Host Justin Reich is joined by Kevin Dua, 2017 Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year, a two-time Massachusetts Teachers Association Human & Civil Rights awardee, and a current member of the Ideation UpLift Legacy Cohort for K-12 Black Male Educators. Kevin is a History and Psychology Teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Justin and Kevin discuss anti-racism, unlearning, and strategies to increase equity in education in the age of Covid. Kevin also shares his experience as an advisor to the award winning Black Student Union in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Oftentimes educators talk about wanting to integrate current events. Right now, the current events, if it's not COVID-19, it's systemic racism. It's white supremacy. If those words, if those key terms aren't being said aloud, regardless of if it's a social studies classroom or a math classroom, that should be a red flag.” - Kevin Dua
Host Justin Reich is joined by Kevin Dua, 2017 Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year, a two-time Massachusetts Teachers Association Human & Civil Rights awardee, and a current member of the Ideation UpLift Legacy Cohort for K-12 Black Male Educators. Kevin is a History and Psychology Teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Justin and Kevin discuss anti-racism, unlearning, and strategies to increase equity in education in the age of Covid. Kevin also shares his experience as an advisor to the award winning Black Student Union in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Oftentimes educators talk about wanting to integrate current events. Right now, the current events, if it's not COVID-19, it's systemic racism. It's white supremacy. If those words, if those key terms aren't being said aloud, regardless of if it's a social studies classroom or a math classroom, that should be a red flag.” - Kevin Dua
In this episode we’ll talk about:
Resources and Links
Follow Kevin Dua on Twitter
Check out Kevin’s resources on Anti-Racism.
Read an interview with Kevin Dua in the Daily Times Chronicle
Check out Justin Reich’s new book!
Produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley
Recorded and mixed by Garrett Beazley
Justin Reich: From the home studios of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, this is TeachLab, a podcast about the art and craft of teaching. I'm Justin Reich. Today, we have Kevin Dua. He's a 2017 Massachusetts history teacher of the year, a history teacher at the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he's an advisor to the Black Student Union, which recently received the prestigious MTA Human and Civil Rights Award. Kevin is also an inaugural member as the Uplift Legacy Cohort, an organization that works to celebrate, support, and empower male educators of color. Kevin, thanks so much for being with us today.
Kevin Dua: Justin, thank you so much for having me. I've said this multiple times, I'm still getting used to Zoom and these virtual interactions. So again, I am just appreciative that you are going to be patient with me if there are any technical difficulties.
Justin Reich: No, not at all. Well, let me just start, Kevin, with... How are you? Not just as a teacher, but as a human being. I mean, it's been tumultuous months with the pandemic, with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, protests across the country. How does this moment find you?
Kevin Dua: It's been a lot. Usually when I've heard that question from people close to me, I say something along the lines of, "I'm tired, I'm inspired, I'm angry. I feel exhausted. I feel winded. I feel motivated." Yes, there's just been a lot to process. And there's this fire inside me that is ignited and also extinguished at the same time, because just I'm feeling it all, like nonstop. I felt it before, but I don't have the privilege of turning off my mind about what's going on.
Justin Reich: Right. Yeah, which I think that's one of the things that wealth and whiteness does insulate some people from, the freedom to be able to be like, "Oh, I'll just go in my backyard now and step away from that for a little while." And not everybody, depending upon where you live or your life experiences, has that. That feeling of being inspired, a flame and extinguished, how does that intersect with your sort of professional identity as a teacher, as a ally to youth activists? Professionally, how has the moment struck you?
Kevin Dua: It has struck me in a sense of... It has changed everything, and everything has remained the same. And what I mean by that is I think over the last several years, the research that I have done as an educator... So integrating critical thinking and topics centered on racial identity and agency and activism and social justice, and having students run with that and following their lead. So the emphasis or the need for that is still there. And it feels as if it's more valued than ever before, not just in schools, but just across the board. So in that sense, that hasn't changed. On the flip side, it's this unapologetic tongue of knowing that as an educator, as a history educator, as a Black educator that teaches history, this sense of feeling compelled to advocate more. Feeling compelled to listen to individuals who are a part of identified marginalized groups, so whether it's Black folks, Indigenous people, people of color, and being more explicit.
