Positive Change in the Upper Grades Curriculum with Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Work

It was an honor to be asked by the school to create the Middle School Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) curriculum. Over the summer months, I worked with our grade school faculty chair, our middle school class teachers, and members of the Grade School Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Awareness, and Leadership (GS IDEAL) committee to create a plan for this new initiative. The task was to create a supplemental curriculum that supported our already rich Waldorf curriculum. Using the Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum as a guide, our new integrated curriculum would focus on DEI topics, such as race and equality, while also addressing the unique social and emotional needs of middle schoolers through topics such as puberty, body image, and social etiquette. We also wanted to integrate Cyber Civics, a digital literacy curriculum, which focuses on topics such as digital literacy, ethical thinking, identity, citizenship and more. It was a challenging task but one that was meaningful and needed for our students and a proactive response to our times.  

One of the greatest strengths of the Waldorf curriculum is that it meets the child at each stage of development. It became clear early on that if we were to have long term success with a DEI curriculum, it would need to be integrated into what we were already teaching, and teaching well. The DEI curriculum would need to be flexible so that class teachers, who would be implementing the curriculum, could choose when to integrate specific lessons. Given that there is so much growth and development during the middle school years, the DEI curriculum would need to be specific and oriented towards the unique developmental needs of each grade.
The Waldorf curriculum as a whole is designed purposefully to be an outline, allowing the teacher the freedom to have his or her own artistry and interpretation shine through. Similarly, the DEI curriculum takes our shared understanding of child development, links it to main lesson blocks, and offers teachers a list of suggestions and supporting materials to choose from, topics that are the most meaningful and relevant to them and their lessons. No two class teachers teach exactly the same main lesson content in any given grade. Similarly, the DEI curriculum will look different for each grade year to year. This gives the school the opportunity to grow and address current events as they arise.  

We have specifically written the DEI curriculum as a shared document that is open to editing by teachers. Our goal is to keep it living, to expand and contract year to year with notes, links, and connections that our entire faculty can access for their teaching, and also contribute to.

Examples from the DEI Curriculum

DEI curriculum themes for 6th grade include puberty, body image, laws and rules, and communication. We want students in 6th grade to focus on building a language for their work ahead. What is race? Implicit bias? Privilege? What are rules that we can all abide by in the social realm? The Roman History block offers the class teacher a chance to merge lessons on Roman laws and governance with several DEI themes. The Astronomy block builds the students sense of self within an interconnected universe. DEI lessons that run parallel to Astronomy support the student in expanding his or her sense of self through an experience of “the other”.  What are other people’s life experiences, especially people who are less privileged than myself? What are some of the experiences of other people who are of a different race, culture, or nationality than myself? One specific suggestion from the DEI curriculum includes listening to stories from StoryCorp, including that of a Mexican immigrant, an African American son and mother, a transgender youth, and a blind person. We have aimed to include as many examples and resources that speak directly to a student’s feeling life, as we do with all our lessons at the grade school level. Once in high school, the student can enter into critical thought regarding complex issues presented in DEI work, with the compassion and empathy built and nurtured during their grade school years.    

The 7th grade curriculum is vast, with a particular focus on the history of developing nations and their politics, trade and economy, scientific discoveries and cultural practices. It is a year that must be taught with sensitivity and awareness of potential pitfalls. For example, as a theme “The Explorers” main lesson block divides history into those who were the Explorers and those who were Explored. We have instead shifted our lens to “Discovery” (often, this block is titled “The Age of Discovery”) and encouraged teachers to be conscious of the language used when teaching the block. We ask such questions as How can you discover a place that already existed? and for what purposes were discoverers sent away from their homes and into the greater world?  We also switched the block rotation during the course of the year so that students would have their African and South American Cultural Geography blocks prior 
to learning about the discoverers, in order to first build a beautiful picture of this part of the world before colonization by the West. The DEI curriculum for 7th grade students addresses age-appropriate lessons on topics of race, gender, modern social movements, and sexuality. Our teachers already discuss current events, and the DEI curriculum offers resources and discussion questions for scaffolding.

The 8th grade curriculum in its essence is a DEI curriculum taught through the biographies of historical figures. The 8th grade teacher is constantly weaving current events into his or her lessons. The DEI curriculum supports this work by offering myriad suggestions. For example, a DEI lesson, which runs parallel to the Revolutions main lesson block, suggests a look at Janius Brutus Stearns’ painting titled “George Washington as Farmer on Mount Vernon”. What does this painting say about racial hierarchies? What does it say about leadership? This lesson opens up an opportunity to offer students a more truthful picture of great American heroes such as Washington and Jefferson with biographies of African-Americans who were also revolutionaries during the Civil War. The 8th grade DEI curriculum cites paragraphs from Howard Zinn’s “The Young People’s Guide to American History, one that includes stories of those who have been historically marginalized. Using age-appropriate pedagogy, eighth grade teachers are encouraged to embrace discussions during our weekly Current Events class of the major topics of our time: the #MeToo movement, the Covid-19 pandemic and its relationship to race, the dangers of social media, and voter suppression.

As teachers, we are constantly striving for our lessons to be relevant so that we can teach the students we have before us in these particular times. I very much look forward to continuing to co-create this curriculum with my colleagues, not only for middle school students but for all. ~