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00:11 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak Podcast Episode 9. In this Episode I talk with Indigo Young about anti-oppressive instruction. Do your instructional materials marginalize some children in your class or therapy sessions? Learn how to evaluate your materials for bias in this frank discussion about how to support all of the students you encounter.
This conversation is part of a series on leading literacy change that I have created for a course I teach online at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.
Thank you for listening! And don’t forget to check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com to sign up for email alerts for new episodes and content, read a transcript of this podcast, access articles and resources that we discussed, and find more information about our guests. Also don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast in apple podcast or wherever you are listening.
01:15 Tiffany: Welcome to "SeeHearSpeak" podcast. I have invited Indigo Young today to talk about anti-oppressive interventions, and I will have her introduce herself. I also have Norma Craffey here who will be talking with Indigo today as well.
01:30 Indigo: Hi, thank you so much for having me, Tiffany. My name is Indigo Young. I am a speech and language pathologist. I specialize in pediatric spoken and written language disorders, and I'm a faculty member here at MGH Institute of Health Professions.
01:45 Tiffany: Great, thank you so much for spending time with us today.
01:48 Indigo: Thank you.
01:49 Norma: Hi, my name is Norma Craffey. I'm a first-year doc student here at the IHP, and I'm a former public education teacher. I worked in Pre-K to 2, and then I was a reading specialist within the schools.
02:02 Tiffany: Okay. Indigo, you've lectured on anti-oppressive instruction. So, what is anti-oppressive instruction or intervention and why is it important?
02:12 Indigo: Yeah, so just to give a little bit of background, I’ve become really passionate about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the educational system, given my background working with children and families in a variety of different contexts. One thing I love about the schools is that they are diverse and vibrant, but we are all aware that there are some serious issues in terms of equity within the schools and inclusion of our diverse populations. One thing that is interesting about the Boston area in particular, is that the Boston Area of Research Initiative, which is a collaboration between Northeastern and Harvard, just did a study and released some data about how the Boston public schools are actually more segregated than they have been in recent history. So we know that there's this ongoing concern about systemic racism within the schools, and so I have questions about how I and other clinicians and teachers can make sure that we're uplifting our students and making meaningful changes within a flawed system. Although the overwhelming majority of clinicians and teachers really understand the importance of cultural competence, I know that it can be harder to know exactly what direct actions to take, so, while thinking all of this over, I've come across this idea of anti-oppressive intervention.
03:34 Indigo: An anti-oppressive approach is an approach that both acknowledges that there are inequities and marginalizations within our systems and then seeks to specifically address the marginalization. So, anti-oppressive practice and speech language pathology or education is about really seeking to correct the marginalization of certain groups of learners. When I have been thinking about this approach, I've borrowed heavily from other fields that have well-established frameworks in anti-oppressive work. There is social justice frameworks for education; social work has a really robust background and resources in anti-oppressive care and so does nursing. The approach that I'm building here in our curriculum is an approach that places cultural sensitivity and humility at the very forefront of the clinical relationship. So it's using cultural factors as the lens that we're looking at the specific educational issues, rather than an extra or an aside.
04:46 Indigo: And so, anti-oppressive intervention has three main goals. It's seeking to affirm identities, specifically identities that have been marginalized in our educational systems. It is seeking inclusion and building inclusive spaces in education, and it's also seeking equity and looking to address these inequitable outcomes. And it's really two parts. So there is... The first part is the sort of indirect client support. That's things that the educator is doing on their own, so it might be thinking about issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, learning about it, reflecting, thinking about their own progress and their own growth and what areas that they need to brush up on. And it's also direct action, so thinking about these issues as you're looking at assessment of students, as you're looking at instruction with the students, as you're making treatment traces, educational traces and also this idea of advocacy for our learners.
05:47 Indigo: And I thought quite a bit when it came to the terminology of it. When we think about the name, the label "anti-oppressive intervention", when we use the word oppression we are directly acknowledging that certain groups of students are being oppressed within our educational world. The prefix "anti" was specifically chosen over the prefix "non", you might hear it like that in other places, like non-... Non-racist, non-oppressive, and to me that's sort of a more passive approach where we're not explicitly, purposely being oppressive versus "anti" as a more direct approach where you're really actively seeking to address this marginalization or oppression.