Kevin Dua: And by more explicit, it's articulating more in terms of what is needed, and not what should be tolerated. And whether that's, again, a curriculum change, whether it's revamping a policy. If there was ever a time where the responsibility is on a Black educator's shoulder, it feels like it's now. And in many ways, it's hard to convey, yet just the conversations that I've had with many colleagues, many Black colleagues in this field, we are all feeling it. Whether we homeschool, part of a charter or private or public, we all feel this sense of... Whether it's remotely or in person, it's like there's this permission now to be as authentic, because everyone understands that being anything less than that is going to be harmful, not just as an educational institution, but also for our young people.
Justin Reich: How do you think concretely... Or, what have you heard from your colleagues in your own practice? What are some ways that you see that authenticity emerging in new ways or in reinforced ways? If I was visiting the classrooms or the homeschools or whatever it is, the colleagues that you've been talking to, what do you think I should be looking for?
Kevin Dua: I think right off the bat is just the type of language that people are using. I think oftentimes, educators talk about wanting to integrate current events. And so right now, the current event or the current events, if it's not COVID-19, it's systemic racism, it's white supremacy. So if those words, if those key terms aren't being said aloud regardless if it's a social studies classroom or math classroom, that should be a red flag. If the classroom setting that you see isn't racially diverse, that should be a red flag. If the educator is not somewhat a part of the Black, Indigenous, people of color, like that entire community if you will, then seeing how they engage with individuals that don't look like them, whether they are overly nice or overly strict. So that's what I believe you should be looking right off the bat.
Kevin Dua: It's this idea of recognizing a microaggression, recognizing how is someone taking a current event and integrating it to a foreign language class. And again, after a few minutes, if you don't get that sense, if you don't get the sense that the youth in the room are being centered, that they're not being confined to, let's say, raising your hand or sitting in a desk, or make sure that the background in your virtual window looks a certain way... If the sense of structure that has so much layers tied to this hierarchy of white supremacy and whiteness, if you see that, if you see what was normal before closure, those would be red flags. Because I think since March, many people are trying to recognize what worked, what didn't work, in terms of inequities. I think since June, with the rightful uprising of people's reactions towards the death, the murders of George Floyd, and then prior to that, Breonna Taylor, is the sense of... So many of us have tolerated or have been bystanders to structures that worked through a white lens.
Kevin Dua: And in the classroom, that is supposed to reflect as much equity and equality as possible. A classroom that's supposed to reflect this sense of empowering young people.
Justin Reich: And we've been talking about this together, Kevin, for a year. So we had a conversation a year ago, and I would say some of the most distinctive parts of that conversation were you describing to us a pedagogical approach that says in your classroom, you focus on unlearning, that people have a whole set of expectations. The teacher's supposed to stand in the front of the room, the students are supposed to stand on the other side of the room. The teacher's supposed to say what to do. The students are supposed to raise their hand when they're supposed to talk. And a year ago before all these things were happening, you were saying that a big part of your pedagogy is disturbing those systems. Wait, why am I standing up here? And why are you raising your hand? Why am I the teacher not raising my hand? Why do I get to pick who gets to talk? And through those kinds of questions of making the familiar unfamiliar, having your students start to recognize like, "Hey, there are hierarchies of power, and maybe hierarchies of oppression in our classroom. How did they get here? Why do we reenact them every day?" Let's listen to what you had to say about that last September.
Kevin Dua: Over the last few years, I've had this approach of validating that agency. I think sometime, many individuals who are adults can't help or choose to be ageist. For instance, maybe day two I open up the opportunity for the students to ask me any question that they can think of, as long as they can justify or rationalize why the response is pertinent or valuable to their education.
