Creating Brave Spaces: Reckoning With Race in the Classroom
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Episode 2, Season 4

People from all corners of public life are telling teachers to stop discussions about race and racism in the classroom, but keeping the truth of the world from students simply doesn’t work. English teacher Matthew Kay urges educators to create brave spaces instead. He provides examples of classroom strategies for engaging with students at the intersections of race, literature and lived experience. Hint: it involves vulnerability, accountability and quality affirmations.


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Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Most people have probably never heard of Ella Baker, but she was one of the most important civil rights activists of the 20th century. During the 1940s, Miss Baker, as she came to be called, served as the NAACP's Director of Branches. In this capacity, she helped grow the organization's membership from 150,000 to 600,000.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: In the 1950s, she helped organize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also spearheaded a major voter registration campaign for them called the Crusade for Citizenship. And in the 1960s, she guided the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She brought together sit-in activists such as John Lewis and Diane Nash to form the group, and was the organization’s most influential adviser.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Miss Baker was a skilled grassroots organizer who believed that everyday people were fully capable of making the decisions that impacted their lives. Miss Baker was uninterested in telling people what to do, and fully invested in providing people with the knowledge and skills they needed to bring about the change they wanted. Miss Baker was fond of saying, "Give light, and people will find the way."

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And while the results of her organizing always differed depending on the people's vision of their own future, she always began in the same place. To all who would listen, Miss Baker advised: "Start where the people are," with what they know and what they think they know, and with what they understand and what they misunderstand. And then you build from there.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Two years ago, I participated in a keynote conversation on teaching hard history at the annual conference of the Virginia Council for the Social Studies with elementary school educator Chris Mathews.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: After our chat, a teacher approached me. She informed me that she taught fourth grade at a predominantly white elementary school, and had recently reached the disturbing conclusion that her students—and by inference, all those of their generation—lacked empathy. A startling statement to say the least.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I pushed back, saying that her conclusion was overly broad. But she insisted, explaining that she had recently shown her class images of immigrant children forcibly separated from their parents, being warehoused at the southern border. And the students were unfazed; they had almost no reaction.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I tried to explain that there was more to it, but she stood firm. These students lacked empathy. Period.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We were at loggerheads, so I asked her to do me a favor the next time her class met. I asked her to show her students one of those ASPCA commercials that air at two in the morning—the ones featuring Sarah McLachlan singing "In the Arms of an Angel," while images of a puppy missing an eye and a cat short a couple of legs flash across the screen—to see how her students reacted. The teacher looked at me quizzically, but promised to do so.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Not long after that, I heard from the teacher. She did as I had asked, and was shocked by her students' response. Within moments of playing the commercial, her fourth graders—the same ones who had been totally unmoved by the child crisis at the border— were fully animated, upset that animals could be treated so cruelly. Her students didn't lack empathy or compassion—they fully felt the pain of suffering animals. They just lacked compassion for children of color who were suffering.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: While shocking, this is not surprising. We condition children to be compassionate toward animals. We tell them to treat dogs and cats kindly, that they are deserving of our love, and we model this behavior for them. But we fail to provide equivalent instruction when it comes to children of color. In the absence of those specific conversations, kids default to the dominant view that children of color—even those in crisis—are somehow not deserving of our care or concern.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Ella Baker was not a teacher—she was an organizer. But she understood that effective teaching was just like effective organizing: you have to listen; you have to be honest; you have to be open to new ideas; you have to be bold in your instruction; and most importantly, you have to start where the students are. Start with what they know and with what they think they know; start with what they understand and what they misunderstand. And then you build from there.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and this is Teaching Hard History. We're a production of Learning for Justice—the education arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This season, we're offering a detailed look at how to teach the history of Jim Crow, starting with Reconstruction. In each episode we explore a different topic, walking you through historical concepts, raising questions for discussion, suggesting useful source material, and offering practical classroom exercises.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We hear a lot about creating "safe spaces" for our students. But safe does not necessarily mean comfortable. As high-school English teacher Matthew Kay explains, "You can be profoundly uncomfortable and still feel safe." After all, that's where learning takes place. Matthew is the author of Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations. In this episode, he talks with my co-host Bethany Jay about how to create classroom environments where students are willing to take risks, to share their experiences and to be vulnerable enough to admit what they don't know. I'm so glad you could join us.

Bethany Jay: We're talking with Matthew Kay, whose book Not Light, But Fire, made a big splash in my own classroom this past year. And so I'm really excited that you're here to talk with us about it.

Matthew Kay: Thanks for having me.

Bethany Jay: I thought we might begin by addressing the elephant in the room and thinking about these different pieces of legislation about critical race theory. What do you think that actually does and doesn't mean for real classroom instruction?

Matthew Kay: Well, I think leading race conversations for teachers always took skill, but now it takes bravery, too. My biggest concern now is that on top of all that it takes to do it well, now it requires a teacher in some communities to be brave enough to even try. Because one of the worst things about these laws is it gives parents and community members who may be of ill will, ammunition to go after teachers for anything. Because it's all interpretations. Like, I taught a lesson about Martin Luther King. "Oh, you're trying to indoctrinate," you know? The definition of critical race theory is so nebulous and it's all over the place, which means that every single lesson, every single unit that someone doesn't like, they now will start inquiries about it, they'll now be throwing it up on social media. And so I'm concerned that even if a teacher does what they need to do to keep the law, to abide by it, they need bravery to even attempt the process at all. Because even doing it the right way, you're still going to get in trouble.

Bethany Jay: Yeah, the way some of the laws are written, it appears that discussions in any classroom that takes historical actors' or literary figures' identity into consideration, racial identity, ethnic identity, gender identity into consideration, the laws are written so broadly that it almost precludes conversations of that kind, or makes them, as you say, dangerous for teachers, requiring some bravery.

Matthew Kay: Well, it seems like they're written for that purpose: for them to be just broad enough to hobble all discussion about race because, you know, if you squint your eyes and look sideways at it, everything is going to be critical race theory that mentions race.

Bethany Jay: Yeah, and I worry teachers are going to make the understandable choice to say, "I've got to keep my job." And then the flip side of that, the potential sort of brain drain, you know, from teaching, of those who say, "Well, forget it." This is no longer what I intended to do. And having some of our best people decide that this profession in certain places is no longer viable to them, which is an equally terrible outcome of these kinds of laws.

Matthew Kay: Absolutely.