06:35 Tiffany: Well that makes sense. That's very helpful to think about the terminology because even thinking about what to call this podcast, there were so many options. So I really appreciated that you provided that option; it's so thoughtful too, and what it means. How do you speak up about these issues in your environment? I think that with this course, thinking about speech pathologists, reading specialists, educators being in a position of leadership, in a position to influence education practice but also just influence individual children's lives. How do we empower them to do that?
07:08 Indigo: Yeah, I think that in the environment of being in the schools, it's really about taking on the idea of advocacy and also leadership, and I think it can be challenging because sometimes it can require trying to change the status quo and things that have been in place. One thing that's really helpful is to make sure that you have information or resources to back yourself up, going to the evidence in order to sort of present your case if you need to talk to other teachers or administrators, you're talking about changing what sort of curriculum that you're using.
07:45 Indigo: And I think there is many levels that you can speak up, as you were saying whether it's your own approach with your specific students, versus talking to classroom teachers, or having to go higher up in administration to try and speak up about issues. A really good resource that I'll make sure to get to you to include is by Teaching Tolerance. It's called Speak Up at Schools, and it gives these specific steps and how you can prepare yourself to speak up to different levels of people within the school system and it talks... It frames it around bias and micro-aggressions and that sort of thing. But I think there is really helpful suggestions on how you can go about preparing yourself to be that voice and I think it sort of relates to the bystander idea, too, that sometimes, you see things that are happening, but it takes an extra step to be the person who's taking on the responsibility of making the change.
08:44 Tiffany: So you become the person that embodies the change you wanna see, as they always say, right?
08:48 Indigo: Exactly.
08:49 Tiffany: Yeah, this really ties to the podcast we just recorded earlier, I think, about crucial conversations because you have to have the verbiage and the confidence to have a tough conversation...
08:59 Indigo: Exactly.
09:00 Tiffany: About these things, and it doesn't have to be tough, but it can be because there's so much ignorance and there's so much bias that's unconscious.
09:08 Indigo: Right. And people are really sensitive when it comes to talking about these things. Understandably, it can be really uncomfortable; people can feel really nervous about how they're presenting themselves or being perceived. I think the skills that go into the crucial conversations are really important when it comes to talking about these things as well.
09:27 Tiffany: And I think people might get defensive, right?
09:30 Indigo: Oh, absolutely.
09:30 Tiffany: Because they might think like, "No, I am doing the right thing." And so approaching as a way to educate versus... Just having the verbiage to be able to do that, I think, is so important.
09:40 Indigo: Yeah, and I think that everybody, most everybody is on the same page about having this shared goal of doing what's best for the children, and best for education, and best in how we're gonna create people who are going to be the change-makers in our society, and so being able to come to this shared goal in these crucial conversations can be really helpful. And also to talk about how it's less at the individual level, individual people doing things correctly or incorrectly, and more about how we can change the system.
10:15 Tiffany: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense 'cause then it's natural to be defensive, but if you have that shared purpose, then you have less tendency, and it shows mutual respect to say, "We both have this purpose; let's work together."
10:27 Indigo: Right.
10:28 Tiffany: As opposed to, "This is about what you did, what this person did." I think that does make a lot of sense. 'Cause a lot of human psychology is about making change, right?
10:35 Indigo: Yeah.
10:35 Tiffany: This is a part of that.
10:38 Indigo: Yeah.
10:39 Norma: This is Norma here. So Indigo, I was wondering if you had any suggestions for professionals working within public schools that might be trying to affect change, but are coming up against road blocks and having push back and not having a lot of success, and how you can manage that without feeling burnt out and disillusioned and disheartened by not only, maybe your own school ecosystem, but just the state and climate of our country at the current time. Any suggestions or pearls of wisdom or resources to share with those professionals?
