This piece is based on a workshop titled “Taking Apart Racism: Using Maker-Centered Practices to Break Down Systems of Oppression,” led by Jaime Chao Mignano and Mark Perkins at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (PoCC).
Like a lot of educators, I want my students to be empowered to impact the world around them. I want them to have social and political agency in a sense that is perfectly aligned with what Agency by Design means by agency—that is, skills and tools in combination with intention and impulse to action. When I task my students with dismantling systems of oppression, how do they know what that means? Do they feel ready to enact it? And how can I be a support?
This was the seed of a workshop for this year’s National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (PoCC), a gathering of thousands of educators from around the United States to explore ideas and share experiences around equity and justice in our schools and lives. My colleague, Mark Perkins (Media and Theater Coordinator), and I wondered what insights we could offer by putting Take Apart practice in service to racial justice education. I was nervous to try to build under the conference throughline “Anti-Racist Teaching Tools” - the stakes felt so high. We had an inkling, though, that combining the enthusiastic engine of taking stuff apart with the resonant act of creating stories that reimagine existing narratives of power could be an important experiment.
Mark and I built a workshop we call “Taking Apart Racism: Using Maker-Centered Practices to Break Down Systems of Oppression.” The heart of the workshop is the idea that looking closely and exploring the complexity of an object can create a bridge of metaphor that helps us understand a system of racial oppression. If we build the connection between these two systems—the system of the object and the system of oppression—then we can see the oppressive system in a new light and probe new possibilities.
AbD researcher Jessica Ross elaborates on her role in the Open Portfolio Project by asking the question: What advice can we offer young makers as they document their making throughout their lifetimes?
This routine encourages learners to slow down and make careful, detailed observations as they look beyond the obvious features of an object or system and think about how it works. This thinking routine can help foster curiosity as children notice details, ask questions, make connections, and identify topics for future inquiry.
Engaging young learners in exploring complexity and finding opportunities to make systems better requires perspective taking and empathy. Role playing can be a powerful approach to support learners in taking others’ perspectives when exploring the roles, ideas, and feelings of different characters in a system. Here we offer a few thoughts on how to leverage children’s natural desire to play and how to employ different thinking routines to foster perspective taking and empathy. This tool is intended as a starting point and does not need to be followed step by step or happen all at once.
This routine encourages students to consider the diverse perspectives that different people within a particular system may have based on their role in the system. This routine fosters perspective taking and can help children generate new questions and/or ideas about the system, how it works, and how it might be improved.