Letter: ‘Culturally responsive’ education has a place here

Posted 11/11/21

Based on recent discussions in Bristol Warren school board meetings and subsequent letters to the editor, misconceptions remain in our community regarding the benefits of culturally responsive …

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Letter: ‘Culturally responsive’ education has a place here


Based on recent discussions in Bristol Warren school board meetings and subsequent letters to the editor, misconceptions remain in our community regarding the benefits of culturally responsive education. I use the term “culturally responsive” here, because even as some ideologues attack Critical Race Theory (CRT) on this opinion page, CRT is a sociological theory and not typically taught in K-12 schools.

As a professor of education at Rhode Island College for the last 16 years, my research and teaching are firmly grounded in social justice and culturally responsive practices.

Simona Simpson-Thomas’s professional development is indeed a “fit for our district,” precisely because she advocates for improving outcomes for students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Culturally responsive education is becoming more widely used in K-12 curriculums because studies show improved student learning outcomes in literacy, mathematics, social studies, science, and music.

Higher order thinking skills, along with social-emotional and relational skills, have always been at the center of culturally responsive practices. The brain makes meaning through cultural relevance and personal connections, which engages our attention, helps us interpret and infer meaning, and enables conceptualizing, reasoning, and theorizing. These skills are key to learning and mastering complex material.

Learning is intellectual. It is emotional. It is social. Culturally responsive teachers are socioculturally conscious and aware of historical inequities based on race, gender, class, and/or language; build authentic connections that are based on mutual trust and respect with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; understand how culture impacts how the brain processes information; hold all students to high standards while providing new intellectual challenges; and design instruction that builds on students’ knowledge and experience.

National educational organizations for school leaders, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), along with state organizations, such as the Rhode Island State Superintendent Association (RISSA), endorse teaching for equity and diversity. The teacher education programs at Rhode Island College, University of Rhode Island, Salve Regina, and Roger Williams University here in Bristol, all explicitly focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in their teacher education programs. Further, RIDE has endorsed culturally responsive practices by including them in all their curriculum frameworks.

Culturally responsive teaching promotes identity development, skill development, intellectual development, and criticality for all students. This approach does not teach division or anti-Whiteness, as some critics claim. However, it does teach how people of color have been marginalized throughout history. These facts are important for students to know so they can work toward critiquing injustice and building a better world. This is particularly relevant now, when attacks on culturally responsive teaching are being used at the local and state levels to delegitimize race and racism in order to gain political power.

Janet D. Johnson, Ph.D.

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