How Educators Can Educate Themselves (Ep. 223)

With all that is happening in the world today, teachers everywhere are beginning to do the work to educate themselves on issues of race. In today’s episode, Tim welcomes Rev. Dr. Christopher Carter and Dr. Seth Schoen to discuss their research and teaching on race, issues we should be aware of as educators, and how we can educate ourselves on race and how it affects our students. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Last week I spent some time talking about art teaching and art curriculum and how a lot of art educators are feeling the call to do the work, to educate themselves about issues of race and about issues that are happening in the world right now. And that episode focused on contemporary black artists, artists that are still living and still working. Those artists are just part of a much bigger picture. They’re a small part of the puzzle and an even smaller part of art history. And there’s so much more out there that we can take time to rethink and re-examine, both from an art historical perspective and an educational perspective. But, it’s on us to do the work. And that was the question that I received over and over from people after last week’s episode, how do I do the work? That’s what I want today’s episode to be about.

How, as educators, we start to do the work. And that sentiment goes back to the questions that I asked at the top of last week. What can I do to make my teaching meet the moment right now? How do I begin doing the work to make sure that my teaching and my curriculum align with my beliefs and my values? How do I start educating myself? So, today we’re going to talk about how educators can begin to educate themselves. I have two guests, the Reverend Dr. Christopher Carter and Dr. Seth Schoen. They are researchers and professors at the University of San Diego and their research focuses on compassion and race, and contemplative practices, and theology, and spiritual formation. And there’s a lot there. But, the program that they’ve started is called Racial Resilience, and they talk a lot about how race work is tied to compassion.

So we will look through that particular lens as we talk about these ideas today. And even though they’re professors, rather than art teachers, I think they can give us some of the tools and some of the frameworks we need as art teachers to begin to educate ourselves. And the conversation that we’re going to have is just one way to engage. If you’re someone who wants to do the work, if you want to educate yourself more, we’re going to talk about some ways to do that. So let me go ahead and bring on our guests right now.

All right. And joining me now is the Reverend Dr. Christopher Carter and Dr. Seth Schoen. How are you doing?

Dr. Chris Carter:
Doing pretty good. You see that long pause, I think it’s representative of the fact we both have 14-month-old children. So we have to think really hard, exactly how are we doing?

Dr. Seth Schoen:
It’s more of an existential question now than it used to be.

Chris: Exactly.

Tim: Fair, fair. So I guess to, to start us off can you each maybe just share a little bit about yourself. Tell us where you teach, talk a little bit about the research that you do. Chris, do you want to go first then?

Chris: I am an assistant professor of theology at the University of San Diego. My specific areas of focus are around theological ethics, environmental ethics. I approach those ,usually from the prospective of race. So race is definitely one of the orienting factors of what I do and the fancy term is theological anthropology. But, it’s just ultimately what it means to be human. That’s kind of the broad strokes of what I do, where I teach.

Tim: All right. Sounds good. Seth?

Seth: My main area of expertise is in spiritual formation. And so I also teach at USD, University of San Diego, as an adjunct professor. And so spiritual formation, basically how we understand and relate to what we understand as ultimate. So in a Christian context, that would be God. And so I’m interested in the practices that people do and how that’s played out in our daily lives. And then more specifically, what I focus on really is compassion, cultivation of compassion, and then in the context of race and racism. And so that’s what our work largely focuses on. And so that’s my area of passion and interest.

Tim: Now I wanted to bring you both on today just to, I guess, discuss a little bit more about race. I know it’s a huge part of your research and I think a lot of educators are right now thinking a lot more about race, paying a lot more attention to race, and just wanting to educate themselves, I guess. To start off with, I guess I want to ask and Seth, I’ll start with you like, as we’re beginning to have these conversations, why are these conversations so difficult for people? Especially white people when it comes to talking about race?

Seth: So there’s one deceptively simple reason, basically white people don’t have the skills to talk about race. And in a nutshell, that’s the simplest way to put it. And there’s complex reasons for why we don’t have those skills. So within the racialized social structures of the United States, we are racialized as white people to not see race, to think it’s not something that affects our daily life, and to not understand how race functions and how it affects people, and to not understand our whiteness as a racialization. And so that makes it all difficult because we aren’t taught the resiliency skills that we need to be able to have these kinds of difficult conversations about race and racism. So that’s in a nutshell why.

Tim: Chris, Do you have anything you want to add to that?

