Hundreds of educators gathered in July at Columbia University’s sixth annual “Reimagining Education Summer Institute: Teaching, Learning and Leading for a Racially Just Society,” where they were, among other things, encouraged to become “racially literate, culturally relevant, and anti-racist” teachers.
The conference attracted more than 1,200 participants, who presented and listened to seminars such as “Culturally Responsive Special Education Services and Trauma Informed Pedagogy,” “You Belong Here: Developing and Affirming Racial Identities in Young Children,” “Reimagining Technology as a Tool for Racial Literacy,” “How to Develop a Meaningful Youth-Adult Restorative Practices & Equity Team at YOUR School,” “Teaching Black Feminism in the English Classroom,” and “Centering identity: Supporting student aspirations with a re-imagined SEL framework.”
The Reimagining Education Summer Institute (RESI) was “designed to help all educators – in public, private, charter schools and higher education – learn how to address the racial hierarchies and antiblackness that have shaped our educational system and strive to create truly integrated schools and classrooms that tap into the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity,” according to the program’s website. The institute claims that its program will support “students academic, social, and emotional well-being [and] address racial injustice in our educational system and society. … The future of our diverse democracy and the inter-cultural understanding needed to sustain it depends on our schools’ ability to do the required race work to educate and integrate.”
Keynote speaker and anti-racist professor Bettina Love, who recently accepted a position at the college in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, spoke on “Abolitionist Teaching for Education Justice.” The professor founded the Abolitionist Teaching Network in 2020, which encourages educators to “disrupt whiteness and other forms of oppression.”
In a Twitter post, RESI gushed over Love’s presence: “We can’t believe that the ONE AND ONLY [Bettina Love] is delivering the keynote lecture right now!!!”
Due to “overwhelming demand,” RESI sold out of registration passes weeks before the conference. Teachers in attendance received 30 professional development credits, and many school districts offer funding for professional development seminars. According to RESI’s website, New York Public School teachers had access to discounted registration fees.
At least three public school teachers from Pennsylvania and Chicago spoke at RESI.
Two teachers from Central York High School in Pennsylvania delivered a talk titled, “Anchors in the Storm: Confronting Racism and Book Bans.” The two teachers detailed their 2021 protest to reacquire for their libraries anti-racism books that a school board deemed inappropriate. The prohibited materials included a children’s book about Rosa Parks and CNN’s Sesame Street town hall on racism, which discusses “countering white privilege” in children as young as three. The teachers brought three of their high school students to participate in the panel as well.
A Chicago Public Schools teacher praised herself on Facebook for sharing “how we work to teach the 1619 project to youth” during a panel discussion. “I’m just basking in [this] right now,” she said on Facebook. The 1619 project is a New York Times initiative to reframe America as a “slavocracy.”
Columbia’s Teachers College graduates more than 5,000 educators a year. The school is usually ranked among the top 10 colleges of education, but this year, U.S. News unranked the college for questionable data collection practices after Columbia allegedly reported false data.