How Can We Drive Cultural Change Through Education and Better Represent Our Students?

Malika Ali refers to classrooms as “mini-societies” and believes it’s long past time for the school’s curriculum to culturally reflect the larger society students live in. 

“Our kids are demanding better from us,” said Ali, a Director of Pedagogy for the Highlander Institute in Providence, R.I. “They have been for a long time. But especially right now, especially in this moment.” 

Ali and Ericka Streeter-Adams, a Curriculum Fellow & Instructor at Henry Snyder High School in Jersey City, N.J., joined Summit Learning’s Facebook Live event on Thursday, July 16, for a powerful discussion on developing culturally sustaining curriculum. 

“We can not go into the classroom thinking that we’re teaching class as usual,” Streeter-Adams said. “Times have changed and our students have changed. It’s time for us to refocus on what’s more important. Social transformation is key.” 

Ali, a proud member of a family of East African refugees, remembers not seeing her culture accurately represented in her Oklahoma schools as a child and the impact that had on her. She says her teachers were “well-meaning” when touching on diverse topics, but the curriculum felt “superficial” and “didn’t do right by our community.” 

That’s why Ali and Streeter-Adams are energized to hear the voices of uprising from students nationwide about racial equality and are calling on their fellow educators to seize the moment and enact long-term curriculum change. 

“The curriculum should represent them, it should mirror them, it should look like them and it should value them,” Streeter-Adams said. “It must look, it must feel and it must engage their voice in what we’re teaching them.” 

Summit Learning is dedicated to confronting unjust systems through education by providing culturally sustaining curriculum that reflects and honors our students’ identities and the diversity of our schools. Projects responding to recent cultural news and social actions will be available for classrooms to use in the upcoming school year.

During Thursday’s Facebook Live event, Evan Gutierrez, Managing Director for Curriculum and Assessment at Summit Learning, shared his observations on a common theme among educators who build culturally sustaining curriculum to ensure students are taught differently than previous generations.

“A lot of folks enter in this work with a sense of duty,” Gutierrez said, “and what they discover is delight.” 

Watch the full Facebook Live discussion here.

About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.