Kevin Dua: So for instance, a question that I would ask just starting out would be, could a student explain why you are taught to raise your hand to use the bathroom? And for many of them, they may say, "My family told me this," or a teacher growing up. But then analyzing as to... They don't raise our hands in the confines of their home. They don't raise their hand if they are out to eat. So why in a school building that they have to raise their hand for bodily function. And so asking many of those questions where you can talk about intersectionality, so whether it's tied to race or gender, sexual orientation, and then trying to find a common foundation. Or, how have all of these systems impact our upbringing, especially living within this nation of ours?
Kevin Dua: It opens up this sense of, "Okay, what does this mean? What does this say about us? Are there any areas that need any type of improvement?" So it does spark a sense of curiosity, and many students have expressed that, whether it’s in psychology or history, they haven't been presented with such information, just a sense that, "Okay, we are going to unpeel-"
Justin Reich: We're going to the familiar unfamiliar.
Kevin Dua: 100%.
Justin Reich: We're going to make a thing that you would do every day that you've done every day in schools, and we say, "No, no, no. In history class, there's an intellectual foundation behind these decisions."
Justin Reich: How do you see that work changing in the year ahead where essentially the process of making the familiar unfamiliar that was happening in your classrooms and happening a couple of other places is now happening everywhere I feel like more so than ever before in my lifetime. There is a huge shift in popular opinion about the insidious ways that white supremacy compromises our society, compromises our lives, makes Black and Brown people suffer, but makes white people suffer alongside them as well in certain kinds of ways. How do you see that process of unlearning being the same or different in the year ahead?
Kevin Dua: It's a sigh of relief, and it's nerve wracking, and it's the same. What I mean by that, it's incredible that folks feel that now is the time. It's nerve wracking because these are individuals, especially white colleagues who have never done this before, so even the idea of we are learning an anti-racism curriculum in many ways can be seen as a slap in the space because it is not a learning aspect or it's a learning document or binder. For individuals who look a certain way, this is their life. It is their livelihood.
Justin Reich: Say more, Kevin. What's the slap in the face? It's that teachers have the freedom not to learn this, and they've chosen not to learn it their whole life, and now they're choosing to do so?
Kevin Dua: Yes. Yes. Yes. That, and it's a scent that there are going to be literal conversations, hopefully, in academic settings where when we're talking about educating young people about anti-racism, like the unlearning part is this idea of we have to teach how to help individuals, especially white adults how to unlearn this ideology that has been embedded in them on how not to interact with a human being that doesn't look like them.
Kevin Dua: Again, the idea of just understanding whiteness. It's needed. It's overdue, and it's nerve wracking because, again, it's hoping that either districts, communities, individuals are collectively and independently trying to figure out how to do that, so having that hope, and also as a Black educator, there's the burden of having to relay that yet you may have to teach that, regardless if you want to or not, and that in itself is exhausting.
Justin Reich: Yes. Yeah. The burden of oppressed groups to explain to their oppressors how to stop oppressing them is itself another form of frustrating, tiring oppression.
Kevin Dua: Justin, that is a line of... That is... Yes. Well said. Yes.
Justin Reich: Here's a point that I think we have in common. You and I are excited for this moment. We're hopeful for this moment. I'm thinking that five years from now, there are just going to be many more educators in the classroom that are asking themselves questions, "Well, what am I putting in my curriculum, and how will my students see themselves in my classroom, and how do I see my biases, which I know I have because I'm a human being in a broken world being expressed?" Even if you have some optimism around that, what are the short-term harms that you're most afraid of? Who is going to get hurt as white educators do this unlearning and learning, and is there any way that we can minimize some of that hurt or some of that painful growth?
