In my email inbox this morning was a newsletter from ILA (International Literacy Association) Conference. The first article in the newsletter has a headline,
Facilitating Difficult Conversations in the Classroom
It links to an article about a panel at the 2017 conference titled “Disrupting a Destructive Cycle: How Literacy Drives Social Change.” I highly recommend reading the article.
What stuck with me for a bit was the language of “difficult conversations. I’m writing here to help me think through why this stood out to me….
- I have heard and used this language of “difficult classrooms” in the past and have been thinking about the ways it can be used to position teachers and students.
- Who is the conversation difficult for? Clearly this is about teachers because of the audience of the newsletter and the positioning of the conversation in a classroom.
- I think this is more specifically for teachers who have never discussed race, ethnicity, inequality, etc in any aspect of their lives. In other words, middle class white teachers. This makes sense given that more than 80% of the teaching population in the US is white.
- Part of what troubles me about this language is that I have heard the language of “difficult conversations” used as an excuse to NOT have discussions around race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, SES, etc in the classrooms. Some examples sound like this:
- These conversations are too difficult for my students.
- These conversations will make my students uncomfortable and I want to create a safe space for my students.
- I teach elementary age students, they don’t see race so it isn’t appropriate to have these discussions.
This is what bothers me about this language, why it stood out to me when I first read it. If these discussions are difficult for you as an adult or teacher and you use your students as an excuse not to have them, that is irresponsible pedagogy.
If the discussion is difficult for you, as an adult or teacher, then it is your responsibility to do some work to help you learn how to work with and past your own discomfort and have these necessary conversations. A great place to start is by reading this article and watching the archived video of the ILA Panel.