Ruben Brosbe Fights the Flood of Hate

As Donald Trump ascends to the presidency and bias threatens our civil society, educators along the spectrum are searching for solutions.  In Ruben Brosbe’s post, a revised version of a piece originally published at his blog, he harks back to Gloria Ladson-Billings’ groundbreaking work on culturally relevant pedagogy.


A former New York City Teaching Fellow and  2012 graduate of the the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Brosbe teaches fourth-graders in central Harlem.  He is a founder of #TeachResistance and one of the authors of a toolkit including lesson plans and resources for K-5 educators.   Young people, he believes, make the best activists because they inherently care about fairness and kindness for all.


By Ruben Brosbe

America is about to inaugurate Donald Trump.   A man who pushed the theory that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  A man who called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. A man who falsely insisted that Muslim citizens were complicit in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. A man who’s made countless sexist comments about women, and nods to anti-semitism during his campaign.

What do teachers do as we consider this abbreviated list of  hateful rhetoric? We already know that bias-based incidents increased during the election season. These days, the news is overflowing with accounts of hate crimes everywhere—from elementary schools to college campuses.

Where do we begin the fight against this flood of hate? As always, with ourselves and our classrooms.

Now, more than ever, is the time to ensure our classrooms and curricula are built on culturally relevant and anti-bias teaching. The majority of the teaching force is white and female. Many gravitate toward methods and texts that mirror their own experiences. The books that we loved as kids, for example, become those that we read aloud.

The problem is that these teaching methods don’t match our increasingly diverse student population. It won’t work to subject our students to an endless homogeneous parade of books. It’s time to move past the many titles about “white boys with dogs,” which inspired Marley Dias to start a collection of 1,000-plus books about Black girls.

You may be new to culturally relevant pedagogy or, like me, averse to education jargon, but there’s nothing to be afraid of. When Gloria Ladson-Billings set forth this idea, she argued that teachers should connect their classrooms to the lives of their students. Teachers often do this instinctively. The power of culturally relevant pedagogy is that it goes beyond the surface level of student interests and makes connections to their identities. We must do this for all students.

When I was growing up as a Jewish student in a predominantly Christian school district, I remember many Christmas- and Easter-themed arts and crafts lessons. The dominant presence of these holidays, and the general invisibility of the Jewish holidays, sent a strong message to me: “Christian = normal, Jewish = other.” The rare acknowledgment of Hanukkah didn’t solve the problem. There are many more important Jewish holidays that don’t fall in December. And there are many Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu holidays throughout the year that never got a mention at all.

Until high school, my other identities were front and center in the classroom. As a white, male student I had plenty of texts written by and about people that looked like me. In high school I was finally exposed to a more diverse array of literature. But it felt like like the bare minimum. Richard Wright’s Black Boy seemed more of a token choice rather than an acknowledgement that the world of literature is filled with talented Black and brown authors.

We have no excuse not to do better. Trump’s ascent demands us to step up on behalf of all our students. Our students of color, our Muslim students, our gay students, our students with disabilities, all students who are marginalized need to see themselves affirmed in their classrooms. And just as importantly, white students and others at “at the center” of society need to empathize with those who are on the periphery.

At its core, culturally relevant pedagogy is about ensuring success for all the students in the room by building on what they already know and care about. In addition, it’s about  examining the perspectives and biases inherent in all texts.  Don’t we already talk about creating successful critical thinkers in our classrooms?

Our kids are going to need a lot of resilience to weather this storm of hate and divisiveness. We can do this by celebrating them.  This will not happen by pretending we don’t see race, or gender or religion—or that everyone’s the same.

Still, we don’t merely want to build resilient young people; we want to dismantle the harmful forces around them. Anti-bias education imbues students with power. They learn how they can take action against injustice in their community. If we want to live in a different world, we’ll have to show the next generation another way.

Ultimately, culturally relevant pedagogy is part of a larger approach to teaching that celebrates diversity. The strategies work together to help teachers create a classroom environment where all students can succeed. Resources for this work are proliferating, among them Teaching ToleranceTeaching for ChangeColorín Colorado, the Anti-Defamation League, and American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Some teachers will not see the connection between Trump’s election and bias-based incidents.  Whether or not we agree on the source of this problem, we all have a moral obligation to make our classrooms safe for all students—to teach them kindness, and respect for others. We must start by making sure our teaching demonstrates that respect for all people.

Photo: Thanks to Michelle Strater Gunderson


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus

3 comments to Ruben Brosbe Fights the Flood of Hate

  • Veronica

    “America is about to inaugurate Donald Trump. A man who pushed the theory that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. A man who called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. A man who falsely insisted that Muslim citizens were complicit in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. A man who’s made countless sexist comments about women, and nods to anti-semitism during his campaign.”

    All out of context of course. Your job is to not to teach students to be radical extremists. This is shameful. Leave the moral teaching to the parents where it belongs.

    • Hi Veronica,

      Can you clarify how culturally relevant pedagogy teaches students to be radical extremists? I don’t see how making connections between students’ home culture and their curriculum does this.

  • Sara Davis

    Very thoughtful and reflective response to very sensitive issue. Veronica obviously has her own agenda which seems to have little to do with your blog.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>