11:14 Indigo: Yeah, that's a great question. And that is a real issue when you're working in the schools and sometimes feeling like things are stacked against you, and I think one of the best things you can do is to try not to be an individual agent against everybody else. It's really important to find collaborators, people who are on your team, people who can speak up for you and speak with you and give you a little more power behind your voice. And I think that also comes into the burn out aspect is that if you have a support network and a community, so you don't feel like you're burning out on your own, that you can rely on each other, some people can step up and other people need to step back. That can be really helpful. I know that as a person of color who has worked in the school systems and have often been one of the only or a few people of color within the system, sometimes I've had to a seek with online community and finding spaces outside of my specific school and my specific district in order to find this community, but also knowing that there could be people who do not share your same identities within the school system that can still be your collaborators.
12:25 Norma: Great. These are all really great resources. Any of the online communities that you could suggest that educators might check out? I know that Twitter has some great Twitter conversations on certain nights regarding education and anything that you might suggest for people to check out?
12:43 Indigo: Yeah, so Facebook has a lot of groups. I don't know if I have one in particular that I wanna recommend, but I think searching for your local area, like the Boston area, and finding other people, that that's the way to do it.
13:01 Tiffany: Norma have you had communities that you’ve liked, or Twitter communities that you can suggest?
13:06 Norma: I think that I’m still getting used to Twitter, and how to follow Twitter conversations, so I need a tutorial to teach myself first, but I do know that there is definitely within, like Hip Hop Ed, seems to be. I’ve followed it but I haven’t participated because I’m still not really getting how to participate in that effectively, but I think that there seems to be, I know that there’s certainly there’s like the Curriculum Matters, I don’t know whether they speak about those issues directly, but there seems to be a few different groups.
13:44 Tiffany: That’s good.
13:46 Indigo: Yeah, another place to look to is Instagram. There are a lot of organizers, activists, and education specialists who you can find if you're searching hashtags, who post things that are helpful. And you can also find community within that, especially if you feel like you're burning out, you're the one of whoever in your institution working on these things. It can be really helpful to come and see other people have these ideas, other people have these strategies and to find collaborators that way too.
14:19 Tiffany: I would think, especially in this current climate, it would be so critical to just reach out to those that are also in the same mindset and to really think of strategies that have worked in some places and not others, and how to move forward in that way. That makes a lot of sense.
14:34 Tiffany: I know that when you've lectured you have talked about the Washington Model for evaluation of bias content in instructional materials. I wanna make sure we cover that. It seems to be a very important model for educators to consider and speech pathologists. Can you tell me more about that model?
14:50 Indigo: Yeah, absolutely. So the State of Washington requires that school districts provide guidance on how to select curriculum and also how to adapt that curriculum, and other instructional materials. So the Washington model was a resource that was created to help educators learn more about bias in instructional materials and also how to evaluate your materials for bias. And so it is a great resource. It provides guidelines for identifying bias, different biases to look for, and also gives sample evaluation forms that you can then use on your own content, which is something that I've done here at the IHP. Using some of the Washington models, I've had master's level speech-language pathology students take the forms and they look at the books that we had in our own clinic and we were able to find some things that were good examples of things that we wanted to keep as literacy tools in our clinic. And we did find some things that we decided were not a great fit for our diverse Boston community and how we wanted to represent different populations.
15:59 Tiffany: That's great. So what are some of the forms of bias that the report mentions?
16:04 Indigo: So there are... They talk about six ways in which things can be biased and I can explain some of those a little bit more, but it's important to think about all of the different ways that people can be marginalized, to think about the different biases you can see. So we talk a lot about racial bias, cultural bias, gender bias, but there's also things like physical disability bias, native language, occupation, family structure, body shape and size. So there are a lot of different things you wanna think about as we're scanning to see who might be incorrectly represented in our instructional materials but the six main forms of bias that you can find include... So they're invisibility, stereotyping, imbalance and selectivity, unreality, fragmentation and isolation, and then linguistic bias.
17:03 Tiffany: Can you tell us about each of those a bit more?