Kevin Dua: Those who would get harmed would be myself, our Black and Brown students. The intersectionality of someone's racial identity, ethnicity, along with, let's say, their gender or their sex [inaudible 00:18:17] class, like the... In many ways, as much as I would want to agree with what you said, there's no way to even put the parameter that is going to be short term. I can remember what happened to me in second grade. I know it could be called a microaggression now, but I can remember what my second grade teacher...
Kevin Dua: Short-term, it's this idea of a colleague or student looking or interacting with their teacher, someone in the educational space, and that gut reaction of how? How are you screwing up with a open book test, with everything that's going on, how, when you can have a cheat sheet? Virtually, you can block... There's no way I can see, and you're still doing this in October 2020.
Kevin Dua: Short-term, that's the reaction, and I think how white educators can unlearn that, there has to be a demand, an aggressive, explicit demand from white educators, from white district leaders, and as much as I hate to say, this is true, as educators of color, as Black educators demanding that professional development, any resources that are available, that the consistent and nonstop just training and resources on learning about whiteness, about microaggressions, about listening to the stories of your Black colleagues, listening to the harm, it has to be just on-the-table dive into that's mandatory because I think you said it best. This can't be this... I can't do this on a Monday, but can... because doing the intentionality, the explicitness, optic-wise, it's a sigh of relief being like, "Okay, at least you know what it looks like."
Kevin Dua: Again, I think just as educators, often, we go through our own grad school programs, and we hear that we have a voice, but we don't. You're seeing on the news that educators across the country are trying their best to integrate their voices about having a say about what September's going to look like. As much as that is important, what is equally as important is, cool, whatever this looked like, in-person virtual or hybrid, once that is confirmed, the next thing is, cool, the content I'm about to teach, it's right there. It's that anti-racism content that's going to be tied into how we teach any curriculum come the beginning of the school year.
Justin Reich: Yeah. I mean, I think that's the amazing thing about this moment. If you had said to me five months ago, "Hey, there's going to be nationwide protests about police violence, about anti-Black racism, and we need to spur massive curricular changes in our schools to address that," I would have said, "Wow, that's going to be really hard. I mean, I think we can do it. I think the time is now to do it, but that's going to be hard."
Justin Reich: If you had told me five months ago there's going to be a massive global pandemic and you're going to have to shut down all of the schools and transition them to remote learning, I would've gone, "Wow. That's really hard. If you do that, you probably won't be able to do anything else. Just figure out how to do that." All of a sudden, we find ourselves in this moment of actually trying to do both of those things at the same time at the time.
Justin Reich: Kevin, you described them as sequential, but I'm not even sure they're things that you can separate as parallel because we know that race has implications for the decision about whether to go remote or in-person or online, that in many neighborhoods, it is Black and Brown families who have less access to technology that makes remote learning work. They also have greater comorbidities and more at risk of catching the coronavirus and dying, and so race is implicated in these...
Justin Reich: I was noticing that Prince George's County was one of the first counties that were starting all online. I was reading. Some education pundits say, "Oh, well, was it a small minority of people who forced them to go all online?" 46% of families wanted to go full remote, and 42% of families wanted to go partially remote and partially in-person. Part of that, there's 700 people who died in Prince George's County, and the county is disproportionately Black and Brown, and the people who got sick and died were disproportionately Black and Brown. I mean, race is there from the very beginning in thinking through it these kinds of decisions and who's harmed and who's marginalized in making these choices. Tell me about colleagues in your community at Cambridge Rindge & Latin who are making contributions in really effective ways. Are there any folks have good strategies for helping people think through these tough issues?
Kevin Dua: Mr. Whitfield is a teacher at the high school. Miss Yu. She is also a teacher at the high school, and Miss [Embriano 00:24:19]. She's also a teacher at the high school. Those three individuals have played in just having not only dialogue with me, but also dialogue with their peers within their departments, with their students. It's not just anything specific in terms of we need to do X, Y, and Z as it has been so much of this critical thinking of questioning, being able to look at headlines, being able to look at policy, being able to look at data, and the framing of questions is inquiry. It's so key in any decision that's being made.
