Avinnash Tiwari: Race and Power in Curricula

I began my higher-ed journey well after high school, and as a non-traditional, first-generation student, that journey wasn’t straightforward or easy. However, it wasn’t until I began teaching that I started reflecting on my K-12 education, and how so many of the challenges I faced as both an undergraduate and graduate student weren’t that dissimilar from those K-12 years. Curriculum had not challenged my growing critical thought and typically reflected the experiences, values, and histories of those in power, even if that power was imperialist, racist, sexist, and ultimately built on the backs of others.

Teacher and studentThe deeper I dug into my research (African American literature, Black Studies, and Critical Race Theory), the more I understood that my experiences were nothing new or unique, and indicative of the systemic failure of education to support all students’ intellectual and critical growth. But the lack of diverse curricula was never and still isn’t simply a matter of including more material. Rather, the crucial question becomes what values are circulated and re-circulated through the material, and if we are able to identify these values and power dynamics. Unfortunately, power, when built on valuing difference, isn’t always a simple thing to identify; there’s no one behind the curtain pulling the strings. Rather, power through difference is often subtle, residing in everyday language, thoughtless omissions, and what too many folks consider simply, “normal.” The one thing I stress more than anything in my classroom is that I simply am not interested in anyone’s intentions, no matter how good they are; we have work. And in my classroom, not surprisingly, we interrogate power; and in order to uncover power through difference requires us, all of us, to put in the work.

As a teacher, too many of my students walk into the University, and like me, are blown away that there are other histories, literatures, and epistemologies that more accurately reflect both what they know and what they value. I do not think young people need to wait to get to higher ed to experience intellectual thought that represents multiple cultures and histories, that challenges, rather than covers, the unequal distribution of power. And this is why I think Extanto's work with K-12 districts is such an important piece of making education truly accessible for all students, where students have a real opportunity to learn, grow, and become the truly critical thinkers we all need these young people to be.