Chris: Yeah, yeah. I would say, I guess a little bit built on Seth’s and then go back to answer your question specifically. Some of it’s that white people don’t know how to have difficult conversations about race, but I would suggest that it’s more just conversations about race in general. Doesn’t have to be difficult, but just knowing how to actually talk about it. Particularly in that post civil rights colorblind era, right? When it’s understood to be a good thing not to see someone’s color and really, what that allows you to do is to orient their whole culture, their whole worldview, to what it means to be “American”, because really what it means to be white., And so to that end one reason it’s difficult to just because you don’t have to. White people don’t have to talk about this stuff. As a black person, I can’t say growing up, my mom was like, Oh hey, we’re going to talk about race now or anything like that.

It’s just a part of your everyday lexicon. It was a part of your lived experience. And I think this goes back to even the way you framed the question. In terms of educators are more interested in race. I suspect most educators who are people of color, who are black, indigenous, who are people of color. They probably been thinking about teaching with some understanding of race for their entire careers. Not all of them, but I would suggest most of them. But again, why educators never had to. It was a skill that they didn’t have to have, even if they thought they should do it or had some kind of slight interest in it. There’s a particular kind of fear, and this is the last thing I’ll say, of doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing.

Seth: Right.

Chris: And I think that fear definitely holds up some people being like, well, I don’t want to save the thing that’s going to get me in trouble. So I’d rather not say anything. Which ultimately, is a disservice to both the teacher and the student.

Tim: Yeah. That’s an excellent point. I want to ask you a little bit more just about that idea of when we choose to engage. Because I think for a lot of teachers, for a lot of people, the events of the past few weeks have motivated them to want to finally engage, to learn more about race, to deal with the issue in their classrooms, to speak up, to do better, to do the work. And so I guess the question for you, how do you recommend people do that? Where should people get started? How do people start doing the work?

Seth: Go ahead, Chris.

Chris: See, he gives me the hard questions. He’s like, yeah. And then he comes in and cleans up after me. I have two paths that I want to suggest. Because I want to be transparent. There probably are, and in this past several weeks I’ve encountered, some white people especially who actually had a pretty clear and refined understanding of race. And so for those people who already have some understanding of race, I think they can start in a different place than maybe people who really haven’t thought about their own racialization. And so I want to suggest for teachers is before you do anything in the classroom, bring it to the classroom, you have to start with yourself. First, it’s kind of inward look at understanding your own racialization, how race works within you, how it shaped your world view. If you know how that shapes your teaching or your pedagogy.

Once you’re able to do that inner work, to see how it orients your worldview, then I think you have the next step is to say, okay, how might I transform or change what I do in the classroom? And I know what I just suggested isn’t sexy. It’s not like, Oh, go out and buy this book and read this and it’ll happen.

Tim: Right.

Chris: Seth and I always have this challenge when people invite us to do workshops or lectures to do stuff, they basically are a prime example. There’s an organization, I’m not going to say their name, who want us to go and do an eight-hour anti-racism workshop. And there’s only so much we can do in that one-day training because there is no magic anti-racist pill, right? Like you can’t just come in and do a one-day seminar and be like, okay, guess we solved racism.

Tim: Yeah, that box is checked. We’re done. Racism is over in our company. Yeah.

Chris: And so it doesn’t work like that. It’s a long process. And I think if you think about it like that, if you go in recognizing this a process, it’s going to take a long time. But ultimately, not only does it benefit me, it benefits my classroom, then I think you’re more likely to be successful. So the first step is to really begin to understand your own racialization. There’s some resources we can talk about that maybe later in the podcast, if you think it’s helpful, we can talk about it now. But then I think as the artists, you can say, okay, after you have the understanding, I think it will become more clear how perhaps you’re shaping what artists you’re teaching, what things you’re asking your kids to draw, how much empowerment are you giving them to determine what you’re going to teach? I think you’ll start seeing those things and it’ll probably come more intuitively as suspect.

Tim: Yeah, that’s fine. All right.

Seth: Yeah.

Tim: Seth, what do you want to add to that?

Seth: Well, if I could clean this up a little bit. Basically Chris is an extrovert, I’m an introvert. And so our format is that he is better talking off the cuff, which gives me time to formulate and think through some of my answers as an introvert.

Chris: Right, right.

Seth: And so that’s why our dynamic works like that. So to add to what Chris is saying, that’s why we begin with compassion. That’s why we begin and pull in spiritual formation, is because there’s a lot of internal work that we have to do, especially as white people. So, there’s going to be a lot of awkward language at first. There’s going to be a lot of mistakes, difficult emotions, as we learn how to do this, because basically we’re children learning to walk when it comes to talking about race.