Kevin Dua: It may sound elementary for so many people of how to ask a good question, and not just a yes or no, but an open-ended question because those questions opens the door to understand who's in these rooms making decisions, open up the door in terms of what are the implicit and explicit bias that are the driving force in individuals, whether it's parents, teachers, students, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, because as you said, you can tie everything back to race. Whatever it looks like in September, race will be there in the front and the back and the side. So, yeah. Like it's those colleague that I've learned so much from, just the way of framing questions to get answers, whether they exist or don't exist, has, for me, helped me understand more of how can I do that and how I can help students do that as well.
Justin Reich: Kevin, this is just an extremely consistent answer from you in our dialogues over the last year. That like, what is the most important thing to do in a dual crisis? It's the same thing that was important to do before, which is to ask questions about what are the social dynamics at play here and what are the things that's going on? And who's included and who's not? And why are we here? It's like a very history teacher answer to this question and I'm here for it. I want to say that.
Justin Reich: Because I think a thing that you're bringing up is a tension that I've heard from lots of different stakeholders trying to open responsibly, which is that everyone is desperate for answers. Like we all want to know what the plan is for September, how we're going to be open, how are we going to be safe, how we're going to learn, how we're going to build back better... build anti-racism into that building back. But, in many ways, there are no shortcuts to the answers to those questions. The questions have to invoke more questions. And that part of the whole process has to be communicating and building trust.
Justin Reich: And another thing that I want to pull out from your answer, which seems really important to me. And then, I hear from a lot of people, including my undergraduate students at MIT, which is that part of the activism of this moment is being in the school board meetings trying to help schools make good decisions, being on the streets having your voice heard. But it's just having conversations with other people to process this moment together. I mean, I don't know how many undergraduate students have told me that they feel like a big part of the work that they're doing right now is talking to their parents, talking to their family members, getting people to do some unlearning that's sort of well-established for them.
Justin Reich: So, with that thought, we should talk about the CRLs Black Student Union, which just received the Massachusetts Teacher's Association Human and Civil Rights Award, which has been given away since 1983. All right. I'm going to play a segment from our last interview about your work as an advisor to the Black Student Union at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. Garrett, go ahead and roll that clip.
Kevin Dua: My philosophy has been I'm their loudest and unwavering cheerleader.
Justin Reich: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kevin Dua: For any student, any black student that's a part of this organization. There's nothing wrong with being black. There's nothing wrong with their black identity. And that the stigmatization, whether it's racism, prejudice, discrimination, tied to their identity is going to is going to reappear just from them assembling within the space known as the Black Student Union.
Justin Reich: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kevin Dua: And so, in many ways, whether it's a blessing or the default unfortunate burden, to-
Justin Reich: And both of those things will happen at the same time.
Kevin Dua: Yes. Yes. Yep.
Justin Reich: They're going to create this affinity space where they can support each other. Yeah. You're convening. I mean, it's powerful for me to... you're convening people in a way that's both going to support them and create new kinds of vulnerabilities.
Kevin Dua: Yes. And it's also holding that mirror to a black student and for them to like look at yourself and, in many ways, flipping that mirror to a society, whether it's educators who are perpetuating such harm or other community leaders, and have them see the cracks in the mirror that they're doing. And then, really being able to confront why they created that crack, how did they do so, how to repair that. And that's the learning process, the biases. And, whether it's unintentional or not, it is hard. Not impossible, but it is hard for many individuals, especially in Cambridge, trying to grapple with the potential harm that they can or have caused.
Kevin Dua: This student club started in 2017 when I first came to Cambridge. And that graduating revival class left feeling as if their work was unfinished, trying to integrate, whether it's distinguishing incident reporting centered on harassment or sexual violence and so forth, analyzing data of racial bias and prejudice with educators across the district, integrating a K-12 anti-racism curriculum. As teenagers, being able to have a seat at the table and have their voice take part in a decision that can systemically help, not just them, but across the district or being able to create their own table, create their own chairs, and being able to use that platform to integrate that same energy.
