Call for Proposals
Equity, Justice, and Antiracist Teaching
“And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
even under the sea:
we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
(June Jordan, presented in 1978/published in 1980)
Poet, educator, activist, and feminist June Jordan wrote the above lines, which powerfully close her “Poem for South African Women.” First delivered at the United Nations on August 9, 1978, the poem commemorates the 40,000 women and children who, on August 9, 1956, marched against pass laws, a form of systemic racism that limited the movement and migrant labor force of many people in apartheid South Africa. When legislation was introduced to enforce these laws onto women, they gathered. They protested. They collected signatures. They marched. They sang Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!). They stood in resistance until thirty years later, in 1986, these laws were repealed. Their “standing up” represented an unwavering commitment to equity and justice, to freedom and human rights, for themselves, for their children, for you, and for me.
As literacy and English language arts educators and researchers, there is much that we can learn from these brave women and children, and there is a lot to contemplate from June Jordan’s poem. For example, how can we demonstrate our unwavering commitment to equity and justice in our literacy teaching, research, and engagements? How can we commit to designing curricula on freedom and human rights? What would this commitment mean for students and, by extension, for their families, their communities, and their future selves? How can we ensure that our literacy work does not reproduce inequities, injustices, and racism? What is the responsibility of our professional organization, NCTE, to lead this work?
For the 2021 Annual Convention, I invite you to contemplate these questions and many others in relation to our theme, “Equity, Justice, and Antiracist Teaching.” Consider what equity is inside classrooms, schools, and communities, and for children, youth, and families, especially in the face of systemic racism. Question what justice requires from literacy educators and researchers in light of movements for equality, freedom, and liberation. Grapple with what antiracist teaching means in our curricular choices and in our daily interactions with students and each other. Collectively, as we reimagine literacy and English language arts through the lens of equity, justice, and antiracist teaching, let us also envision a healthy, more just world.
As you prepare your conference proposals, consider the connections among equity, justice, and antiracist teaching. Also, I invite you to expand upon and even challenge these brief definitions and questions:
Equity is an active approach to teaching that ensures students have access to humanizing educational spaces and rich opportunities to learn. It requires that our pedagogies not only attend to the skills and knowledges that students deserve, but that they also prepare students to be critically conscious thinkers, knowers, doers, and change agents. This work is necessary, particularly as students learn to positively interrupt and respond to educational inequities and social inequalities in schools and throughout society. Equity also requires a redistribution of resources to schools, communities, students, and families who need us the most (see Banks & Banks, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2017). As you think about this definition of equity in relation to literacy and English language arts, consider the following questions:
- How do you cocreate equitable literacy learning experiences with students, families, and communities that center their lives, identities, and stories?
- What novels, essays, poetry, stories, songs, performances, digital texts, and racial justice movements make up your literacy teaching, research, and engagements? How are they framed within an equity lens?
- How do you commit to equity in light of possible challenges from school leaders, school boards, and families? What does this commitment involve and require?
Justice in literacy and English language arts teaching and research represents a vision for, and an unwavering commitment to, equitable, humanizing, participatory, and antiracist student-centered engagements. Justice is concerned with critiquing inequalities related to sociopolitical, economic, educational, racial, and health disparities. From providing rich learning opportunities to sustaining safe learning environments, the work of justice is embedded in a commitment to critical consciousness, to fairness and freedom, and to the disruption of inequities and inequalities that are so pervasive in schools and society. Recall the brave women and children from June Jordan’s poem who marched against pass laws and fought for justice (see Jordan, 1980, 2003). As you think about other meanings and examples of justice, consider the following questions:
- What does justice mean in your literacy teaching, research, and engagements?
- How do you cocreate literacy curricula and research that focus on justice? What texts do you use? What lessons do you teach? What scholarship do you turn to?
- How do you involve students and families in your teaching and research? How do you recognize and honor their understandings of justice, even if they conflict with your own?
To create equitable learning environments guided by justice requires that we engage in antiracist teaching. For Bettina Love (2019), “An antiracist approach elicits the understanding that the work of living and learning is about the solidarity created through shared struggle. [It] is not just about acknowledging that racism exists but about consciously committing to the struggle of fighting for racial justice” (p. 54). Considering Love’s framing alongside Travis Bristol’s (2020) belief that “anti-racist teaching means a fundamental disruption of the way in which teaching and learning happens in our schools today” invites us to consider the following questions:
- How do you know if your teaching and research are antiracist? What do you need to do, learn, and study to become an antiracist educator engaging in antiracist literacy work?
- How are students and families being affirmed within antiracist learning contexts?
- What texts, stories, digital tools, and other experiences make up your teaching, research, and community-engaged antiracist work? Do they reproduce racism or center antiracism?
For our 2021 Convention, I hope: That we will collectively examine our teaching and discuss our research. That we will enter conversations wherever we are in our learning and in our knowing. That we will embrace opportunities to have necessary and difficult conversations about literacy and English language arts. That we will leave more knowledgeable, invested, challenged, and involved in the work of equity, justice, and antiracist teaching with students, with families, with communities, and with each other.
As June Jordan reminds us, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Valerie Kinloch, 2021 Program Chair & NCTE President-Elect
- Use this online form to submit your proposal. (The deadline has passed.)
- Membership in NCTE is not required to submit a proposal.
- The deadline to request a coach to assist with your proposal is 5:00 p.m. ET, Monday, December 7, 2020 (you can select this option on the first page of the proposal form).
- The NCTE online proposal system will close at 5:00 p.m. ET, Tuesday, January 19, 2021.
- For any other questions, please email NCTEevents@ncte.org.