Bethany Jay: You have certainly, in your own classroom, made it practice to facilitate these honest race conversations. And so as we're talking about teachers needing some bravery to approach these conversations in the coming year, can you talk a little bit about the benefits that you found for your students, for your classroom, when you're really able to engage in these very difficult learning experiences?

Matthew Kay: The most basic benefit is the students like the units better. I think there's this assumption that because we're talking about race, we're talking just about hardship, or we are putting these kids through struggle. And that's inaccurate if you're doing it right. My students like Lord of the Flies better because I bring a racial lens to it. That makes it more interesting. Other than that, it's dry. And for my colleagues who teach history, it's the same kind of thing. That particular lens gives you more to talk about. It gives them stuff to debate. It gives them stuff to connect to how the world is now. And that makes kids like units better. And that's the biggest thing I sell to my student teachers. Like, if you want your kids to be more plugged into your units, don't ignore race. It's not even add race to it, it's just don't ignore it when it's obvious. Don't ignore it. Engage it. It's there. Yes, occasionally, if you learn something about privilege and you have white skin, that could be an uncomfortable class, right? But uncomfortable doesn't have to mean not safe. Like, it just means, "Oh, oof!" You know? "I learned something and it made me uncomfortable. I'll survive that." Which by the way, is one of my biggest a-ha moments about all of these laws being passed is that it assumes the worst about their kids.

Bethany Jay: Yeah.

Matthew Kay: They're like, "My kids can't handle this." And I'm like, "My kids can."

Bethany Jay: Yeah, yeah. [laughs]

Matthew Kay: Like, "Why can't your kids handle this? I don't understand why your kid cannot wrap their mind around the idea that someone can be an objectively bad person for owning enslaved people, and also be a brilliant mind on how to design a country." Like, those two truths can be true. And I don't understand why you think that your kids can't wrestle with that, because mine can. My kids find it an intriguing thing to talk about. Apparently, your kids are going to crawl into a ball and quit. Like, I don't understand. It's like, I believe more in your children than you believe in your own.

Bethany Jay: Right. And the other thing that it assumes is that our students aren't encountering that information elsewhere, right?

Matthew Kay: Yeah.

Bethany Jay: When, if we don't talk to our students about privilege in classrooms, they're still encountering the same kind of information, we're just giving them less tools to process and make sense of it by avoiding it in the classroom.

Matthew Kay: Absolutely. The history of keeping stuff from children is not a particularly successful history. The history of, like, abstinence-only education or, like, the DARE program or—like, these are not roaring successes.

Bethany Jay: Right.

Matthew Kay: And why people think that this particular attempt at censorship is going to be any better. The era of being able to lock your kids up in your own little information bubble is quickly ending. As connected as the world is, they're going to be encountering ideas on TikTok and Twitter and Instagram and whatever they invent next year. If anything, it would make sense for you to actually want your local school to be kicking the ideas around, because other than that, they're going to get it on YouTube.

Bethany Jay: And the internet is probably the worst place for students to be encountering these ideas without any tools to understand them or to process them. We all know that the internet is the absolute opposite of a safe space.

Matthew Kay: Yeah.

Bethany Jay: So that leads me to thinking about another benefit of doing this in a classroom is that teachers like you can make the classroom a safe space for students to explore these ideas with an authority figure who's there to guide them. What does safe space mean in your classroom?

Matthew Kay: I think first it's important to address the myth-making around safe space. When both bad actors and just confused people misinterpret the term "safe space," they think that it just means everyone's comfortable, they think that no one feels challenged in, like, this, t-ball, everybody wins kind of scenario. Everyone gets a trophy.

Bethany Jay: Yeah, yeah.

Matthew Kay: That's what they think it is, but safe means safe. Safe means this curriculum, this teacher, my classmates, the structure of this room is not meant to do me harm. And I think anyone who disagrees with that, I really have to question why they're around kids. You can be profoundly uncomfortable by the things that you learn and still feel safe. My daughter looks out the window when we're driving and she sees a truck and she says "Car." And I will say, "No, baby, that's a truck. It's not a car." And she's uncomfortable in that moment as that schema is—as those new connections are being made in her brain. She's uncomfortable. She's like, "I thought I had the road all figured out. And apparently…"

Bethany Jay: It's got wheels. It's on the road.

Matthew Kay: "It's got wheels. Feels like a car to me. I don't understand what the issue is." She's uncomfortable, but she feels safe with me. You know, your students should feel uncomfortable, and if they don't, they're not learning anything. When I say "safe," I mean that in being uncomfortable, you're in a space where you feel willing to take risks. You feel willing to be vulnerable. You feel willing to say, "I don't know," to ask somebody else, those kinds of things. And in a lot of classroom environments, that's not the case. Kids are in a state of constantly protecting themselves from the second they walk into the room. Instead of being in a space of, "I am willing to be vulnerable in this learning space. I'm willing to admit what I don't know publicly." When I say "safe space," I mean a space where that happens.

Bethany Jay: So as teachers, how do we actually create a safe space in our classroom? How do we make our classrooms safe for our students who are in it every day?

Matthew Kay: There are two things that I focus on. The first one is creating a house talk environment. The phrase "house talk" comes from when I was growing up, you know, there were some things where if I overheard my parents speaking, they would say, "Hey, boy, this is house talk." And that meant, you know, don't talk about it outside this house.

Bethany Jay: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Matthew Kay: Exactly.

Bethany Jay: Kind of discussions.

Matthew Kay: Exactly. This is meant for the family. Like, don't go out there saying you heard Mom say this. But when I'm describing house talk relationships and house talk environment, I am definitely not referring to this bunker mentality that some teachers can form with their kids where it's like, "It's me and you on the inside and it's us against the world." That is not at all what we're speaking about. It's about making sure that students feel like people in this room, in this space, in this moment, care about them as people, not as their algorithmic potential to get As and Bs and Cs, but as like, "I am a human with interests, and this person who's leading this conversation knows that I'm a human with interests. I'm not some bot that you're throwing discussion prompts at to get certain responses." Which, to be frank, a lot of kids navigate school as if that's the case. Which is troubling for us as teachers sometimes because we're trying to engage them in conversation, and they're like, "Whoa, you're asking me this question that requires vulnerability. You want me to unpack my privilege or talk about this racialized violence that I went through, and you don't know me. You know, you don't know me at all. Why would I emote in front of you? Why would I admit weakness or admit frustration or admit confusion in front of you?" And so the first part is creating activities that deal with that directly, and trying to create more of that family environment so that kids are a little bit more willing to go there with you.

