One Relationship at a Time
What does landing on an asteroid and reaching students of color have in common? A lot more than you might think. And closing the performance and growth gap for generations of students of color depends on understanding why.
It’s late October 2020. After traveling more than 200 million miles — and then just halfway through its 7-year mission — NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft briefly bounced on the surface of Asteroid Bennu and grabbed a sample of surface material. And then just as quickly, it moved away from the asteroid and positioned itself for its return journey to Earth. (If you haven’t seen the event, take a peek at the following video.)
Planetary scientists hope that the samples from Bennu will shed light on what our young solar system was like when it formed 4.5 billion years ago. Asteroids like Bennu, which possesses carbon-rich minerals, may have provided the building blocks for life to arise on Earth.
Understanding Asteroid Bennu’s composition is really a key to understanding ourselves.
Which brings us to this week’s podcast episode and guest, Alexs Pate. Like OSIRIS-REX, Alexs is also on a mission to help us understand ourselves. He is the President and CEO of Innocent Technologies and the creator of The Innocent Classroom, a program for K–12 educators that aims to transform U.S. public education and end disparities by closing the relationship gap between educators and students of color. He is the author of The Innocent Classroom: Dismantling Racial Bias to Support Students of Color.
In this episode, Alexs makes the compelling case that students of color routinely enter the atmospheres of our classrooms burdened by stereotypes — “stereotypes that define them as threatening, violent, criminal, poor, and academically disengaged.” As a result, these children are weighed down by guilt. Alexs mission is to teach educators how to free these children of guilt and create the “innocent classroom.”
The key is to see these students – indeed all students – as more than mere passive receptacles of content. The key is to see them as embodying an inherent “good” – energy and purpose that will drive them for the rest of their lives.
Making the effort to discover a child’s “good” is a key to understanding that child. And, I think, it’s a way of understanding ourselves as educators. Reach out to understand, and you begin to build a relationship. Build a relationship, and you begin to close the growth and performance gap.
Because of their accumulated guilt, building that relationship with a student of color can be a long journey in itself, but it’s one worth taking.