Justin Reich: What are the students doing right now? What does the work of the Black Student Union look like right now? From what you hear from them, what do they feel like they're going to be taking on this coming year? What are priorities for them in Cambridge, Massachusetts?
Kevin Dua: Like truthfully it's recuperating. March changed their world instantly, whether they are current students or students who it was their last year before graduating. And so, yeah. The transitioning, whether it's smooth or not, remotely took a toll. And then, yeah. The, once again, viral of the murder of someone that looks like them that they have no idea who they are just being played. And the responsibility of trying to do homework, not be traumatized by a video, hearing the noise that's coming from TV or social media, hearing people chanting, hearing sirens, sharing a rhetoric that is bigotry, whether you are a black person and you're seeing that the data is saying that you're being impacted the most.
Justin Reich: Yeah.
Kevin Dua: If you have a friend who's Asian, you're hearing the bigotry from [inaudible 00:07:22]. So like, for the young people, these individuals who earn this award, from what I've heard from many alumni, they are appreciative of the work they put in as young people, the balance of it all. Yet, in many ways, it's also exhausting. It's exhausting. It's this idea of like, we won an award because we were able to harness, and process, and navigate through our trauma. Like that is the-
Justin Reich: Yeah. Yeah. Wow.
Kevin Dua: So, and again, like hearing that from them is like, yeah. Me as a 16, 17 year old, I was thinking about Power Rangers and X Men. And they are doing that and also winning awards, and marching, and so forth. So, yeah. From what I've been able to hear from them, they're motivated and they too are just trying to process everything that's going on. And I would be remiss not to say that this moment that so many people... that everyone is seeing and feeling. For so many black and brown folks, especially, young black and brown folks, yeah. The world may have been flipped upside down on a Monday. For so many young black and brown folks, it was still Monday. It was like, yeah. I don't really have great technology. Or I do and I'm able to log into a class but I'm about to receive a microaggression from the same educator just virtually.
Justin Reich: Right.
Kevin Dua: And I think that that's so important like the conversations I've been having with colleagues about, not just like the students who win this award, but it's inequities have always been there. Like that in itself is so important, that the pandemic didn't bring inequities. It just shed light on them.
Justin Reich: Revealed them.
Kevin Dua: Revealed them.
Justin Reich: Revealed them.
Kevin Dua: And-
Justin Reich: And then, exacerbated them.
Kevin Dua: And then exacerbated them. And I think, for my students, it's the sense of, how can they continue being involved and being able to take a breath at the same time?
Justin Reich: That's such an important way of defining these kinds of affinity groups. I mean, we talked to Beverly Daniel Tatum, who's a developmental psychologist, the former president of Spelman College. And a big part of her research, why are the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria, is look, it is developmentally normal as you're forging your identity to have race be part of your identity. And so, you spend some of your time in racial groups in order to... I think the Black Student Union at Cambridge has been exemplary in the kind of activist work they've done. And I think a lot of other Black Student Union, Asian Student Union, Latin Student Unions do that work too. But also, it's just a healing place. It's a place that we can come together with people who have shared experiences with ourselves and say, all right. So, what is it like to be here?
Kevin Dua: Yes.
Justin Reich: And what are you doing to get it through? I mean, I think that's a good reminder for adult allies to be able to ask themselves the questions, where are students going to find those spaces? Where are they going to find those spaces virtually? And how can we support that good, important work.
Justin Reich: I think there are going to be lots of educators in the year ahead who take on more responsibility as advisors and guides for student activists. Kevin's got his fingers crossed here. That we're hoping that more adults take on that responsibility in all kinds of activism. And we're seeing a surge of climate change youth activism, all different kinds of youth activism. You've been doing this work for a bunch of years now. When teachers come to you and say, Kevin, I'm going to take on new roles with this student group, I'm helping to start a black student union, or advising them, or whatever else it is, like what makes a good adult ally? What are like your top three suggestions for doing that work well?