So we’re going to fall a lot. We bring in compassion so that we can hold ourselves compassionately, as we make these mistakes to realize, you know what, these mistakes aren’t the totality of who I am. There’s a core part of me that is really trying to do the right thing. I just don’t know how and I’m working to learn how. And so from that perspective, it becomes easier to hold these mistakes as not fundamental to who you are or the totality of who you are, because it can feel like they are sometimes. And so understanding this is a spiritual journey that we’re starting on is extremely helpful because it’s one of the most difficult journeys I’ve ever been on, but also the most rewarding journey because it involves a lot of inner transformation of who I know myself to be and how I want to be in the world. And so beginning from that point creates a really solid foundation that actually creates the motivation to keep living an anti-racist life. So, I think that’s an important thing to add on or contextualize.

Tim: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Now, Chris, I wanted to come back to you for this next question. I’ve seen a presentation where you spend some time talking about how kids want to be seen as their authentic self. They want to be who they are. They want to be recognized for that. That fits in really well with what we want to do as art teachers. We want to give kids a chance, especially in high school, to figure themselves out, a chance to express themselves. And I think that’s something that teachers are going to have an eye on this coming school year. My question for you is like how can conversations about race, how can those discussions in our classroom, help us toward that goal of letting kids be seen as themself?

Chris: I thought that was a great question when we were just spitballing over here to talk about here. When I first thought about this, I reflected on my own experience in education and how many teachers I’ve had that I felt like didn’t see me as a full person. Right?

Tim: Yeah.

Chris: And so I think that’s the first part, is actually as the teacher making sure you actually see all their students as full human beings, as intelligent and compassionate and as capable of doing anything. And I think that’s unfortunately not always the case, right? So I wanted to start by saying that. Some of this is what energy are you bringing to that space? Are you trying to empower your students and lift them up? Do you believe in them and help them believe in themselves?

Because, I’ve told this story a number of times in my classroom is I was just an average high school student. I played basketball, was really good at that. And I thought I was going to do that in college and just get a job at a factory, like the rest of my family, or whatever. But I had a high school teacher who, oddly enough, got me really to like Shakespeare. We read this play, Much Ado About Nothing, which I thought was so funny. I wrote a really good paper, probably the best we ever wrote in high school. And at that time, I think was like a C student in her class. After that, she held me to a different standard. She was like, you are really smart.

And I believe you can do this and you can be excellent in this in this field, in this way. And I had never thought of myself in that way, from a teaching perspective. Or I never heard that from a teacher. And so believing in your students I think is really important. And then I think it goes on to again, after you see them as being capable of being their authentic selves and having something to share, trusting them to a certain degree. Engaging them is probably the first thing I want to say. And think about what and who they are and what they might actually be more interested in doing. So for instance, if you’re working with kids here in a particular part of the country, maybe it’s an urban community, or even a suburban community, or whatever, what are the things that are motivating and interesting to them?

You need to meet them where they are. Where they are in their own particular moment in their life. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s hip hop music, or maybe it’s pop, maybe it’s graffiti. It could be any of these number of things, but coming at them and trying to get them to work from a place of where they’re excited and where they are interested and maybe answering questions that they have. Just asking them, what is it that you’re trying to understand? What is it you’re trying to know? What are you trying to learn about yourself or about the world? I think often adults can assume that children aren’t asking themselves these kinds of questions. And in some ways they may not use the same words that I just used, but it’s underneath a lot of that stuff. Right?

Tim: Yeah.

Chris: I think one of the ways we can allow students to be themselves is to actually ask them who they think they are and let them actually draw these things and paint these things. Again, I was not a fantastic artist. I don’t know what I would have done, but I would’ve come up with something. Right? Just give them the space to be creative and then finding ways to continue to empower them in that particular way.

Tim: All right. Now next question. I want to talk a little bit about that. I know there’s the caveat that I want to start with here that you guys are not art teachers, but I still want to ask for your perspective on curriculum, on what we’re presenting to our students. Because I talked in last week’s podcast about contemporary black artists, hoping that could be a place for people to start doing their own research on the artists that they want to show to their students. And now obviously the number of artists we can show goes far beyond that list, those 17. And there are so many opportunities for us to find and share just a diverse set of artists all throughout our curriculum. So, all of that being said, a couple of questions for you. Number one, why is it important for us to show a diverse set of artists? And number two, do you think it’s important to name that diversity and talk about why we’re sharing those artists with our students?

