First Impressions of “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain,” by Zaretta Hammond

I am really grateful to have discovered this book several years ago, but I must confess that I did not read it until this weekend, and I am only half way done. I started reading it because a conservative relative of mine was going to be studying it and I thought – why not read it from their perspective and see how I can soften the blow. The thing is, this book has a reputation for being one that progressive educators read. And I wanted my relative to read it and to apply it in a way that would be authentic for them.

Well I read it and what is coming to mind is, first, the question:

“Why didn’t I read this before teaching? This would have been so helpful!”

And also:

“I have a completely different way to understand the concept of learned helplessness and also student complacency in the face of skilled instruction delivered without rapport – namely that there can be no skilled instruction without rapport.”

This book brings home to me what should have been obvious but wasn’t until now: that to teach students without being their advocate is to harm them.

This seems to be the message of the book and also that of culturally responsive educators.

My question, however, is if the message of this book still applies even if we don’t believe in identity politics or ethnic studies or the lived experience movement as educators. I personally am sympathetic to these movements, and yet I have to ask whether someone who does want to be colorblind out of a sense that that is what justice looks like can apply this book and serve their students well. And I think that they can if they prioritize relationships and seeing the students as individuals in spite of the identity politics that would rob them of their individuality in the eyes of their more progressive teachers.

What I think that a politically conservative, or otherwise colorblindness-affirming person, can gain out of this book on teaching diverse students is this: you don’t just need rapport with the students but also with their parents in cases where a student is struggling, and you get there a lot faster if you acknowledge that there is such a thing a privilege, even if you disagree with what should be done about it. And you will gain more trust by realizing that parents often have a reason to be mistrustful of educational systems and institutions that have historically failed their communities and failed to engage their students.

The other thing that I got from this is that we must see students and their communities as resilient and not frame them as victims when we are teaching them.

We must harness student intrinsic motivation, and if we are teaching students who are different than us – I am writing this as a white woman – the first step is to realize that not everyone responds to the same things in the same way that we do, and that we can take an inquiry stance in investigating our work with our students. This wisdom is directly from the book – as I understand it at any rate.

Published by Seahurst Wellness and Education Center

I’m a skill-building, proficiency-obsessed tutor and consultant who puts relationships first. I am also a certificated teacher with over a decade of classroom experience. Everything I do is geared to facilitate students’ familial and scholarly wellness and their sense of meaningful contribution to society..

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