Kevin Dua: The first one will be that the students are in charge. They make the rules. They tell you if the lights are on or off. And you have to encourage and challenge them and go more out of your way to relinquish the ageism that's embedded in us and follow their lead as consistently as possible. So, that's the first one. And it's not easy.
Justin Reich: Not for teachers at all.
Kevin Dua: Yes.
Justin Reich: I mean, our intuition as teachers is, young person, you are missing something. And I am here to help fill you up with it. And I think there's still places for that in school. And there's probably still places for that in advising. But just this idea of trying to ratchet that core professional instinct way, way, way, way down is an important starting point.
Kevin Dua: Yes. Yes. I would say the second one would be that... and even the word ally it's, for me, I see myself as an adviser, an advocate and a co-conspirator. I say all that, because for me as an ally, if I see myself or self-proclaim myself as an ally, then yeah, it's true. I can get my stipend money for this club and meet once a year for a yearbook picture and then that's it. And students recognize that. So it's important that as an advisor, you're right, there is aspects of what we can provide from our own experiences to advise them. There are privileges that we have as adults to be able to get into a room, to integrate their voices. And as a co-conspirator is that, hey, you can't just have these students who are running this club. You can't just drill them into the deep end and say, "Nope, sorry, I'm done." You have to be with them from September to June. And as exhausting as that is, what's even more exhausting is knowing that your students are doing it by themselves and you chose to walk away. So yeah, it is centering students.
Justin Reich: What do you mean by, you chose to walk away as that being more exhausting?
Kevin Dua: So the idea of that, if you are a teacher that comes into the profession, and one of your core values is that you care about kids and you, for whatever reason you want to bring up, you say that, "Because of X, Y, and Z, hey students, I know you want to do this civil disobedience. I'm sorry, I can't. I got to go home." So you're when you're home, it's exhausting to think of like, Oh my gosh, what's happening to the students? I hope they're okay." But you chose that as opposed to being exhausted with them right there. And that's so important, that students, when we talk about representation matters, students want to see that you're not just telling them to lead the way.
Kevin Dua: And again, I know for so many teachers we are told and we've seen as growing up that things are political. Let students formulate their opinions. Truth be told, we're in a moment where students can get opinions anywhere. They want to know factually, as an educator, as this adult, as this advocate, as this advisor, what are your values? What are your factual values? Because if I don't know, then this curiosity of feeling, can I trust this person is going to play a huge role in clubs lasting as long or short as they do.
Kevin Dua: So, yeah, and I think it's that third part. It's you have to be honest. Your values have to align with what this club is about. There's no way that I could have been comfortably and authentically the advisor of a black student union if I promoted any sense of anti-blackness for someone who has a 1.0 GPA or someone who has their bag, or who have their pants sagging, or someone who had braids or someone who's light skinned or someone who is of the LGBTQ community. And so for me, my room isn't confined to one version of a black person. So the moment I'm able to, the moment my bias comes out, those students should always have the right to check me. And if they feel that they can't and they see that my bias is excluding black folks, then they have every right to say like, "No, you are not an advisor of an all-black student union club." So facts on learning that ageism and being a co-conspirator.
Justin Reich: It's good. It's good. So there are moments in advising the Black Student Union that you decide to intervene. There are more of them in which you decide to let students lead. What are some of the triggers for you or the cues for you that are like, okay, I need to intervene here? What makes you decide like, all right now is the right time to do that?
Kevin Dua: It could be a moment where let's say everyone is talking over themselves or each other, I should say. And even if they are great ideas all happening from different angles. If it's not being heard in order to be validated and or challenge, then it just evaporates. And for me, it's using my loud teacher voice or just presence and saying, "Hey, let's structure this. And I can be the person to write this down while you all figure out a way to exchange your ideas." That's a way of me intervening, when I am able to step back and see what's going on.