Chris: At USD among the courses I teach are about religion and the environment. And so most of the students in those classes, they come to those and they’re not religious. They’re more spiritual, if anything, because they’re deeply embedded in science and they have been. They bought into this myth that science and religion are incompatible. And what they find out through that course is that even in the midst of not being a person of a monotheistic faith, they usually leave that class with a sense of interconnectedness that we can talk about from a cosmological level, which is just a really fancy way of saying evolutionarily, we are all interconnected. Whether or not you are a person of faith or not, what science tells us is that we all come from the same stuff.

We all come from the same just literal stuff. And I think once you see that, and recognize that, and own that, what you can then begin to accept is that other cultures are not failed attempts at replicating you, right? They’re not these failed versions of Western civilization, right? They’re their own authentic selves. That’s how they are supposed to be. And when you see them that way you don’t see them any longer as a threat. You can see them as a partner, as some people don’t learn from. And maybe some people that we can learn a little bit more about ourselves in conversation in relationship with them. And for me, I think that has to be a change within the art world, but within the world in general.

Right? I mean, one of the frustrations that I have when I go to museums is the lack of diverse artists. And there are lots of reasons why that happens. And then the ways in which, because of that, the ways that people of color are even depicted in art is another thing that always just jumps out to me. And so I think to Seth’s point about epistemology and what we know to be true, our sources of knowledge. I think that’s why it’s really important to show a diverse set of artists or to show cultures because it goes on to show this is another expression of what it means to be human. What it means to be someone in this other space. Where’s the beauty in this? What can we see about ourselves? Or what can we just learn about them? Right?

It has nothing to do with us. How can we divorce ourselves from centering and what it means to ourselves and their art and just actually see them for who they are? And it begins to challenge these notions that we have about beauty and about what we think “classical” art is, right? Because we’re able to see that it’s evolved, and shaped, and changed, and grown over time.

Tim: Exactly right. I think that gives me a lot to chew on, a lot to think about there. Now, if I can just circle back around to what we’re doing with our classroom, but also what we’re going to do with our colleagues. For teachers who want to have conversations about race with their colleagues, talking to other teachers about these issues, how to deal with issues of race at their school, in their classrooms. How did those teachers get started? What do those conversations look like? What should we prepare ourselves for if we want to engage, if we choose to engage them?

Seth: I think for educators, especially if you have in this moment, a group of people that are wanting to do this, that’s great. That’s a strength. To begin with, meeting and talking about, why do we want to do this now? What is it about this particular moment that has caused us to want to engage being more anti-racist? Because this isn’t the first time that racism has popped up in the United States, right? It’s always been a recurring issue. And so why now? What’s going on now? Like that’s an important starting point. And then if you have a group of people to talk about that with, then you have the foundations of a community that’s essential for exploring race and racism, I think.

And so that kind of soul search, I know for Christopher and I, that our process has involved a lot of soul searching with each other, that we’ve had a lot of those kinds of conversations. Especially for me early on, when I was learning about all of this, Chris was more of a mentor and a shepherd for me. And then those conversations have become more, as I’ve learned more, I’ve been able to participate more intelligently in conversations about race. And so our conversations have become more, I think, rewarding for him rather than shepherding me.

And so that’s a great place to start with the understanding that it begins with that internal work. Because the ideological aspects of race inhabit our minds and bodies, and until we understand how that works, any attempt that we make as educators or in any job you might have to be anti-racist or are some way going to be twisted and perverted back to some sort of whiteness norm. And so we really have to begin with understanding how racist ideologies affect our perception of the world as white people.

Chris: Yeah. Tim, I want to say something real quick. I want to start by saying, make sure we lead by telling you guys some different resources before I forget.

Because I want to make sure people have some stuff. To Seth’s point about the ways in which our relationship has been a part of the learning process. We argue. By argue, I mean we suggest that relationships are really key in this process. I think people need to do as best job as they can in having diverse friendships. That’s not always easy, especially for professionals. And it takes time and it takes time. I mean just legitimate investing. And I know none of us, when we get to this part of our lives, a lot of us don’t have time to have more friends than you already have.

Tim: Yeah, we don’t want to make any more friends.

Chris: This is something that’s actually really important. It is important for you to have friends because what happens in this space and one of the things that Seth did for me, even though Seth would come and ask me questions that were sometimes funny because they were so uninformed. Right? In hindsight, they were funny. What he also did was he would have hours explaining stuff to him, so talking to him, he would listen to me and you would believe me. And that’s a really important starting point, right? Because often what happens is a person of color tells you about their experience and then the white person says, oh well, that’s never happened to me and I don’t know that’s happened to any other person. So, I don’t really know if it’s true. Maybe it just happened to you.