17:07 Indigo: Absolutely. So an invisibility bias misrepresents populations of people by just not talking about them, by making them invisible. So an example of that would be a book about historical heroes that only lists men or examples of men who are historical heroes. So the very fact that we're not including examples of women who are historical heroes erases that narrative and we're presenting a false history or an incomplete history to students.
17:44 Indigo: Stereotyping is another bias. And so a really easy and frequent example of this is gender stereotyping within our reading materials and other curriculum. So something as simple as this book is for boys and so it includes sports and this book is for girls so it includes ballet. So that's some examples of stereotyping.
18:12 Indigo: Imbalance and selectivity is sort of similar to invisibility but rather than completely omitting things, it's doing this false emphasis on one group's narrative. So an example of that is thinking about how America was founded and putting the emphasis specifically on Christopher Columbus and what he did, and his perspective, and the perspective of the pilgrims, rather than having a more balanced perspective that also talks about the natives who were here and their experience with the founding of America.
18:54 Indigo: The fourth example or the fourth type of bias was unreality. So this is the idea about putting on rose-colored glasses to look at things. So maybe you're talking about historical facts but you're really coloring them in a way that is inaccurate and you're not giving students the opportunity to look at a more nuanced version of things. So a couple of examples from this are from real textbooks that have been published in different areas with some backlash. But one example is talking about, again, the establishment of America and talking about the First Nations people agreeing to make space for the pilgrims. And another example is talking about the Atlantic Slave Trade and calling the slaves "workers who have come over." So while you're acknowledging that there was a slave trade, you're really not being real in what happened.
19:53 Tiffany: Those examples shock me. I can't believe that that would be...
19:57 Norma: And they're frequently taught in schools today. They're something that's still within curriculum, classic readers, or books that if you go to the book fair and you are just doing a survey of what books might be out of your local book fair, there are many misrepresentations of our history within curriculum today in schools.
20:21 Tiffany: And I'm sure many are subtle. These are really egregious.
20:24 Indigo: Right. These are some really obvious examples but you're right, there are more subtle examples and it's dangerous because then we are educating people without full understandings of the context of what happened and it impacts how people are going to be able to think critically about modern day issues and what's happening. They're lacking this more nuanced and complete picture of history.
20:47 Tiffany: It seems like it creates also a narrative of not taking responsibility. You're like, "Oh." That, somehow, this was what you wanted anyway.
20:56 Indigo: Exactly, yeah. So these things just happened.
21:01 Norma: By omitting that from the history, it creates a culture in which children are raised to not, like you said, understand that context and to why it's so urgent and so necessary to create a shift in how we're teaching and what we're using to teach, and how we're speaking and addressing it. Like you said, making sure that we're doing the anti-oppressive instead of the non-oppressive approach and how, if we do that, perhaps, children and maybe by and which their families and communities might be able to come to an understanding of experiences that aren't their own and be more open to how we create that change in the society, if that makes sense.
21:48 Indigo: Absolutely.
21:49 Norma: I think that's such an important piece you mentioned.
21:51 Indigo: Yeah, yeah. So there are two other types of bias that you might find in instructional materials. So another one is fragmentation and isolation, and this we see fairly frequently. So this is the idea about putting these other voices, including them but as an aside or a box rather than the context. And this happens a lot. The Boston area has a free...
22:24 Tiffany: What is it, what do you think...
22:26 Indigo: The conference.
22:27 Tiffany: Oh, conference.
22:27 Indigo: A free conference...
22:28 Tiffany: A free conference, okay, yeah.
22:29 Indigo: Which is about social justice in education. And I always recommend that people attend. And I went to an interesting talk that talks about just this specific type of bias in our curriculum where we're saying that in every content area... So say it's music and we're spending eight months out of the year talking about European composers, and then there's one month that's the multi-cultural music month. And so we're really saying that this is not the standard or the shared norm. This is an extra that we'll bring in when we have time and how isolating that can be. And so we see that across all contents. So think about in ELA, who are the authors that we're reading, whose stories are we talking about most of the time versus on special occasions. So the last form of bias is just linguistic bias. So this is about your specific word choice. So this can be things like firemen versus fire people and just the ways in which your specific words are including or excluding people.
