NYC Coalition for Educational Justice and Community Education Council, District 5

For the last two years, Black, Latinx and immigrant parents from the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice and allied groups have organized, advocated and fought for Culturally Responsive Education in NYC schools. But this work is not new—parents of color have fought for schools that represent us for over decades, from United Bronx Parents to Ocean Hill/Brownsville and before.

Parents know that every child comes to school with a culture intact, but many schools strip Black, Latinx and Asian students of that culture in school. Culturally Responsive Education is a research-proven method for engaging and educating students in a way that honors and sustains their culture. This is necessary in a school system where 41 percent of students are Latinx, 26 percent are Black and 15 percent are Asian, but few books and few teachers reflect their cultural backgrounds. A recent report by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice revealed that Latinx and Asian students in many schools can go the majority of their schooling without seeing a single main character or author of their background.

Too many NYC students are not performing on grade level or graduating high school on time. This is not a new reality, but Culturally Responsive Education is a new approach in NYC to change that reality. What better way to engage children in reading than to use materials that reflect them and are free from racism and bias? CRE is the best possible way to teach basic skills because when students feel connected and engaged with their curriculum, and when their learning materials don’t erase their existence or damage who they are as people, they learn better. Research shows that students who receive culturally responsive instruction are more engaged and motivated, and have better attendance, participation, persistence, test scores and graduation rates.

The recent efforts to create a school system free from racism and oppression in all of its forms should be applauded. A chancellor who is committed to creating a school system that is a true reflection of its student population should be seen as the standard for leadership of the largest, most diverse school system in the country. We have seen that parents of all backgrounds show support for CRE, and that CRE embodies what we should stand for as New Yorkers. In order to be good global citizens, students must learn that every culture has literature, arts, math and science; they must learn about the cultures and histories of their peers.

I am doing everything possible in my community to make sure all of our children are educated in high quality schools that are well-funded and provide a reflective, historically accurate, up-to-date curriculum that does not perpetuate the status quo. It’s hard for children to not see their culture reflected when they come to school. Culturally Responsive Education would benefit every student of every ethnic background and give students better social skills and understanding of different cultures. We want all of our children to prosper but the truth of the matter is that Black, Latinx, Asian and immigrant children have been left out of the education equation.

This current political moment forces New Yorkers to ask: Are we a progressive city or are we not? Do we take pride in being one of the most diverse places in the city or not? If we hold these things dear, shouldn’t they be reflected in our schools?

Tanesha Grant is with the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice and Community Education Council, District 5.