Thursday, August 12, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Cornelius Minor

Title: We Got This.: Equity, Access and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be
Author: Cornelius Minor

Cornelius Minor, a middle school literacy teacher by trade, advocates a radical idea: the solutions to the problems of education can be found through listening to students and what they need.  While student voice is hardly a new concept, Minor's book is unusual, in my experience, in that it offers thoughtful processes for problem-solving.  I've been a teacher for over 20 years now and I've heard loads of complaining from my colleagues and lots of pie in the sky philosophy from professional development.  What I haven't seen often is concrete thinking on how to get from where we are to where we want to go.  Minor offers the structures he has used himself:
  • How do I transform my own philosophical vision into classroom action?
  • How do I articulate the need for change with colleagues, administration, parents, the school board, etc?
  • More generally, how can I approach problems - any problems - in a methodical way?  
That last one may not seem like a big deal but it is.  It's not the way people function most of the time.

In particular, Minor tackles the matter of equity and the institutional racism, sexism, ableism and classism that stand in the way.  He puts it as succinctly as anyone I've heard or read:

When we think of race-, gender-, ability- or class-based oppression, we often think of individual acts of personal bias.  Our minds fill with images of a villainous past -- "back when things were bad."  We consider Klansmen and burning crosses or we remember the men who spat at suffragists and the police officers who arrested them for attempting to vote.  We use words like racist or sexist to describe those people as if the words were merely personality types or character flaws.

They are not just character traits.  Racism, sexism, ableism and classism are systems.  They are the rules, policies, procedures, practices that govern a place and lead to consistently unequal outcomes for specific subsets of people.

Minor presents another radical idea: it's okay to reinvent your curriculum in order to meet the needs of your students.  In fact, it's more than just okay.  It's our responsibility.  As much as we talk the talk of personalizing education, we are often fighting against our own systems in order to do so.  Teachers are typically, by nature, rule followers.  We worry we'll get in trouble if we bend the rules.  Minor not only poo-poos that resistance, he offers guidance on how to make it move past it.

I have had to reinvent my practice numerous times.  There was a part of me that always feels like it's a form of surrender, of giving up - even though the changes have always brought significant rewards.  Minor reminds me that such reinvention is not a sign of weakness.  It is, in fact, the very heart of teaching.

Liberating stuff.

I do have one quibble: the print on some of his sample forms is way too small and that's not just my middle age talking.  Fortunately, he has resources online to download as well.

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