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Milner visit sparks critical consciousness discussion

Erica Gilbertson

April 18, 2019

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In mid-March, H. Richard Milner IV, Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, headed a panel discussion at the UGA College of Education on the topic of "Provoking Critical Consciousness and Identity Development in Teacher Education at UGA."

Milner's research examines practices and policies that support teacher effectiveness in urban schools and has influenced designs and practices of teacher education courses and programs across the country. He serves as editor for the journal Urban Education and has published seven books, including Rac(e)ing to class: Confronting poverty and race in schools and, most recently, "These kids are out of control": Why we must reimagine "classroom management" for equity (co-authored).

Morgan Faison, clinical assistant professor, and Amy Murphy, clinical assistant professor, both faculty in the department of educational theory and practice and professors-in-residence in the Clarke County School District, organized and moderated the panel and discussion. The panelists engaged a crowd of nearly 40 faculty and graduate students in an evening of dialogue centered on diversity, equity and inclusion issues in teacher education.

Milner urged teacher educators to think seriously about the role of race and racism while preparing teachers, including distinguishing between punishment and discipline in K-12 education. He cited research showing that students of color receive many more discipline referrals for subjective infractions while white students tend to be referred for objective infractions. Because the majority of infractions originate at the classroom level, he challenged teacher educators to be aware of these issues when preparing teachers to teach so that they can be a force for change. He encouraged those in attendance to move to action – to make a change and to stop "blaming" an abstract system for inequity and injustice. "We cannot continue to blame the system because we make the system," he emphasized.

He also stressed the importance of clinically based teacher preparation. "Clinical faculty need time to redesign teacher education curriculum as they learn about practices and policies in preK-12 schools. Curricular practices must reflect the reality of PreK-12 schools in order to be impactful," Milner said. "Curriculum is not static. It is living, iterative and evolving."

Faison agreed. "What are the consequences when we send teachers into classrooms with a low level of critical consciousness?" she added. "We need to think about teacher education curriculum from a structural level." She designs service-learning projects on-site at the Athens Community Career Academy and at H.B. Stroud Elementary School to help deepen understandings about racial inequalities in schools and to help spur critical consciousness.

Murphy echoed this sentiment, stressing the urgency of this work to the field. "One thing we can do is to help our teacher candidates let go of their anecdotal knowledge about race and inequity and instead look at broader societal patterns," she said. The courses she teaches on-site at Clarke Middle School provide opportunities for rich, context-based dialogue related to diversity and equity issues in schools. "UGA has an opportunity to be a model for the state and nation in transforming and building teacher education with your local partnership," said Milner.

"You have an opportunity to continue supporting your graduates (in-service teachers who have graduated from your program) into real classrooms so that they do not revert to ineffective practices pervasive in a school culture."

After the panel, participants broke into small groups based on the topic of their interest. One group discussed how faculty can make space for and attend to the needs of students of color and immigrant students when so much of teacher education curriculum is geared toward white pre-service teachers. Another group brainstormed ideas for how the College can support the recruitment of more people of color (both professors and students) to the field of teacher education.

At the request of Superintendent Demond Means, Milner has been supporting professional learning related to equity in the Clarke County School District this year. He hopes to continue dialogue with the College as well. At the close of the program, College of Education Dean Denise Spangler thanked the participants and emphasized that this event was just the beginning of ongoing dialogue related to critical consciousness in teacher preparation programs.