“If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else.” — Marvin Gaye
Growing up in the Midwest, I can remember traveling to visit my grandmother in Washington, DC, on Labor Day. That was our last trip before summer break ended, and the school season began. I looked forward to the journey because she would take us to see an NFL game before our vacation ended. I enjoyed the games, but I always questioned the team’s name. I remember asking her why the team had such a weird name, and I would point out that it seemed cruel. My father reprimanded me for “sassing” my elder. She supported me and told him, “It’s okay, we should teach children to have an inquiring mind. Regardless of their race, religion, or social affiliation, children should never hesitate to question those in authority.”
What she was teaching my father was that it’s good for children to have an inquiring mind. For a child to learn, they first must know how they learn best, and asking questions is one way of doing that.
For years the education community has focused on metacognition as a base for learning. While this model has been mulled over and taught in universities for decades, it is not effectively implemented in schools of color – schools with a significant student of color population. Metacognition relates to a student’s capability to contemplate their learning method. The idea is that students of color will become aware of the approach their psyche uses when learning new material via metacognitive actions. Also, they become more confident learners because they realize they are capable of learning anything. Therefore, students of color will begin to come up with tactics to strengthen their education.
One way of looking at this is when a high school sports team wins a city championship and advances to the state tournament. The effect it has on the neighborhood is tremendous. It energizes and gives the families living in that town a sense of achievement. It unites everyone and makes the youth feel that they are capable of significant accomplishments. In turn, they begin sharping their skills and increasing their capacity to achieve even more.
That’s how metacognition advances in the classroom; students of color are encouraged to reflect on how they best learn. In doing this self-analysis, they determine their learning style and cultivate a culturally customized approach to studying and testing. After significant achievements, their “scholastic” victories are bracketed by their strengths and reinforce the student’s capabilities. These victories strengthen a student’s social perspective and give them a more accurate assessment of their abilities and lead to greater self-advocacy and self-management in and out of the classroom.
This is how our nation bounces back after a global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. It will take hard work and tough decisions, but we can bounce back. Growing up in my neighborhood, I learned that a victory for my block was a victory for our city, and a victory for our city would lift us all. Therefore, we always cheered for the righteous and rooted for the trustworthy “squad” to win. We applauded education, economic, social advocacy as well as sports champions.
In the ’90s, I worked with several progressive partners to defeat a regressive ballot initiative in Colorado. I remember how challenging it was to excite People of Color (POC) about an issue they didn’t support. Our campaign started down 20 points, but after an aggressive public education effort, we won by 12 points.
How did we do it? First, we went to Denver’s oldest African American neighborhoods, the historic Five Points community, and learned how they learned about cultural issues. Community leaders taught us about the Buffalo soldiers, early Hispanic settlers, and the hundreds of activists who helped women gain more political and economic equality. I asked them about the contours of Colorado’s electorate. They told me about ex-Gov Owens and how Colorado had become a pro-public education state. They reminded me that even in 2004, when President Bush was re-elected and his party picked up seats, the public education advocates in Colorado took control of both houses in the Legislature and won a U.S. Senate seat. Moreover, in 2006 they elected a pro-public education governor.
We will bounce back from this crisis because we believed in our issues’ righteousness. We will analyze how to communicate our interests, and we will encourage people to work together as a team to bounce back, and then we will accelerate social change. Example, Colorado underwent a political, geographical transformation:
- President Obama won by 9%, his party added another U.S. Senator, and they took five of the seven congressional seats. Moreover, people of color (POC) were 14% of the state’s vote share in 2008.
- We saw more evidence of this in 2010 when Colorado’s POC voters increased to 19% of the vote share and pushed “pro-public education” statewide candidates over the top.
The truth is that the Denver population grew by 8.2% to 600,158 people, and it currently has over 130,000 key POC voters. But it took the cultural inspiration that the POC communities felt to spark so many to participate in the electoral process.
Our community’s optimism creates opportunities for all children to demonstrate their talents, skills, and values. The key is to help students of color see that learning is a daily goal for every school they attend. We must ensure that educators explicitly replicate their social motivations. We must understand that we impact our student’s experiences by planning culturally competent tasks, having courageous conversations, and showing them how metacognitive behavior affects their learning and daily lives. Our goal should be to help them expand their institutional capacity while building on the cultural intelligence they come to school with. Then as independent learners, they will be successful — educationally, civically, and financially.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.