Bethany Jay: What kind of activities do you do? Can you bring us through one or two?

Matthew Kay: Yeah, there's no shortage of them. I stole two of them—good news and high-grade compliments—from a brilliant colleague I had, Zac Chase. In my class, I noticed that my kids loved me, and in his class, I noticed that they loved each other. And I would look and I'd be like, "I want he's got. Like, I want that. That's sustainable. As I get less and less cool and more and more corny, as I get older, that's going to remain. So what's he doing?"

Bethany Jay: Once the dad jokes come into the classroom.

Matthew Kay: Exactly. It's really easy when I'm 22 years old, but now at 37, if it was just me, that would not get the job done. But his stuff was sustainable. And so good news and high-grade compliments, I always want to make sure I publicly give credit to him because I saw them in his class. Good news is where at the top of the week, they share something good that's going on in their lives. And it could be something as small as I had a good breakfast, or as large as my cousin is out of prison. And we encourage them to share amongst themselves, and ask each other questions and those kinds of things. And high-grade compliments is where, you know, you have the kids think about or journal about something that they appreciate about a classmate, and then they share it publicly.

Matthew Kay: The one from my class that I didn't steal is "Burn five." It essentially means I spend the top of every class speaking to them human to human, not teacher to student. Whether it's 30 seconds, 90 seconds, five minutes, 10 minutes, depending on whatever's planned that day. We'll talk about, like, who won the Sixers game, or how did the prom go, et cetera, et cetera, those kinds of things, so I can make sure that interpersonal stuff isn't happening in a garbage time. It's happening at the top of the lesson. It's the most important thing. Okay, now let's do some teaching and learning. We need to build a space where kids feel comfortable in a world of social media where all of their flaws can be put on blast immediately. "How dare you have a question about this? How dare you be confused about this? Shouldn't you know all of these things? Shouldn't you, blah, blah, blah."

Bethany Jay: Right.

Matthew Kay: That's their existence. You make a mistake, you ask a quote-unquote "dumb question" in class, someone tweets about it and thousands of people know about it by noon.

Bethany Jay: Right.

Matthew Kay: That's terrifying.

Bethany Jay: Is the assumption with house talk that what a student says in moments of vulnerability or just in general in your classroom is not going to be sort of thrown back at them later in the school day or on social media? Like, is that an assumption that is implicit or explicit as you're creating the safe space in your classroom?

Matthew Kay: It has been more implicit than explicit. My biggest thing isn't "Don't do it." I'm trying to change the relationships amongst the kids so kids don't want to do it.

Bethany Jay: Right.

Matthew Kay: You don't want to put that kid on blast because they didn't put you on blast when you were confused about something. Let's say if a kid shares for good news, "Hey, I'm celebrating the Eid holiday with my family." And a kid raised their hand who's not familiar with that, and he says, “I don't know what that holiday is." And they share. It's a little bit harder 20 minutes later if one of those kids makes—you know, if they speak inelegantly about a specific race issue or whatever, it's just a little bit harder for that other kid in that exchange to not give them the benefit of the doubt.

Bethany Jay: Right.

Matthew Kay: They're like, "Well, we just kind of bonded over this. I know that's a good dude." So they're in a space where, like, I don't really want to own you. Like, on social media so-and-so owns. I don't want my kids to want to own each other. And that's why I think house talk is necessary if you are trying to have race conversations and other sensitive conversations in class because the outside world is teaching them the exact opposite: to own each other, to embarrass each other, to put stuff out there. In a house talk environment, it's kind of like we don't want to do that to each other. We want to take care of each other. We're all trying to learn here.

Bethany Jay: Yeah.

Matthew Kay: If you're doing all of that, you're making great gains towards a safe space. Unfortunately, that's only half of it. The other half is an environment that celebrates and encourages authentic listening. The focus has got to shift from, "What can I say? How often can I say it?" to, "What can I hear from my classmates? How can I analyze that? How can I make sure that everyone in this space feels like they're being listened to?" The adult world is really not geared towards listening, and a lot of school is really not geared towards listening. So I need to not make assumptions that these kids know how to listen to each other before they come to my class. And I have to realize that it's not something I can punish my way into. I've got to teach them how to be better listeners.

Matthew Kay: I take a skills-based approach to listening. So I have three skills that we work on. The first is listening patiently, and that means making a conscious effort to show the person that is speaking that I am listening to you. So when we work that skill, we talk about nonverbals. What nonverbals are we giving the person who's speaking? We talk about, you know, stuff like eye contact and those kinds of things. And we talk about what things shouldn't we do, like raise our hands when other people are speaking, interrupt, stuff like that. And we have a lot of reflections on what we consider to be our strengths with listening patiently, and what we don't.

Matthew Kay: The second one is listening actively, and that means not only showing the speaker that I am listening to you, but also directly engaging the ideas that they are saying. And so, I'm not just looking at you and smiling and nodding to be "good," quote-unquote, I'm actually dealing with the things that are coming out of your mouth. And some ways that I help kids do this is I will, for instance, have them take notes on what their classmates are saying, or I'll give them sentence starters to show "I have heard what you are saying, and this is how I respond." "I disagree," or "I'm not sure if this holds water," or "I'm going to build off what so-and-so just said."

Matthew Kay: And the last one is to police your voice. And that means you are aware of how much space you are taking up in any given moment in a conversation. In a lot of classrooms, before they get to me, they have been rewarded for talking a lot, for raising their hand a lot, for dominating the classroom. And that's understandable, because a lot of times teachers are like, "Any time a kid raises their hand, I'm happy." And so they've been rewarded for that for their entire school career. But then when they get to me, they're in a space where they're not just rewarded for raising their hand, they need to raise their hand, say their piece and get out, get back to listening.

Matthew Kay: And a second thing that is important is this idea of whose voice gets to be centered for certain conversations. And I want to build an awareness in kids of, like, in this particular conversation, we have to make sure that this kid is heard. I still can speak, I still can share my opinion, but this kid's voice needs to be heard—if they want to, of course. If they want to share. The example that I could give is a student who has an immigrant experience, and we're discussing immigration, they should get a chance to speak. That doesn't mean they should be forced to speak, but students should be aware that if they're speaking so much and this kid hasn't had a chance to speak, or this kid raised their hand and they get frustrated because they never get called on, that's not good.

