Multicultural Curriculum

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18 01, 2013


By |2018-12-17T11:37:46-06:00January 18th, 2013|Diversity and Social Justice, Multicultural Curriculum|3 Comments

Talk about genius!  We celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Peace and Justice Day with an amazing 3rd/4th grade performance of an original play about the Birmingham Campaign this morning.  It made me incredibly proud.

Birmingham 1

Children’s Crusaders hosed by the police.

50 years ago,  Dr. King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference took on the oppressive racial segregation of Birmingham, Alabama, with a boycott, protests, sit-ins and ultimately, a Children’s Crusade of college, high school and elementary students who marched for justice, facing jail, water hoses and even dogs in a courageous display of nonviolent direct action.   The protest was a game-changer, as the entire country witnessed the unconscionable brutality of segregation, and the push for the 1964 Civil Rights Act picked up steam.

Birmingham 5

Children’s Crusaders taken to jail on school buses.

3rd/4th grade teacher Janet Gray McKennis brought this story to life with an original script based on primary source material.  Like many Ancona teachers, Janet combines a passion for activism and social justice with a commitment to meaningful learning.  For many years now, she has written a unique play highlighting a particular aspect of Dr. King’s life and work for our annual assembly.  Her teammates Rebecca Kotler, Scott Roberts and Bert Rice add direction, staging, scenery and technical expertise.  Mr. Baldwin leads protest music from the period, and many others pitch in to make it a success.

It’s a terrific piece of integrated curriculum.  Throughout the weeks of preparation, students grapple with the difficult issues of segregation and injustice while, at the same time, learning the lessons of courage, nonviolence and the strength of groups to make change.  They  draw lessons about bullying and discrimination that are relevant for their own lives.  Reading, writing and vocabulary work are all related to the history project.

Birmingham 2

Singing We Shall Overcome

The entire audience of several hundred was visibly moved this morning, and when we got to We Shall Overcome at the end, I found it unusually resonant.  I could not help but reflect on the difference between Birmingham in 1963 and the Ancona parents, who, in that very same year, responded to the Civil Rights movement by founding an interracial school.  Diversity, justice, activism — they are in our bones.

We’re going to look at Ancona’s 50 Years of Diversity at a Symposium on Saturday, March 2.   An exciting panel of educators plus a number of Ancona’s own teachers, parents and alumni will be speaking and conducting workshops.  Plan to join us!

6 12, 2012


By |2018-12-17T11:37:47-06:00December 6th, 2012|Diversity and Social Justice, Multicultural Curriculum|2 Comments

Were the Dakota Indians driven off their land, because they didn’t know how to use their words?

I almost swerved into heavy traffic on the Kennedy last week when I heard a very earnest-sounding teacher give the following explanation of how she presents the U.S. – Dakota War to her 3rd graders.

We just talked about, like, a conflict is a disagreement. And we talked how the Dakota Indians didn’t know how to solve their conflicts. And the only way they knew how to solve their disagreements was to fight, which we know we don’t fight when we solve conflicts, we use our words.

 But that was their only way that they knew how to solve a conflict, they fought. And so then the white settlers needed to fight back to protect themselves…

On NPR’s This American Life, reporter John Biewen marked both Thanksgiving and the 150th anniversary of the largest mass hanging in U.S. history with a terrific story of the mistreatment of the Dakota by fur traders and the U.S. government, the resulting Dakota War and the expulsion of the Dakota from their lands in Minnesota in 1862.  Biewen asks how he could have grown up in Mankato, where this horrific event took place, and never been taught the history of the war, the hanging or the expulsion that made modern Minnesota possible. Today, teaching about the Dakota War is required in Minnesota — Biewen was interviewing a Mankato teacher — but this  doesn’t necessarily mean that the lessons impart much of an authentic understanding of what transpired.

This simplistic and racialized bad guys – good guys analysis perpetuates damaging stereotypes and completely glosses over the complexities and injustices of White-Indian relations; that it came from a teacher in 2012 was shocking (hence the near-swerve).

It was to deconstruct racial attitudes such as this that we at Ancona adopted our Multicultural Curriculum Strands nearly twenty years ago.  The Strands are a framework of critical ideas that undergird all curriculum development at Ancona.  The Strands very clearly state that our curriculum is designed to promote respect and anti-bias understandings in our students.

Here’s one of our most important strands:  There are multiple viewpoints to every event and situation. Knowledge is subjective and must be understood in the context of who is creating it as well as in the context of who is receiving it.

Were the Mankato teacher responsible for implementing the Multicultural Strands as Ancona teachers are, she most certainly would have understood and taught a very different history lesson,one that looked at the experience from different points of view and asked the children to think critically about the realities and brutalities of the Westward Expansion. They might well have made the connection to resolving conflicts peacefully, but from the vantage point of appreciating not only differences, but the relationship between violence and injustice.

Another strand says: Authentic voices communicating the stories of real people serve as the foundation upon which curriculum is developed and the medium through which it is communicated.

You can listen to the authentic voices of this story at

The Multicultural Curriculum Strands are included in the Parent Handbook. Access the handbook on our website under Forms and Policies. here>