussing language? 

Mica P: [00:37:23] I think ethics has, I would say, has been an issue embedded in all of my work, even while I don’t use the word as sort of the frame for what I do, you know, I work on ethics. But I would say that all of the work I’ve ever done that is demonstrating how young people can be supported better and making the argument that they should be is work that’s that’s all about ethics. And so, you know, everyday anti-racism as a project from 2008 and the book that I edited with contributions from about 70 scholars. I asked them to pinpoint an action for an educator to grapple with, an everyday action of anti-racism that followed from their scholarship. And I would say that each one of those short essays that asks educators to think self critically about the pros and cons of their actions and to ensure that their everyday actions move young people toward opportunity instead of away from it, that’s a deeply ethical request. And it’s all about asking educators to support young people rather than harm them. And I have done a lot of work, you know, in designing these on ramps, whether it’s Everyday Racism or Schooltalk or US vs Hate, to almost design each invitation to teachers as, “Of course you can. Of course, you’re going to do this. Of course this is important to do and necessary to do. And of course, you’re going to join this with me and with us.” But there’s a, there’s a deep ethical, a values orientation under that, in that to me, participating in anti-racism is an ethical thing. It’s ethically preferable to participating even passively in racism. And so, yes, it’s a deeply ethical quest I’m on it. 

Amy H-L: [00:39:23] It strikes me as very Deweyan. I mean, you’re encouraging teacherers and students to think about the impacts of everything that they say and do.

Mica P: [00:39:36] A lot of my work has been pitched at, you know, the educator being self-critical and asking these deep ethical questions of themselves about the pros and cons of our actions as adults who have real power over the lives of young people. US vs Hate brings me back into the terrain of engaging youth themselves in these ethical questions. And, you know, each US vs Hate message is, in a sense, an ethical public statement about how human beings should be treated.

And I’m excited as one next move to try to pinpoint aspects of the on-ramps I’ve  designed for adults, the books I’ve written for educators. “Everyday Anti-Racism” is an edited project, but “Schooltalk” that I wrote myself and I’m trying to find chunks of them that can be youth-facing and that can be read by K-12 students, and bring them into this dialogue with peers, but also with educators, about the everyday experiences they have in schools. So I am excited about that next step to bring youth directly into this, into the dialogue.

Jon M: [00:40:51] What role do principals play in creating an environment that encourages anti-racist language and actions?

Mica P: [00:41:01] I think a huge role. One of the things I did this summer was host informal meetups among school leaders, sort of role alike gatherings. School leaders, teacher leaders, system leaders, and often it was people who run diversity, equity offices in districts, and then parent leaders. And it was really valuable to me to talk with school leaders about their role in this. A lot of my work has been about supporting educators, sort of no matter of their context, to have tools, to do anti-racist work in their classrooms or with a few colleagues. Or, as I said, US vs Hate is designed to afford really powerful work, to be done even in one classroom, but in talking to the school leaders and system leaders, and also in ongoing research having to do with doctoral students at UCSD, it’s been really important to think more about the role of school and system leaders, because, of course, when the tone is set and the expectations for application are set by leaders, then it’s just a million times more likely, you know, that deeper anti-racist or pro equity or anti-hate work gets done. So often it really is in the hands of, for example, a school leader to bring a entire faculty into reading and applying anti-racism texts as opposed to just the tiny team of the willing and it’s on that school leader to figure out what to do with the people with their arms crossed in the back of the room who really don’t want to be there. And it’s on that school leader to figure out how to, as one new colleague from these meetups put it, give the bennies, the benefits, to the excited in a school so that they are the ones rewarded for leading work that make  their reticent colleagues want to join it.

We’re seeing in some of these, you know, the, the, the sort of controversy, as I mentioned earlier of, you know, a teacher being put on admin leave because somebody complained about an inclusion message on her wall. We’re seeing the massive role of the school leader or above the school leader, the system leader. So it’s setting the tone for, you know, pro inclusion messages being something we do in this school and this district. And so I think system school and system leaders have a huge role to play, even as we want to keep empowering individual educators and small groups of educators who want to do the work.

Amy H-L: [00:43:47] You’ve thought a lot about the communication between teachers and parents. What are the most essential elements of successful home-school communication?

Mica P: [00:44:00] “Schooltalk” has a final chapter called Opportunitytalk where I delve into, I think, a really crucial aspect of parent-school communication, which is ongoing two-way dialogue about improving opportunities in schools. I think a lot of times families are treated as, at best, recipients of one-way information from schools. And there are a million equity giant sort of structural cracks in communication, along race, class, and language lines where wealthier, whiter families have more access to knowledge about opportunity and are the ones who know how to get into AP classes and are the ones who get information about internships available. And then, you know, as many colleagues have worked on in our field, hoard opportunities. And so, you know, even broadening access to communications about opportunities available in that sort of one-way manner from school is key along lines of race, class language, et cetera.

But we often also fail to have two-way dialogues where we ever listen to parents about how they, you know, hope schools could be improved or how they could participate in offering their funds of knowledge to schools. And so Chapter 7 of “Schooltalk” is all about kind of designing, you know, almost channels or mechanisms for two-way communications, equal status communications between family and school.

Jon M: [00:45:40] Thank you. Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?

Mica P: [00:45:44] I don’t think so. Right now I’ve really appreciated this conversation and the deep questions that you have asked. And I guess I would just, maybe I would just add that, you know, I am a constant learner myself and so deeply appreciate all of the folks who have contributed to, you know, even the many ideas shared today, the doctoral student teams I’ve been working with at UCSD, the educators who have participated for years now in US vs Hate,  people who have been using “Schooltalk” and, and working with me on this next step of insisting on application with that book, but every idea I put forth has many voices in it. So I just want to voice a appreciation to all the folks who I’ve learned from and continue to learn from.

Amy H-L: [00:46:29] Well, thank you so much, Mica Pollock of UC San Diego. And thank you, listeners, for joining us. We are posting transcripts of our interviews to make it easy to pull audio clips for classes and workshops.

Let us know how you’ve incorporated ideas from our podcast or blog, or if there are topics you’d like to hear more about. Email us at hosts@ethicalschools. Contact us. If you’re interested in professional development on social emotional learning with a focus on ethics for schools or afterschool programs in the New York City area.  Check out prior episodes and articles on We’re on Facebook and Twitter @ethicalschools and Instagram. Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Till next week.

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