Matthew Kay: Taking that skills-based approach, that allows us to get really meta about it and talk about, like, how well did we listen to each other just then? It's like, "Oh, actually, I wasn't so good. My brain was somewhere else." Like, try to encourage those kinds of conversations among the students so that when we start talking about tough stuff, kids are aware, "Hey, if I share my story, it's probably in better hands."

Bethany Jay: Yeah. One of the things with listening patiently, and this was an aha moment for me when I read the book. If you're so focused on what you have to say that your hand's up in the middle before somebody else has finished their thought, you're not really listening to that person. And the idea of, look, hands shouldn't be raised until the previous person has finished talking, to me feels like a game changer in the classroom.

Matthew Kay: The funny thing about that is every single year I get emails and text messages from former students and mentees who are frustrated that in college people are raising their hand before they're finished speaking. It makes them furious, because it's one of the things that in my classroom was a rule, and it's kind of spread throughout our schools, so they're kind of used to this idea of when I'm speaking, everyone else is making a concerted effort to show me that they're listening to me. They go off to college, and all of a sudden people have their hands up when they're speaking. They're like, "What is this?" And they get very frustrated. You know, they get used to respect, and they get used to demanding it. And some of them will demand it in class. "Excuse me, I'm not finished speaking. Can you put your hand down?" I think that anything that makes the kids used to demanding respect, I'm going to be here for all the time anyway.

Bethany Jay: Yeah. And you talk a lot about your own modeling of listening patiently and listening actively for students, and how they pick up on that doing things like referring to, "Well, I'm going to pick up on what Matt said about X with my thought about Y," creating those conversational threads consciously, and honoring what's been said before, even if you're disagreeing with it. "I hear what so-and-so said. Here's what I think about that." All of that, I think, are not only essential classroom skills but, like, essential human skills, right? You know, we've all been in those conversations with people across a dinner table or across a conference table at a meeting where you know that nobody's listening to you, they're just planning the next thing to say. And by you modeling that in the front of the classroom, and all of us as teachers modeling that in the front of the classroom, I think that can have a real impact.

Matthew Kay: Sure. And the beautiful thing about me modeling it is how far from perfect I am. I'm going to interrupt students out of excitement. And I know it because it's a weakness of mine. Like, I'm going to interrupt folks out of excitement, and this encourages their agency to say, "Hold on, Mr. Kay, I wasn't finished," which to me is so important, you know, with me as an authority figure. Like, I'm not going to pretend like I'm not an authority figure in the classroom. It's my classroom. I'm the boss. I give the grades. They don't give me grades. So as student-centered as I am, it's silly to not acknowledge that you're the lead personality in the classroom for better or for worse. And to give them ammunition to use to advocate for themselves I think is a side benefit because, you know, I'm going to be far from perfect with my listening with them. And it gives me a chance to go, "Oh, my bad, I'm sorry." And just model that that's not weakness to say, "My bad, I'm sorry." Which I want them to be doing when they mess up. I want them saying, "My bad. I'm sorry."

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Learning for Justice has a special opportunity just for educators. After listening to this episode, You can earn a certificate for one hour of professional development. All you have to do is go to—PD for "Professional development." That's PodcastPD, all one word. Then enter the unique code word for this episode: "conversation"—all lowercase. You'll also find a link in the show notes. It's a great way to get even more out of Teaching Hard History.

Bethany Jay: What do we do if that safe space breaks down? What if a student says X? What if a student comes from a really entrenched political position and is combative in the classroom? What have you done when the safe space has broken down?

Matthew Kay: The first thing is trying to determine what has happened. Is what you're seeing bullying? Is what you're seeing trollish behavior? If it's bullying or trollish behavior, and you're certain of that, then you reach into your bag of tools for whenever kids are misbehaving in class. That's a discipline issue. I think for students who are speaking to wound deliberately, and to troll, I think that's the moment in my classroom where you will see a different me. And I try to make that as stark as possible. I try to deliberately from the very beginning be very brusque and very like, "We don't do that here ever." And then I'll slap a smile right back on and go right back. I change everything about my demeanor for those 10 seconds, and then I go right back. I try to make sure it's like, this isn't my persona. I'm not one of those don't smile until December types who acts like they don't like kids. But the first level of that defense is making sure they see a clear change in my entire demeanor when those things happen. If you keep doing it then you have to leave the room. You have to go to the office, you have to go to your advisor, you have to get out of my sight because you're mean. And this is not a place where we're mean. With trolling and mean behavior, make the lines as clear to students as possible. Like, there's a difference between values conflicts and trollish behavior and bullying. We can disagree and have different values on things, and that's okay.

Bethany Jay: Can you give us an example of a values conflict?

Matthew Kay: Yeah, immigration. There are some folks who believe that we need a super secure hard border where people cannot get in, and some people believe that we do not need that. And that's a political difference that they hear in the adult world that could be filtered down into your classroom if you happen to be discussing an issue that engages immigration. Hopefully, there's something about the way your class has engaged immigration where the things they're going back and forth about are fact based.

Matthew Kay: They aren't dealing in fake news. They're dealing in fact-based issues, and then they're kicking ideas around. And those ideas might be rooted in different values about quote-unquote, "secure borders." Now once they start getting into the space of calling people aliens and saying people are thugs with, like, calves the size of watermelons or whatever that dude said, like, once they get into that kind of stuff, then we're in trolling behavior.

Bethany Jay: Right.

Matthew Kay: And it's not just the language, it's the intent. You could be just as racist as that guy and not say that and still get checked by me. I'm like, "You said it very sweetly, but you're trying to instigate. That's an instigation." But I think the kids can have disagreements, and they can be deeply felt, like the kind of stuff that's learned at their grandfather's knee, like deeply felt. Those conflicts can emerge. But there's a difference between that and speaking to wound, speaking to instigate, speaking to inflame.

Matthew Kay: And we haven't made things easier, by the way, for kids, because we see adults and politicians name calling and doing all those things and calling it discourse.

Bethany Jay: We're not modeling proper behavior ourselves.

