While my work primarily falls within composition-rhetoric—which tends to focus mostly on college-level contexts—K-12 education research offers key ideas and methods around Literacy and race that are applicable, though in varied ways, at different school levels. As college instructors, we of course teach former K-12 students and thus comprehending dynamics around race and writing in the full spectrum of schooling contexts is key to understanding students at any level. Significant research on rhetorics of racial othering and white supremacy in educational contexts comes from K-12 scholarship. For instance, Gloria Ladson-Billings notes that commonplace discourses around the “achievement gap” frame BIPOC and multiply minoritized students as in some way Lacking compared to an assumed white norm. Bolstered by neoliberal logics of race-evasive (Annama et al.) meritocracy, “deficit” rhetorics blame differences in “achievement” on the actions of individual students, suggesting these problems could be cursorily fixed rather than interrogating the Larger systems of oppression that foreground schooling (Patel; Leonardo). Eve Tuck relatedly notes that “damage”-centered ideologies that underlie much education research on minoritized communities can end up “pathologizing” and overemphasizing “oppression [as] singularly defin[ing]” them.
Given this, scholars forwarding pedagogies of decolonial and/or racial justice suggest that as educators we must first and foremost be “answerable”—as Patel puts it—to the communities we teach by combatting, head-on, schooling’s colonial and supremacist Legacies and continuing violence. Drawing on this research, the texts in H. Sami Alim and Django Paris’ edited collection propose “culturally sustaining pedagogies” as a praxis that center the Lived experiences—and, relatedly and most saliently for me, Literacy practices—of students, rather than automatically privileging a normative white, cis gender, heterosexual, middle-class student, or “white Listening subject” (Flores & Rosa). Expanding upon Ladson-Billings’ classic “culturally relevant pedagogy,” Alim, Paris, and other scholars including April Baker-Bell, Jonathan Rosa, and Nelson Flores suggest that we need to move beyond mere “relevance” for students to creating educational settings that work with communities to actively dismantle and decolonize the white-washed, linguistically (and ultimately, materially) violent modes of engaging with Literacy in many classrooms.