It doesn’t happen for all black people. Right? You center the experience in themselves. Right? They center things in themselves. And what Seth did was believe what I was saying. Right? He believed what I was saying. I was like, this is what has happened to me and for me that made me more comfortable sharing some of the experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t share with a white person, because I would just suspect they’re going to want to debate me on the merits of my truth. Right? Rather than actually saying like, no, this is actually what what happens. One of the best examples is when I moved to San Diego to take this job, we were looking at houses and we’re going to different apartments. In San Diego, we’re in a market that’s super competitive, right?

Like really competitive. People are buying up stuff within days. And so we go into this apartment and Seth’s with me and I’m introducing myself to the person, like the realtor. Now I’m like, oh yeah, I’m Reverend Dr. Christopher Carter. I teach at the University of San Diego and I’m talking about the stuff that I do, who I am. And essentially letting them know that I’m a professional and someone that can be trusted. And so when we leave the apartment, Seth is like, man, you were bragging up a storm in there. Why are you telling that lady all the stuff that you’re doing.

And I was telling him, I was like, man, I have to prove to white people that they can trust me because they come in and they see me and they think there’s this black dude with dreads. I don’t know if he’s going to be here selling drugs because that’s how their brain is wired. So I have to say, no, I am a professional. I have a professional job. I make a good salary and all those other kinds of things. And it was a learning moment for both of us. For just how the ways in which this is about performance. And those are the things, those are the kernels of truth that you can experience with a friend that can help you become more anti-racist because then it opens up a broader conversation about housing discrimination and redlining. And all the other stuff that affected the generational wealth of black people, it’s all connected. I think that’s a beautiful way of doing it in a relationship. As Seth said, if you have a community of people who want to have these conversations, it’s so much better than just doing it on your own.

Tim: Yeah. That’s a very, very good point. And then Chris, just to close up shop, like you talked about giving resources for people, giving takeaways for people. What are some things you recommend for people who are ready to engage and ready to get started?

Chris: One thing that Seth and I found really helpful when we teach our courses is this book by Joe Feagin called The White Racial Frame. I found it very helpful for, especially white students, but for people of all races to understand how whiteness operates in the world. How it shapes how we understand ourselves and how we view the world. It’s a good introductory-level text and can help people begin to uncover and unlearn some ways of being in the world. Seth, is there anything you want to add to that?

Seth: I think that’s the great beginning resource because it is an academic text, but it’s still approachable. It’s not deeply theoretical, but there is deep theory in it. And then Practicing Compassion by Frank Rogers is the other really key text that we use. And so it doesn’t focus on issues of race and racism, but it focuses on the process of cultivating compassion and how to cultivate compassion, which is one of the foundational skills and tools that we teach in our program.

Tim: I think those are some great recommendations and I think those, hopefully, will give people some tools to get started. We’ll go ahead and wrap it up there. Thank you both so much for your time and your expertise. I really appreciate you sharing a lot of these ideas with our audience. So thank you both

Seth: Thank you.

Chris: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Tim: I hope that our conversation today gives you a lot to think about, a lot to reflect on, and perhaps some ideas for action moving forward, whether that be in your classroom, with your colleagues, or even just in your own life. And we’ll go ahead and link to those books that Chris and Seth just mentioned in our show notes. If you’re interested in taking a look at those. Now, I want to talk about just a couple of things. I don’t have a lot of time here at the end because we’ve talked for so long. But, just some things that I’m going to continue to think about. First, Seth talked about how if you are white, you don’t have to engage with these issues. You have the ability to opt out. But if you choose to, or when you choose to, engage with those issues, that is a good thing.

And when you do, you need to give yourself compassion and give yourself grace. You’re going to make mistakes, but you need to make sure that you remind yourself that those mistakes are not the end and they are not the totality of who you are. They are just part of the journey, part of your formation, part of your understanding on race that you’re trying to develop. And number two, Chris spent some time talking about how we engage with students on issues of race and issues of identity. And I think for teachers, it’s about exactly that, that engagement. We need to engage with our students. We need to trust them. We need to listen to what they have to say. Let them ask questions, let them explore, and let their art do the same. We have an amazing opportunity and our art rooms, a unique way for kids to explore, to engage, to question, and ultimately to learn through their art. And the more we educate ourselves, the better we can guide our students to do exactly that.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening, as always. Next week I’m hoping to discuss how we deal with race in the art room. And I’m hoping we will talk to you then.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.