Matthew Kay: Yeah, we're not modeling—exactly. So thank you adult world for making our job a little harder. You know, I believe that there's a very clear difference between a values conflict and trollish behavior, and they don't have to lead to each other. But if the issue is a student says something that reflects a political view that's unpopular, and it's within the scope of the conversation, then that's where the emphasis on listening matters the most, because the other kids do have to listen to that. It's a conversation, so it's not an echo chamber. And so they have to listen to that. But also, that kid has to listen to everybody else. If you set up your structures like I do in my class, it falls under the category of listen actively. All the students, they have to take notes during all of our class conversations, you know, pull out some things that their classmates say that they find intriguing or they disagree with or stuff like that.

Matthew Kay: And then in our analytical essays for the quarter, they have to cite their classmates' contributions to our conversation in their essays. So they get to write about it and engage it. And so if you set up the listening actively structures and the kids are following them, that means that you've taken a little bit of the teeth out of some of those exchanges, because that kid can't just get up on his soapbox and just like, "Well, this is what I think. This is what I think. Da da da da da." And then not be accountable for what else happens in the room.

Matthew Kay: They still have to listen to everyone else if they want to get a good grade at least. And also in order to get praise from me. I don't put the value on you being a loudmouth. I put the value on how well are you listening to your colleagues. The other thing is, as far as debates are concerned, a lot of times those kind of moments happen that you describe, and it's a little bit not their fault. It's not the kid's fault. It's our fault. It was poor planning. Like, that's not on them.

Bethany Jay: One of the things I often see newer teachers do is I'll see in a lesson plan, "Students will have a discussion." How is this discussion happening? You know, what are the questions you're asking them to consider? What are the sources? What information are you providing them with? What sources are they looking at in order to sort of gather information? Like, discussion doesn’t just happen magically. Discussion takes planning. And a lot of that planning has to do with providing students with the necessary context that they need to enter into that discussion.

Matthew Kay: I use an example, and you can find this video on YouTube. This teacher, he had his students having the Colin Kaepernick debate. In his introduction, he says, "For those who don't know, Colin Kaepernick is a football player who has recently started blah, blah, blah." And then he gives the prompt: "Is he right?" And I'm listening to it as a teacher, and I'm like, if you have to tell them who Colin Kaepernick is…

Bethany Jay: You haven't done the work.

Matthew Kay:…the same day you're doing the debate.

Bethany Jay: Yeah.

Matthew Kay: Then all that you're going to get from the young people in front of you is what they hear at the dining room table. You haven't taught anything. They haven't discussed the history of protest. They haven't done any of the pre-work. So of course, later in the video, a kid says, "If he doesn't like it here, then he can just leave." And I'm like, "Well, what do you expect?" Like, that error was made way before that moment when you had decided to have a debate without teaching them anything about Colin Kaepernick, or contextualizing it in whatever subject. I'm watching the thing and I'm like, "I don't even know what subject this is."

Bethany Jay: Right. Where is this? Yeah. What class is this?

Matthew Kay: Is this history class? Is this English class? And I should be able to know right off the bat. And I see so much of that. We have a lot of debates where we're like, "Stand on this side if you think this. Stand on this side if you think this. Now go." Right? And essentially, all you're getting is, "This is what I think." And people are like, "Well, this is what I think." And there's no learning happening. It's just like tennis. They're just, like, hitting the ball back and forth. And then if it's spirited, the teacher says, "Good job, that was good." And if it's a little bit over-spirited, they say, "Oh, these kids are too immature. They don't know how to—" and I'm like, "Well, you didn't ask them to engage in anything, you just said, "Are they right?" How are you contextualizing the thing you're discussing in prior learning that the kids have done?

Matthew Kay: Or are you saying, "Colin Kaepernick is a football player. By the way, do you agree with his protest?" Like, that's going to end poorly.

Bethany Jay: Right. He's a football player who hates the police.

Matthew Kay: Yes.

Bethany Jay: Discuss. Yes.

Matthew Kay: Discuss. You know, all you've done is replicate the comment section under a YouTube video.

Bethany Jay: Right, right. These difficult conversations, like you brought up with the Kaepernick example, is not possible unless we are also making good curricular decisions. And you brought up what not to do, and I'm going to steal that conversation from you and show that video in my own class when I'm back in my methods classroom this year. Can you give us an example of how you've kind of approached researching and planning for a particularly difficult lesson in your classrooms?

Matthew Kay: An example would be how I approach Jim Crow when I'm teaching Richard Wright's Native Son. So the character is from the Jim Crow South, and I want my students to be able to fully contextualize this character's upbringing as the upbringing that a lot of folks had, and maybe even their parents or grandparents. I have a slide show that I work with, and I isolate specific Jim Crow laws, about six or seven of them, and I put them up on the board. Like, "You're not allowed to share books," or "Your dead can't be buried in the same graveyard." You know, those kinds of things. And what we try to do is I ask the kids,"Why do you think this law existed?" Outside of racism. Let's assume they're all racist. Like, they're all racist. What specific racist reason causes this? And they said, "You can't share books." And the kids are like, "Well, maybe they want to keep the books out of the hands of Black schools because they are underfunding the Black schools. So therefore…" And the kids kick those ideas around just as a way to get us started. And some of those are uncomfortable because they might even see direct ties to, like, the bad funding in these Jim Crow schools to the bad funding in the schools in Philadelphia where I teach.

Matthew Kay: Or they have a rule about Black men can't cut white women's hair. And the kids always jump immediately to, like, "Well, you know, they're afraid of Black men being rapists," and stuff like that. And that hits home for some of the kids on the way they've been treated or kids from interracial families or those kind of things. But through the lens of just looking at the laws, what could they be thinking, I found to be a way to get them attached to this character and connect their own lives and the history, and so they can better analyze the book. The other similar conversation is we look at the term "ghetto," and I do who, what, where, when, why? Like, what are the assumptions about this word? What are some of the connotations and denotations of the word? And it's like, who? Who lives there? What? What do you find there? What don't you find there? And they're like, "Grocery stores!"

Bethany Jay: Oh, wow. Yeah.

Matthew Kay: We go through all of those things for the perception. And then when we get to "when," we talk about redlining and all those kinds of things. But that simple structure of who, what, where, when with a word, it helps kids, again, connect their own experiences and the things that they've heard about a phrase that shows up in the book that we're reading. And that's my goal. I want them to be able to meaningfully connect their experiences to what we're learning, and even more so to own what they don't know.

