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Rejecting Neutrality: Envisioning Authentic Humanities Spaces

John Phillips

Following the 2016 election and a growing awareness of the systemic nature of oppression in the United States, neutrality has become increasingly archaic as a concept for teachers who side with the oppressed. Yet, due to decades of messaging and policies that mandated a neutrality in the classroom, many features of high school English and Social Studies spaces still have vestiges of those beliefs and policies – policies that were never truly neutral to begin with.

In this session, participants will reckon with how a history of neutrality has prevented authenticity in classrooms and develop paths forward. To begin with, participants will name how they have interacted with the idea of neutrality in education from their time as students and as adults. Subsequently, participants will consider all of the different aspects of a class – from curriculum to classroom procedures and beyond – that educators must recognize as tools to either reinforce a status quo or create authenticity. Lastly, participants will work together to produce a vision for an authentic high school humanities classroom as well as plans to change policies and procedures in schools to create these authentic spaces.

All participants will leave the session with practical steps to create greater authenticity in their spaces as well as increased confidence in our collective ability to side with and support the oppressed in schools.

Conversational Practice

The goal of this session will be to use conversations in the session to not only generate new ideas within the classroom walls but to also utilize the thoughts from the session to start a conversation on various social media platforms as well. A hoped-for outcome would be for the wider high school humanities community to take a step further towards greater authenticity and greater support for the oppressed.

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