Our approach to catalyzing a multicultural, antiracist K-12 content map

Jun 18, 2021 | Blog, Curriculum and Assessment Reimagined | 0 comments

Our approach to catalyzing a multicultural, antiracist K-12 content map

By Sydney Schaef


In an earlier post, my colleagues Jon Altbergs and Laurie Gagnon named the challenge of teaching all of the current standards in a way that is meaningful and authentic for students. In response, I’d like to share why and how we’re getting involved in redefining the most important, relevant, and preparatory disciplinary content for young people in K-12 education.

This summer, from June 27 – July 1, reDesign is convening approximately 100 content experts from diverse backgrounds and geographies to launch an effort to reimagine the K-12 content map. In this post, I share why and how we’re doing this.

Why are we doing this?
The purpose of this event is to create a prototype of how we might redefine learning outcomes for K-12 education from a multicultural, antiracist perspective, grounded in the learning sciences. It’s not a small bite.

Currently, academic standard frameworks are the dominant model for defining learning outcomes in our K-12 system, and they don’t prioritize these three principles; nor have they resulted in improved academic outcomes since their widespread adoption over the last decade.

learning outcome

In our work with clients across the country, we most often hear folks talk about standards not as a helpful tool or resource, but as a constraint to meaningful learning. Does it have to be this way? What if we made some bold decisions about how we constructed learning outcomes? Here are a few ideas.

1. Provocation #1: What if we stopped calling them academic standards, and pulled ourselves out of the industrial era? Let’s speak plainly. In education, “standardization” is really code for assimilation, isn’t it? What if there were flexibility and diversity built into our learning outcomes, instead of the current linear, time-based, eurocentric model?

2. Provocation #2: What if we developed learning outcomes from a multicultural, antiracist perspective, and got serious about schools being places where we can unlearn and disrupt racism (and other isms)? What if we centered belonging for all learners in the way we determine our learning outcomes?

3. Provocation #3: What if we wrote learning outcomes in a way that made the structure and process of knowledge transparent? What if we decoupled the stuff that doesn’t really need to be stuck together (as they often are in standards: transferable skills, concepts, disciplinary topics), and we allowed the learning sciences to shape our approach?

With the support of a generous grant, our small but mighty team at reDesign is going all in on reimagining K-12 learning outcomes.

How are we doing this?
Well, we aren’t doing it. Over a hundred folks of diverse identities and geographies with expertise in their content areas, a lived commitment to antiracism, and a vision for equitable, inclusive education are doing this. It’s a rapid prototype of sorts.

And because process matters as much as product, let’s talk about how we’re going about this.

Below, I describe our approach to facilitating a design process for a reimagined K-12 content map, through the lens of disrupting white supremacy. Because, yes! We borrow from Temu Okun’s big ideas about white supremacy culture and its antidotes. They’ve been on our minds as we think about how our team shows up in the world to contribute to the movement.

  1. Embrace inclusion. (Reject objectivity)

Our team at reDesign knows well that we don’t have the answers. We don’t even believe there is one answer. Instead of continuing with the status quo, we are pushing for a reimagined K-12 content map that acknowledges and celebrates diversity, and embraces the antidote of inclusion. Our approach has included:

  • An open call for content experts, explicitly seeking folks from diverse identities, backgrounds, and careers 
  • A selection process based on specific and transparent criteria that boil down to demonstrated expertise—measured by one’s contributions to their field, not one’s credentials—and a demonstrated commitment to multicultural, antiracist education
  • A commitment to paying people a stipend for their time, and providing multiple levels of engagement to accommodate family and work commitments
  1. Self-organized teams, supported by skilled “holders of the space.” (Reject paternalism and power hoarding, embrace the antidote of distributed power) 

It was our co-founder and creative director, Dr. Antonia Rudenstine, who conceptualized the virtual design studio model for this event. One of her primary sources of inspiration: The Marlboro Music Festival. Musicians just show up, connect, self-organize, and work on a piece of music together, until it’s ready to perform. 

The design studio event will involve ten discipline teams who will engage in their own co-creation process. There’s no script. To ensure safety and support, reDesign has teamed up with VISIONS, Inc., and several other skilled “holders of space” to be present for teams and step in only as needed to navigate complex conversations. Also, reDesign team members will stand by as “Support Partners” available to help as needed and invited.

  1. Multiple perspectives. (Reject “one right way”) 

Rather than defining learning outcomes with a linear pathway marked by eurocentric standards, we’re proposing a map that reflects multiple pathways, multiple perspectives, and even multiple destinations: one that provides learners with both “mirrors” and “windows that reflect and affirm their identities and lived experiences, while also helping to expand their horizons of understanding across lines of difference. Topics could be flexible and adaptable to honor community values and vision.

  1. Embrace an iterative, dynamic approach to mapping. (Reject perfectionism)

This work will launch with a design studio this summer, but this is just the beginning of the effort to reimagine K-12 standards. We imagine that the map will be iterated on and revised multiple times over the next several years, with opportunities for public feedback and additional expert input. We intend to make the content map versions public, adaptable, and available, with the understanding  that it is evolving in real time.

We’re excited! I’ll close by sharing three ways you can support the work and get involved:

  • Weigh in! Complete our Community Input Form to share your own ideas for reimagining learning outcomes for K-12 education
  • Partner up! We are currently in the process of reaching out to dozens of organizations who share our values of multicultural, antiracist, liberatory education. Reach out to [email protected] if you’re interested in becoming a solidarity partner.
  • Stay connected! Sign up to stay up to date on the work and learn of additional opportunities to contribute.

We look forward to sharing what we learn during our week of Design Studios!

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