Matthew Kay: Like, "I don't know where this word came from." Because some of them know how that word was used in World War II with Jewish people in Europe. Some people don't. So it gives the kids a chance to get that sharing in a very low-stakes environment. It's like, "Well, I've heard it this way." And like, "Oh, okay." And it gets a time for me to do that without a lecture. They get to share their knowledge, so I'm not framing the conversation in a "Is Kaepernick right or wrong" kind of way.

Bethany Jay: Right, right.

Matthew Kay: We're going to gather information, we're going to do some inquiry, we're going to try to figure out why do I think they wrote that law? Why do I think they do that? Okay, we can actually research that now. And then if we want to have a debate, we can have a debate, but we can have a debate when we've already teased out the things that are worth teasing, and where the kids aren't just going to eventually graduate to throwing barbs at each other.

Bethany Jay: Yeah, and a lot of what I'm hearing is really being conscious as a teacher of the different contexts that your students need. You know, the most shocking things that we're going to talk to students about are the things that need context the most, before you just throw them at them in front of the classroom. The other thing that I find newer teachers do, I call it a "shock and awe" kind of teaching. You know, I'm going to grab students' attention with something that is very shocking, and then we're going to sort of unpack from there. I'm thinking of beginning a unit on Jim Crow with a graphic lynching image that you haven't prepared students for. And that's not really creating the safe space in your classroom, or that's not really going to lead to the great conversations that you want.

Matthew Kay: Absolutely. And I think sometimes we associate crying or shouting or any of those displays of emotion as engagement, or even worse as learning. And sometimes, you know, we'll say, "That was a good day. It got deep." Like, all you did is make them upset.

Bethany Jay: Yeah, you made them nervous to come to class the next day.

Matthew Kay: Now they're nervous to come to class. Like, you haven't—and so I respect the intention, but we need to make sure we know what learning looks like. And teachers of goodwill make those kind of mistakes. I know that I have made those kind of mistakes, because we want to grab kids' attention because that's the whole ballgame. So I respect the instinct, and I'm a little easier on teachers than some folks in the social media world might be when they go a little far trying to grab attention.

Bethany Jay: Yeah. And it goes to the intent, right? You know, like, what's the intent with that? Is it to foster a good conversation or, you know, is it to…

Matthew Kay: Yeah. It can be bad practice.

Bethany Jay: Right.

Matthew Kay: Like, it could be something that shouldn't be repeated. It could be something that they need to apologize for the next day. All of those things I have done, and I am always apologizing to my kids. I'm like, "Too far? Oh, sorry. Oh, I—"like, that's—you know? But, you know, there is a little bit of energy that I just want to acknowledge out there that is just, like, really hard on teachers right now.

Bethany Jay: Oh, yeah.

Matthew Kay: It's like, you're simultaneously supposed to be brave enough to have conversations, and then also perfect at having them.

Bethany Jay: Right, right.

Matthew Kay: That is tough.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This is Teaching Hard History, and I'm Hasan Kwame Jeffries. We prepare detailed show notes for each episode of this podcast, so that you can use what you learn here in the classroom. You'll find relevant resources like "How to Check your Lessons for Unconscious Bias," as well as a full transcript, complete with links to materials mentioned by our guests. You can find them at Once again, here's my co-host Bethany Jay and her conversation with educator Matthew Kay.

Bethany Jay: One of the things that is very similar between teaching English as you do and teaching history, and there's a lot of similarities and there's a lot of potential, I think, for interdisciplinary work between history teachers and English teachers in high schools, but one of the many similarities is the fact that students are going to encounter outdated, sensitive or downright offensive language, images or ideas in the different source material that we deal with. You've tackled that kind of material in your classroom, you know, particularly the N-word as it appears in different source material that you use. I know many of my students are very worried, like you say, about people are hard on teachers, and they're worried about showing students different sources, and the language that might be in sources or even the ideas that might be in sources, and they're worried about ending up on Facebook or, you know, on the local news the next day. So can you talk with us a little bit about how you've kind of handled that kind of material in your classroom?

Matthew Kay: Well, unfortunately, I can't promise that folks aren't going to end up on Facebook or the news. I want them to be on the news because they're doing something right. If you're on the news because you're, you know, disturbing a dangerous or racist status quo, then unfortunately, that's the nature of the business right now. I just don't want folks on the news for bad pedagogy or something careless, something that with more reflection they would have done differently. As far as when I talk about the N-word, what's very important about that conversation is how necessary it is to really understand Kindred, which is the text that they're reading.

Matthew Kay: So Octavia Butler's Kindred, the story takes place in the mid '70s. The protagonist, Dana, she's transported back in time to the antebellum South and to the bedroom of this little white boy. And he uses the N-word in a super casual, not very mindful way, because that's just how he addresses Black people. That word is the first thing that Octavia Butler has this character wrestle with before she wrestles with all of the other horrible things that enslaved people have to deal with. The first injustice that she faces is language.

Bethany Jay: Which prompts then your conversation about it in your classroom.

Matthew Kay: Exactly. Octavia Butler is doing something very specific in that scene with her use of the word. And you're not really getting Kindred, like, getting it, getting it, unless you have that conversation. And, it's important that we don't skip how important it is because sometimes it's not as important. If you're reading a book and it has the N-word in it because it's a historical document and that's what they called Black people then, it might be enough to say, "Hey, look. Reminder, you're going to see this word. Here's why we're looking at this text." Boom. And keep moving. Because that isn't why you're reading it.

Matthew Kay: On the English end, I've seen teachers mistakenly do that with Huck Finn. And they'll make two days out of, like, "Hey, Mark Twain uses the N-word 219 times in the book." And they'll read all these articles about versions of it that don't have the N-word, and all those kinds of things. And they'll focus on it as if that's the thing they're teaching with the book. They won't talk about anything else.

Matthew Kay: And they'll even ask disingenuous questions like, "Should we even be reading the book?" And they're like, "Yo, I just put my name in this book. Of course we're going to read it. Like, you just handed it out."

Bethany Jay: Isn't that your decision? Yeah.

Matthew Kay: "That's your decision. Why are you putting that on me? I'm just a 16-year-old kid. Like, what are you putting it on me for? You're the one who said we have to read it." And I feel like if you're going to teach Huck Finn, then it's not because of the N-word. And if it is, then you shouldn't be teaching it. But I'm assuming you're teaching it for other reasons, other themes. So then it might be enough to not just dwell and be like, "Hey look, here's why we're reading this book. Here's our general rule-making around this word." And so that would follow for all instances that you mention, like, with tough imagery or outdated ideas or stuff like that. First, you have to decide, is it absolutely necessary for you to highlight that thing in a way that takes up a lot of energy and air? Or are you making the problem worse by highlighting it that way? It's a subtle but it's an important instinct for us to develop. Like, does this need to be highlighted, or does it need to be mentioned and just pushed forward?

