What does a community look like? What does it take to build a community and what are the difficulties that might arise? These questions serve as the foundation of the new curriculum in ninth-grade Science of Mind (SOM). Developed by Director of Social Justice and Equity Alegria Barclay, the revamped curriculum focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Beloved Community. The course is very much about antiracism, Alegria said, and antiracism is woven into all aspects of the course.
“I’ve always had this course in my mind,” Alegria said. “Last year, this curriculum lived in 10th grade and was called Engaged Citizenship. That class was more focused on civil discourse and talking across differences. This ninth-grade class leans more heavily into thinking about power literacy and systemic oppression. It is an evolution of that 10th-grade course.”
Ninth-grade SOM teacher Davion Fleming added, “Traditionally, the SOM class is focused on stress, wellness, and emotions. Psychology and neuroscience are woven in. The SOM courses for the older grades maintain that angle. For the ninth grade, we wanted this course to be responsive to what is happening in the world.”
The ninth graders began the year discussing the Beloved Community in order to use this foundational understanding for the rest of the year.
The class has been looking at how identity helps create community, and also how intersectionality informs identity. Last week, students explored the different notions of identity and the idea of positionality (the way in which our knowledge and understanding of any system of oppression is shaped by our specific position in relation to it).
The course also provides students with the space to talk about the things they are seeing and experiencing in the world right now.
“We thought about where we were as a country in May and June,” Davion said. “We wanted to begin to have the conversations that maybe students aren’t having. What has become clear to me as I teach this course is that students so desperately want to be having these conversations.”
“One important aspect of the course is adding the space for everyone to talk about lived experiences,” added SOM associate teacher Matthew Oakland. “As we talk about identity and work through the various ‘-isms,’ students are becoming more comfortable sharing their lived experiences.”
In this week’s class, ninth graders discussed the role of conflict in the Beloved Community. One student shared, “Conflict doesn’t have to be violent or negative. In the Beloved Community, if people have conflicting ideas, they can resolve it peacefully.”
Another student wrote in the chat, “Conflict, when treated as an organic feature of life, can transform into an occurrence for growth, rather than a sort of stigmatized, anomalous happening, which is necessarily bad.”
Alegria elaborated on the trajectory of the course, “We are moving into discourse now: How do you talk about difference, conflict, and harm? This week’s class was around notions of calling in versus calling out, and how to respond if called in. This part of the curriculum is grounded in the fact that we see a lot of adults in the nation don’t have that skill set. So, how do we give this generation the tools that previous generations didn’t have?”
In her class on Monday, Alegria succinctly summarized conflict and the concept of restorative justice in a Beloved Community.
“Whether you harmed someone else or they harmed you,” she said, “conflict in the Beloved Community requires you to hold the humanity of the other person.”
Students also watched Jay Smooth’s TEDxNewHampshire talk about how to talk about race and shared their reflections about the talk.
“I’ve never thought about the way we associate if someone says something racist then they are a racist,” one student shared. “I never realized that it’s viewed as a binary. I think it’s part of the reason why people get so offended when you call them out on something. It prohibits us from growing as people and learning from our mistakes.”
Another student shared, “I thought his analogy with personal hygiene was interesting. It highlighted the fact that we are expected to be 100 percent good all the time. We should all try to be good 100 percent of the time, but it’s hard to be perfect all the time. This idea doesn’t allow for people to change and grow.”
Through engaging class discussions, it is clear that this course is already having a positive impact on students, and has been particularly “thought-provoking,” said student Amrutha R.
Student Ilarion K. shared, “SOM's focus on antiracism and the Beloved Community allows me to learn things that have previously only been taught for one month during the school year.”
“I think it's really incredible that SOM is a class in Nueva,” said ninth-grader Kaden K. “A class devoted to talking about injustices is really powerful. I'm grateful that it exists so that we have experience talking about these issues, and so we don't forget about these issues.”