23:34 Tiffany: Yeah, that makes a lot sense. I wanna go back to the conference. Is that a conference that is open to people outside of Boston too, do you know? Is it something you register for?
23:43 Indigo: You do register but I don't imagine that it's exclusive to people in Boston. If people wanna come in and participate, that the organization will be happy.
23:53 Tiffany: I wanna put that link on our resources page 'cause I do think that's just another way to spend some concentrated time to think deeply about these issues. For sure.
24:03 Tiffany: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How can parents be involved?
24:09 Indigo: So the Washington Models for evaluation of bias specifically talks about including parents. They suggest forming curriculum review committees in which people are specifically going through the curriculum and to make sure that parents are involved in that process, which makes a lot of sense to me and in a broad sense too. So for one thing is that it's really hard for us to be constantly aware of our own biases. A lot of people in education are trying to be aware of their own biases, but that's one of the benefits to having diverse representation is that other people are gonna come in with other experiences and other perspectives that can maybe help you in a blind spot that you might have. And another reason is when we think about this idea of inclusion and making sure that different community people are included in the decision-making, having parents there with a voice is really showing that their input is important and their expertise are important, and that they have a say in how their children are being taught to read.
25:24 Tiffany: That's very important. Thinking about these biases and some of these biases just blow my mind, to be honest, and I'm wondering, for the listeners, how can they analyze children's books for racism, sexism, and these biases?
25:41 Indigo: Yeah. So the Washington Models talks a little bit about this and they have a few steps. And in my lecture about this, I whittled it down to 8 steps that are really easy and applicable for anybody who's looking to do a bias review. And so one of the first steps is really easy which is just to scan the illustrations. So you wanna be looking out for stereotypes; you wanna be looking out for tokenism. So are they including diverse people but not in any meaningful ways or just as side characters. So you can just pick up a book and flip through, and oftentimes, that can give you the information that you need about the book.
26:24 Indigo: You also wanna look at the storyline. So this requires thinking about what is being presented as good? What is being presented as normal? Who are the characters that have power roles? Are they including social problems and are the social problems being talked about in a nuanced way? And, again, trying to look for stereotypes in the characters. You also wanna look at the lifestyles of the characters and their relationships with each other. So, again, looking for what is being represented as good and normal, and who has the power roles. Maybe looking at family dynamics, or who has leadership roles. The fourth thing that you might wanna do is to notice the heroes. So not only who they're choosing as heroes, but also whose interest is the hero really serving. So if you wanna go back to that Christopher Columbus example and calling him a "hero", he's a hero for who? And what were other people thinking of him and their experience of what he what he brought?
27:28 Indigo: You also wanna consider the effects on a child's self-image. So, is this book going to tell a child that they... People like them are beautiful, that they have goodness in them, that their storyline has positivity. Sometimes we do include more diverse narratives, but is it always talking about the struggle of that group of people and their oppression. Or do they get to be good and happy and have uplifting stories about just being people in the world who are living like everyone else? Something that is also important is to consider the author and the illustrator's backgrounds and perspectives, and thinking about what they're bringing to the table, and if really they're the person who should be telling the storyline. And I think this can be really difficult sometimes. I read a book that at first glance, I really loved it. Have you all read that Julian Wants To Be A Mermaid?
28:28 Tiffany: No, I haven't. No, no, I haven't.
28:30 Indigo: It's really... I saw it on a bookshelf, it was really stunning. It's about this boy who wants to be a mermaid, he goes to a Caribbean festival, and he sees people dressed up really beautifully, and his grandma is really supportive and accepting. And at first glance, it's a lovely story. I still think it's a lovely story, but then when you wanna consider this nuance of, "Who is the author?" And so, the author does not belong to the community that she was writing about, and there have been some fair criticisms about her portrayal of the culture that she's speaking about. And not to say that that should mean that you cross that off your list of things that you use, but that you're just thinking about these things and maybe even having these conversations about the story as you're using it with the children.