Bethany Jay: Right.

Matthew Kay: And here's an example. I do a Supreme Court case law unit with my 10th graders, and I made a mistake of not fully checking my student teacher's example that he was going to use because he's a brilliant student teacher, and I'm like, "He's got it." And like, the one time I didn't check, one of the justices used the R-word to refer to someone who has a mental difference. And he was just reading it aloud. He was reading, and he came across the word and internally I'm like, "Oh, crap."

Matthew Kay: Like, oops! And it's one of those things. And it was a perfect source for what he was trying to teach. It was perfectly aligned with the skills we were doing. It was perfectly aligned with what we were discussing. Like, there was nothing wrong with the example, but he said the word. And then soon enough—and we're on Zoom obviously, also—and so the kids immediately in the chat, it's like, "Excuse me. I just want to say something, Mr. So-and-so. You really shouldn't say that word da da da da da." And to his credit, that's why I'm putting him on blast in a good way. To his credit, he immediately was like, "Oh, my bad." Like, "Oops, you are right. Thank you for bringing that up. My bad." And then he pushed on with the rest of his lesson. But it was like an earnest 10 seconds of no justification. No, like, "Oh, this unit's perfect. Oh, stop being so sensitive. Oh, this." None of that. It was just "My bad." And "I'm sorry. You're right. I shouldn't say it."

Bethany Jay: That's awesome.

Matthew Kay: And he just moved on and just taught the rest of his awesome lesson. And I'm like, that's how you handle it. But, you know, the source itself, I would be sad if he felt like we couldn't use this source, even though it's perfect for what we're discussing because it has this word in it. It's a historical document. That's what they used to say. But just when you're reading aloud, you don't say it, or if you get a chance to blank something out or whatever, you manage. But, you know, it's subtle decisions that we make.

Bethany Jay: You were talking about your class on Kindred. What you actually did with the N-word was write the word out on the board in big, all capital letters to sort of frame in some ways the discussion that you were having with your students. How did your questioning proceed from that kind of, "All right, here we are. This is what we're doing now." Then how do you sort of pull your students into that conversation?

Matthew Kay: Yeah. Well, what I did is try to replicate what the character is feeling in engaging the word for the first time. Like, she's not used to hearing it in, like, hard "ER", like, in all of it's viciousness. She's not used to hearing it, and she's especially not used to hearing it from a little white boy. And so I put on the board to just try to replicate, "What is your relationship with this word? What are you feeling right now in this moment?" And, you know, that's the first prompt. What's your relationship to the word? And I encourage them to be honest. And the kids, you know, to their credit normally are. They're in a space where some kids are like, "I use it all the time. I used it this morning. You know, this is part of my language." And some kids are like, "I was told never under any circumstances to ever, ever, ever use this word." And, you know, the kids in a former camp they're all Black. You know, the kids in the latter camp are mixed. And there's a lot of complexity there.

Matthew Kay: And basically, it's sharing first. Like, a lot of the roots for the conversation, for it to be super student-centered is me re-prompting off of what kids say, which is one of those skills that I find most useful, but it's one of the things that's my biggest goal for student teachers is to get them good at re-prompting off of what kids say, because I think a good portion of the whole ballgame is that.

Matthew Kay: You know, if an African-American kid says, "Well, my mom said we should never use this word because it's the last thing that someone heard when they were lynched," and I'm like, "Ah, interesting. Thank you for sharing that. You know, does everyone understand that? She said…" and then I repeat back what was said. And then, you know, if a kid earlier had said something about reclaiming the word, I'll say, "One group says that you can reclaim it, and one group says that you can't. What do you think about that?" And it's not like who's right? It's more like you set up the idea. That's how it turns into, "Is Kaepernick right or wrong?" It's more like, "What do you think about this?" And then they go back and forth. "Well, you can reclaim. No, you can't." And then we kick that around, and then we table that and say thank you. And then I take two other kid experiences or three other kid experiences. Bring it up, then table it. Bring it up and table it. And you go in that routine. And with something like that N-word conversation, I did that for about a decade. You know, after the first couple of years, I had heard so many of the kids' responses that it was rare that a kid was saying something I was completely unprepared for.

Bethany Jay: Right, right.

Matthew Kay: And so I knew like, well, when someone says this, then these are the kind of follow-ups to ask. Which is why we should allow teachers, obviously, to teach the same thing a few times so we can get good at it, you know? For any administrators who are listening, that makes things easier.

Bethany Jay: I mean, one of the things that I like about how you discuss leading these conversations is that not every conversation needs to come to a resolution, you know? Not every conversation needs to come to a consensus and a decision among the classroom. Often the conversation itself is the point, and when we have the conversation, we can, like you say, just all right, table it, and let's move on to the next series of issues that we're going to deal with. And I think often as teachers, you know, the instinct is to try to get everybody to the same place all the time, right? Because we're so used to assessment, and we're so used to sort of thinking in that framework when you're having these conversations. Like, no, it's okay to just say, "All right, here's where we are," right? And now we're going to move on. Particularly when you're talking about students sort of sharing out their own experiences, where there's not necessarily—there's not a right or wrong here, right? That we can have the conversation, and the conversation is the point.

Bethany Jay: The other thing you brought up is administrators, and your administrator—your principal, I believe it was—walked into the room with the word in giant letters on the board. You know, in your case, your principal knew what you were doing and was supportive of it. And if you could talk a little bit about that kind of relationship. But then also, I don't think you would necessarily advise that all teachers take that strategy when leading discussions of this kind. So two different points if you want to sort of take them on.

Matthew Kay: So he'd seen my unit plans. He'd seen how I had built to this moment, why I was having this moment, what was coming after this moment, and that this was above board. And so as a leader, he stepped in and encouraged me. So that's good. And so the things that lead to that are what I just described. Like, there's got to be a clear transparency. Like, this is what I'm planning. Here's why. That transparency has to go both ways. He's got to be able to go, "Yeah, I don't want you to do that." And I have to be like, "Okay." You know, it's a two-way street there. I wanted to make sure it's super clear that that particular angle was something that I could take because of my unique privileges in that situation. My brown skin is such that I can do that. If I was white, I would not. That doesn't mean I can't have the conversation. And you can even use my chapter as a prompt, Not Light chapter five, which is where the story is held. You can say, "So there's this Black guy, and he does this, and I can't do this. Let's talk about it."