Kevin Dua: And yeah, sometimes that works and other times, similar to some of the advice that I mentioned, a student would look at me and say, "Mr. Dua we hear each other. Just because you don't, that doesn't mean... Someone is writing this down. We have good memory. We're fine." And so if or when that happens, for me it's cool. I know that intervening doesn't always necessarily mean that they are going to agree with me.
Justin Reich: And it sounds like an important norm that you've set up with your students is they have to be able to challenge you. It can't be that you unilaterally decide when to intervene. That there's this sort of negotiation here. That you come into the students say, "I'm trying to give you as much leadership in this as we possibly can. But there are some times that I am an adult is going to be able to help you and I'm just going to make my best guess as to what those times are. And if you think I got it wrong, you got to be able to tell me, because I need to be able to keep adjusting based on what you need."
Justin Reich: I mean, I think that because even then what you're trying to offer as an authority figure, I mean, you can use your booming teacher voice in a way that most people can't, is still subject to negotiation with your students. It's us still deciding together what role you want me to play and if part of my job is to use my slightly more developed executive function to remind you when you're going bonkers, then I'll do that a little bit. But mostly trying to stay away from [inaudible 00:46:17]. I think that's good guidance for new folks taking on that role.
Kevin Dua: Thank you. Thank you.
Justin Reich: So schools are going to reopen and we're hopeful that the protests are part of the curriculum and the pandemic is part of the curriculum. If you have one piece of parting advice for teachers, as they get ready to start this year, what are you hoping that folks keep front and center in what I'm sure will be one of the most remarkable, challenging years in K-12 education?
Kevin Dua: Somehow in your curriculum, somehow in your day, there has to be time and space for a moment of silence. I say that because whether as the educator who have experienced loss, whether of time or individuals or your students your colleagues. As a history teacher, the way we value lives, it's so complex. And it just felt that with everything that's going on, there hasn't been a pathway to integrate reflection, a moment of individuals who can't be there. Whether even if you have 20 boxes on your screen and you see four of them are blackout, it's the sense of it's this, if you empathize, empathize, but there's a sympathy that we can all do that doesn't take just moving a mountain. I think that's my advice, is we all have to do a moment of silence.
Justin Reich: Well, that's so consistent with what you've said before, Kevin, which is that there are times for questioning, there are times for reflection. There are times for healing and that would follow as the moment of silence is going to be good questioning. It's going to be good unlearning. It's going to be good activism, but at the heart of that has to be a kind of humanity.
Justin Reich: You can probably hear some of my humanity in the background of young people who are going to be freed up now, who I should go hang out with. But Kevin, it's so great to be able to revisit this conversation with you. I hope we can keep doing this over the course of the year, because these are challenging times for a lot of educators. I think the work that you've done with the students of the Black Student Union in Cambridge has been really inspirational and thinking about how teachers serve their students in developing the skills, the competencies, the ambition, the confidence, to be able to change their communities, to make them more of what we want to see in the future.
Kevin Dua: Amen. Amen. For all that. Thank you so much, Justin, for all of this.
Justin Reich: That was Kevin Dua, a history teacher of the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. We've had a conversation about this incredible moment about building anti-racism into the curriculum as we come back to schools and in supporting students as they do their work as activists in the months ahead.
Justin Reich: I'm Justin Reich. Thanks for listening to TeachLab. I hope you enjoyed our conversation. Be sure to subscribe to TeachLab to get future episodes on how educators from all walks of life are tackling distance learning during COVID-19. I'm also proud to announce I have a new book coming out, Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education, and you can learn more at failuretodisrupt.com. This episode of TeachLab was produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley recorded and sound mixed by Garrett Beazley. Stay safe, until next time.