Equity and Transformation Statement
The Democratic Knowledge Project has the goal of delivering the highest quality learning opportunities, supportive of the development of civic identity, to all students.
Our vision is that, with high-quality civics curricula and teaching methods, we can build a supermajority of young people (at least 67%) who believe democracy is essential and feel confident in having the knowledge, capacities and skills they need to participate.
To achieve this, we adhere to the mission of preparing students to contribute to a healthy constitutional democracy by:
- co-creating high quality civics curricular resources with educators
- researching civic learning
- offering professional learning opportunities
- developing assessment tools to measure deeper civic learning
Our theory of action is that if teachers have access to high-quality civics curriculum, experiential civic learning, and communities of practice, then they will engage students in deeper civic learning. If students engage in deeper civic learning, then they will be poised to become authentic, informed, and skilled changemakers who can sustain and improve our democracy.
Our curricular resources aim to meet all students where they are and support the development of essential civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions. The DKP approach strives to build on the widely varying assets that students bring to the classroom, while supporting all students in the areas of greater challenge for them. Optimally, our curricular resources are implemented in ways that maintain the integrity of specific learning goals. Yet, we also encourage diversity and flexibility in the delivery to be responsive to the learning contexts and social and cultural backgrounds of all students.
We also recognize that our existing constitutional democracy is not healthy in all respects, and that preparing students to contribute to a healthy constitutional democracy requires addressing issues of both equity and transformation.
DKP’s Understanding of Equity and Transformation
The concept of equity was introduced to philosophical theories of justice by Aristotle in antiquity. The concept (epieikeia, in the Greek) had the specific meaning of rectifying situations where unjust results had emerged from the technical application of the laws. This concept entered the English common law tradition to empower judges to render decisions to correct injustices emergent from existing procedure. In our current day, where the overwhelming focus is on racial equity, the concept identifies places where rectificatory actions are necessary to correct injustices that have emerged from the standard practices of institutions and procedures over time.
Because standard institutional practices and procedures in the American system of education have routinely resulted in differential provision of opportunities and resources to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and in communities of color, we continue to see a need for equity in education and beyond. Below we sketch out the particular ways we approach equity at the Democratic Knowledge Project–seeking both to activate the distinctive assets that students from different backgrounds bring into the classroom, and to address and correct the areas of challenge that flow from differential access to opportunities, resources, freedom, and power.
In addition to pursuing equity, however, at the Democratic Knowledge Project, we also pursue transformation. Our goal is a healthy constitutional democracy in which all are on equal footing with one another, in reality as well as aspiration. Consequently, we seek to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that they need to advance that state through their own choices and actions.
We attempt to achieve equity-minded and empowering curricula and professional learning programming through ongoing attention to:
- Content (“the what”): As we design, redesign, and disseminate our curricular resources, we strive to deliver full and accurate histories. The goal is to empower all learners as civic agents standing on an equal footing with one another. That said, we recognize both the aspirational and practical realities of that pursuit of empowerment. Delivering full and accurate histories includes acknowledging acts of injustice, considerations of power, and how different forms of power can operate. Insight to these themes, among others, is a means to empower students as active and authentic contributors to their communities. In addition, students’ exploration of their own civic identities and what matters to them also supports their empowerment. Through such exploration, they cultivate an awareness of their individual role within a community and how best to contribute. On both fronts–history and explorations of civic identity– attention to content equity is key if we are to spark authentic student engagement with the curriculum and, ultimately, inspiration for students to become civic participants who can build community across lines of difference.
- Instruction (“the how”): We seek instructional strategies that bring consideration of language, culture, and identity to bear so as to ensure students can access and are engaged by the language, stories, and opportunities embedded in our curriculum. Achieving instructional equity also entails clearly communicating and consistently supporting pedagogical approaches, providing accessible curricular materials for many and varied contexts, and intentionally considering and adapting to student feedback. Educators can grow in achieving instructional equity through relevant and responsive professional learning experiences.
- Context (“the with whom/for whom”): In both curricular and instructional work, context equity entails that educators be alert to how broader forces, structures, and systems of power shape learners’ engagement and outcomes. Educators and curriculum writers should attend to students’ identities, learning strengths and challenges, backgrounds, and communities. They should also honor students’ funds of knowledge and expertise within communities. They should consider whether and how in-school learning/curricula resonate with the beliefs, values, morals, and perspectives of students’ families and communities. And, finally, they should aim to identify the foundations for empowerment for all learners, so students have an experience of empowerment in the classroom.
For the DKP, achieving our equity aims necessitates a commitment to the following goals across all strands of our work:
Accessibility: We strive to make our curriculum accessible to all students, including those whose primary language is not English, and who may have specific learning challenges or preferred learning modes. We also seek to empower students to develop and demonstrate their learning and understanding in multiple ways.
Student-centered pedagogies: We embrace a pedagogical approach that centers students, not the curriculum, in the learning experiences, and empowers them to be knowledge creators, and critical and curious thinkers. The goal is that all students should grow in ways that are the aspiration of the curriculum, not that every single curricular element be delivered precisely as drafted.
Culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining learning experiences: We seek to create learning experiences that acknowledge the identities, values, experiences, and funds of knowledge of all students; connect to current issues relevant to them, their families, and communities; and sustain the cultures of the students in our schools. For this reason, we develop activities and resources that are personalized/contextualized, socially responsive, age and ability appropriate, and relevant to and affirming of different racial, cultural, religious, ethnic, language, and gender groups.
Hidden narratives: In our curriculum, students see the narratives of individuals whose traditions have been excluded from dominant narratives. This includes histories of trials and triumph; marginalization and transformation; and oppression and resistance. We do this to provide students with full and accurate histories. Such histories both support students in approaching complex conversations in informed ways and provide models of courageous civic agency for our students.
Transparency with all stakeholders: We hold ourselves to a standard of always being open and clear with teachers, school leaders, students, and caregivers about why we make the decisions we do related to crafting, implementing, and revising the curriculum.
Intentional partnerships with teachers, school leaders, caregivers, and communities: We strive to have the people who teach, learn from, and experience the curriculum be partners in our ongoing work. To achieve this, we focus on both proactive and responsive communication with stakeholders. We seek ongoing dialogue and reflection with our partners- teachers, school leaders, caregivers, and other community members.
We commit to the following practices to ensure that this equity statement supports and informs our ongoing work:
- Equity Working Group monitors progress
- Quarterly or biannual revisiting of commitments and documenting progress
- Ongoing equity check-ins during standing meetings (e.g., “Are there any equity-related questions, issues, or considerations on anyone’s mind today?”)
- Use of this document to define/refine equity indicators to support equity-focused curricular mapping