Bethany Jay: "I'm not doing that." Yeah.

Matthew Kay: "I'm not doing that. Let's talk about that. What rules am I honoring by not doing that?" There are societal rules about who can say it and who can't. And those rules make sense. And we can discuss them, we can unpack them, we can try to see where they come from, but we don't give each other permission to break them. If you say it, there will be consequences. Like, if you as a white person says this word and then you justify it with like, "Well, it says it in the book," the people of color around you might be in a space where they're like, "I don't like this person anymore." And that's well within their rights. Given their histories with the word, they're not being hypersensitive that they're saying, "I don't want to mess with you anymore. I don't want to work with you." Like, that's well within, and we need to understand that. And you're full of hubris if you think that those rules don't apply to you just because you're a scholar or just because you're a teacher or just because you voted a certain way or whatever. Your skin's still white. Those are those rules. Now can you discuss those rules? Absolutely. They're worth discussing, you know, if they make sense in the unit that you're teaching.

Bethany Jay: As we end our conversation, and we've thought about a couple of particular moments in your own classroom, and a lot of general ideas about how we might lead these sorts of conversations, what would you like to leave teachers with as they're considering going back into the classroom in September, maybe not having seen their kids in person for over a year or so? What would you like to leave our teachers with as they think about building relationships, and trying to have these sorts of conversations in their classrooms?

Matthew Kay: I would like teachers, colleagues to be proud of themselves. Like, you made it. There's a whole lot out there that's hard on us, and puts pressure on our shoulders. Like, we need to make sure that we do this. Like, in some spaces, it's like, we need to make sure that we catch the kids up. In other spaces it's like, we need to make sure that we solve racism this year. [laughs] And everything in between. And I was nervous about that discourse throughout the entire pandemic where it's like, "Let's reimagine schools. Let's do this." I'm like, "Sure? Yes, that would be good. Let's survive first." Like, let's make sure that when kids come back they feel loved and cared for and taken care of. You know, let's not put pressure on ourselves to do everything, because that pressure is probably going to be pretty violent when school starts. There's this idea that just teaching good lessons is somehow not enough.

Bethany Jay: Right, right.

Matthew Kay: Like, teaching good units is not enough. Crafting good projects is not enough. You've got to also blank. And I'm more than a little wary about that, because a lot of us are so close to our emotional capacity already, and school hasn't even started.

Bethany Jay: Yeah.

Matthew Kay: And the kids? Forget about it. I can't imagine being 15 years old living through these past two years. I can't imagine it. And so to reject some of the pressure that's being put on us in this moment, I think, is important. As far as race and equity is concerned, and justice? My advice would be to try to avoid home run thinking. Try to avoid, "I'm going to teach this unit that's going to solve this. I'm going to teach this unit that's going to make them all understand all of their privileges." Instead, trying to find ways to layer in one or two good race conversations every unit. And that's not small. That's massive. I'm still trying to get to one to two every unit where it makes sense, right? And I'm still not there, and I wrote a book about it. Like, I think find one or two good race conversations, one or two good gender conversations, one or two good—like, where you apply that lens—especially for history folks—where you just apply that lens in whatever history moment you're working yourself through, just try to add one more perspective. But if you do that for every unit, that's massive.

Matthew Kay: That's a massive undertaking that we're capable of. It's so big, but also it takes the pressure off of us at the same time. We're not trying to teach that one unit that solves everything. We're trying to feather it into our conversation about whatever moment in history we're talking about. I think if you do that, then you're going to have enough stamina for the long haul. And as a bonus, you'll be able to fly a little bit under the radar of the bad actors out there. The more you go into trying to have all of these pop up conversations that are not related to your unit and you're just like, "Let's talk about white privilege. Let's talk about this election," you know, the more you do that, the more you're going to put target signs on you if you're surrounded by bad actors, which unfortunately a lot of us are discovering that we are. But if you're just bringing in a discussion prompt that thoughtfully applies a race lens to the thing you're talking about, it's just good teaching and learning. Your admin will have an easier time having your back, your students are less likely to go home and say, "Our lesson was blah, blah," you know, in some completely twisted way. It's just easy because they're just learning. They're just learning. They're like, "Well, and while discussing this, we also mentioned this." And so it feels like less of a thing. It's not cowardice to fly under the radar a little bit right now. It really isn't. It still requires bravery to mention it at all.

Bethany Jay: Yeah.

Matthew Kay: But there's no reason for putting unnecessary bullseyes on us by doing so many things that are outside of our curriculum involving race. Let's just infuse your curriculum with race. Make it the meaningful lens that it is for analysis, and we'll be able to have successes.

Bethany Jay: Thanks so much for having this conversation with us that both, I think, inspires and provides guidance for teachers who want to do this work, for all of us who want to do this work, but also gives us all grace to make mistakes, and to work within what we know is doable in our particular school, particular district, while still making an impact by infusing these conversations, as you say, throughout our curriculum. So thanks so much for being here. Your perspective as a teacher is so important, and I really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you, Matthew.

Matthew Kay: Thanks so much for having me. That was fun.

Bethany Jay: It was.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Matthew R. Kay is an English teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. A proud product of the city's public schools, he is a columnist for Education Leadership, and the author of Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations. Mr. Kay is also the founder and executive director of the Philly Slam League.

Hasan Kwame JeffriesTeaching Hard History is a podcast from Learning for Justice—the education arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, helping teachers and schools prepare students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Learning for Justice provides free teaching materials about slavery, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and more. You can find award-winning films and classroom-ready texts at

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Most students leave high school without an understanding of the Jim Crow Era and its continuing relevance. This podcast is part of an effort to change that. In our fourth season, we put Jim Crow under the spotlight, examining its history and lasting impact.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This podcast was produced by Mary Quintas and senior producer Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer. "Music Reconstructed" is produced by Barrett Golding. And Cory Collins provides content guidance. Amelia Gragg is our intern. Kate Shuster is the series creator. And our managing producer is Miranda LaFond.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: If you like what you've heard, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And let us know what you think. You can find us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. We always appreciate your feedback.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries—associate professor of history at The Ohio State University, and your host for Teaching Hard History.


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