29:21 Indigo: Another thing you wanna do is to scan for loaded words. And this is again, thinking about the linguistic bias, if there are phrases or language choices that are problematic in modern culture, and also looking at the copyright date. Some of the classics are classics and they're great, but it really wasn't until more recently in history that we started really thinking about these issues of positive representation and inclusion within our book center curriculum.
29:57 Tiffany: I think that's something I run into a lot actually, is that with my friend group, it's... They're all about the classics and they wanna read books, rightfully so, that maybe made them feel good and they feel this kind of tie to those books. But they're not necessarily always representing the best and the narrative that is the most appropriate. It doesn't... They don't often meet these criteria. And so I really had to even think about myself too and making sure that the books that I include are not representing stereotypes or non-factual information. I think that's really, really critical, and I've personally found as a parent and educator that books can be such a nice platform to have these deeper discussions.
30:40 Indigo: Right.
30:40 Tiffany: In a way that is presented. We know as humans, we learn best through narrative. So having that kind of... Almost like a third party that's present in your discussion is the book, but then you can talk around it and then there's some narrative there too.
30:53 Indigo: Right.
30:53 Tiffany: I think it can be so powerful.
30:55 Indigo: Yeah. And I think it's really important to consider bias in the books that we're reading with our children because we all develop unconscious bias and racial bias starts developing at age seven or earlier, and it's pretty... It's pretty much established by age 10. And so, any time that we can give children the opportunity to see other perspectives and to maybe not have their categories so singularly dimensional, I think it's really important... Again, this idea about non versus anti, anti is taking a purposeful assertive approach to fighting against that as best as we can.
31:40 Norma: Is there a particular resource that you might point educators towards into looking for books that not only might tackle issues and then also have a diverse representation? But as you mentioned, maybe not only be written and illustrated, but maybe even published by the same group that is trying to be representative within the text.
32:03 Indigo: One great resource is... It's booksforlittles.com, where they have... They're specifically trying to find storylines and representations that are positive, that might challenge some stereotypes. So that's a good place to start.
32:24 Norma: Great.
32:25 Tiffany: What are some books you would recommend for our listeners that they might like to learn from as well? Do you have any books that you like?
32:33 Indigo: Like story books?
32:34 Tiffany: No, more for adults. Do you have any that you really like?
32:38 Indigo: I would have to think about that.
32:39 Tiffany: Okay. We can put some on the resource page too.
32:43 Indigo: Yeah, absolutely.
32:44 Tiffany: I read a book recently, "Waking Up White" and it was really very interesting to think about the white privilege that you have unconsciously. And just the narrative that I was taught in my... Well, you said by 10, these biases can happen. And even though I consider myself very educated and an advocate, it was very eye-opening to think about these different aspects. And one of the most eye-opening part of that book was the author was talking about a class she took where they mentioned, "How often do you discuss race?" And it was very clear in the class that the persons of color talked about race almost every day. And then the persons that were white, they talked about it very rarely, if ever. And that was just a really eye-opening... A difference that happens... Just happens in the family culture and that I think is important to be aware of and also something that we can change. And it also made me think in that book just about changing infrastructure and how that can have such a powerful influence in terms of how we're thinking about working together as groups. And then also, just this idea of continual openness to change.
33:53 Indigo: Yeah, I'm glad that you brought that up in your own personal example of "the learning never stops". And even if you are thinking about these things, our social climate is constantly changing and this is not sort of like a one-and-done type exposure. You really need to be evaluating yourself, finding your own challenge zones, trying to figure out what it is that you don't know that you need to know more of, and it's an ongoing process, absolutely.
34:22 Tiffany: You have this quote that I love, that I'll end on. And you say "Diversity... " This is a quote you had in your lecture. "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance." I thought that was a great quote and I really appreciate your time today.
34:39 Tiffany Hogan Check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com for helpful resources associated with this podcast including, for example, the podcast transcript, research articles, & speakers bios. You can also sign up for email alerts on the website or subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts or any other listening platform, so you will be the first to hear about new episodes.
Thank you for listening and good luck to you, making the world a better place by helping one child at a time.