#087 – Relearn history to unlearn bias – with Terra Smith

#087 – Relearn history to unlearn bias – with Terra Smith

Until everyone is treated equally, no one is treated equally.

In this episode, my guest Terra Smith and I talk about our equality blind spots – and I even reveal one of my own with a slip up!

We also talk about her journey advocating for her son after he received an ADHD diagnosis and had a damaging assessment that could have held him back for years.

She has some valuable advice in her story. I’ll give you some spoilers: advocate like you’re paid to do it; see the long game and set your child up to have options in the future; and don’t accept the advice of experts without understanding how the data is being applied.

This conversation is a great one for parents interested in inclusive education and advocating in the schools for kids with disabilities. It’s equally for parents who want to change the way we talk to kids about inclusivity around all social justice issues.

Terra is an educator and the founder of www.unlearningracism.net, a resource that helps parents learn how to transform the world – starting with their own families – by getting educated, expanding awareness, relearning history, and embracing diversity and inclusion.

Just like advocating for your child, sometimes unlearning and relearning how we see the world can be a messy, ongoing learning exercise. But if we are to move forward together as a society, we have to do the work.

We have to get out of the wading pool and dive into the big pool.

Start now by listening to this great conversation.

You can listen to this podcast episode on iTunes or Spotify.

Transcript

Genia:
Welcome to the Good Things in Life podcast. I’m your host, Genia Stephen. Today we’re talking with Dr. Terra Smith. Terra is an experienced educator with over 16 years of experience, as both a history teacher and education leader in the Houston area, public school districts. Her career in education has been driven by a desire to create equity and access for all students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. This mission-driven purpose has led her to found her own education consulting firm – TS Consulting Services. In the spring of 2020, Dr. Smith began to focus her programs around building strong mindsets of both parents and children around diversity, equity and inclusion using children’s books. Terra, thank you so, so much for joining me today. I’m really looking forward to our conversation.

Terra:
Thank you for having me.

Genia:
I wonder if you could start by just talking a little bit about your relationship, your experience with kids with disabilities and their families.

Terra:
So as an administrator and as a teacher, I have lots of interactions from that side and that perspective of working with kids who have learning disabilities, behavioral conditions that caused an impact on how they learn, and how the best way they could learn. I served on many art committees on [inaudible] meetings. And so, I understood from the perspective of an educator, the different ramifications and things you have to do to be able to meet kids where they are and to get them where you need them to be by providing supports and accommodations and all those things that making the playing field level for all kids. So I understood it from that perspective. Then as my, as I started to have kids, I have two kids and my oldest, very early, I realized he learned differently. He wasn’t what you would call the typical average student, even from preschool.

Terra:
I knew he was learning differently. And so something that I was watching and monitoring, and by the time he got to kindergarten, first grade, he was already being assessed as being an at-risk student, which for an educator, it raises a whole lot of red flags of what that means. And on top of that, my child is African-American. So I also knew that there was this other layer that was going to be posing a challenge for us as a family of how do I find out what’s really going on with my child to make sure he gets what he really needs, the supports and the accommodations and the right placement so that he could get the challenge in learning that he needs, but also the expectations of learning at high levels that he also needed. Without it being, from an educator standpoint, I also understood that sometimes with our students who learn differently, educators can provide lower levels of expectations that are needed in a way that campers a student.

Terra:
And so I didn’t want that to happen. And so I would looking at it from the lens of both a parent and an educator and understanding that there was multiple biases that were going to be in play here. Those who learn differently, that don’t learn the way that the standard student as an education want all students to learn that was going to be at play as well as in being an African-American boy, that was also going to be a play as in terms of what and how he was diagnosed with specific things. I just knew that it was going to be an issue. So my alarm bells were up. Like if I knew that this could go really wrong in a really bad way, if I didn’t, if I wasn’t proactive, if I didn’t learn all the things I need to learn, because even though his own referral process was happening after I had been in education at this point 10 years, so I had a decade in education.

Terra:
I was, have been a principal at that point. I had done lots of things. And so I knew how the education system works. And I understood that if you’re not as involved as you possibly can be and bringing in knowledge with you to advocate for your child, they could fall through the cracks. And I didn’t want that for my child. So I had a whole different learning experience as a parent going through the referral process than I did as an educator. At that point, I had been in education for over 10 years. And so it was very drawing for me, some of the things that I experienced and went through with him as we went through the full referral process and testing process for him because I saw things that worried me as an educator and as a parent because I knew that if we didn’t come with our own data, with our own testing and our own information to put forth in all of our meetings, he could easily be segmented in a pathway that wouldn’t be the best fit for him and wouldn’t allow him to thrive.

Terra:
And what worried me about that situation is that not all parents realize that, or know that, or understand that you have to do all those things and you can’t just rely on the school system to do what’s best for your child. And so that’s been my personal experience, both from the educator side, as well as the parents’ side is understanding how do you make sure that your child is seen for who they truly are, and not just a data point that they are more than just that, but also making sure that they get all of the accommodations, the supports as well as the right placement for them so they can thrive and grow.

Genia:
Right. So are you comfortable sharing what some of your experiences were that made you uncomfortable? You said that as you were going through the process, you were seeing things that were, yeah.

Terra:
So, um, initially I had my child tested independently for ADHD and for any other learning disabilities that could be also, um, working in tandem with an ADHD because we try of had honed in based on different observations and different surveys from teachers. Um, and as well as some after school care that he had been with, like what could be going on here. And, um, so I had an independently tested and so he was six years old when he had the first test done and his, um, report came back that it was likely he was, uh, severely ADHD, which impacted his performance all over the place. And so, therefore, any IQ tests should not be seen as a standard score because the variables of the ADHD work impacting his performance. And so it should have taken a face back. Well, the score he received was a 71.

Terra:
And if you know what 71 means it’s barely over low, you know, it’s low development. Like it’s not looking like he’s able to think a high level, so they will operate high levels, be able to have critical thinking essentially is what it’s saying, but that’s not even a possibility for him. If that was his true IQ. Well being in education, I knew that there are certain, um, observations you make with someone who has an IQ of 71 and those observations behaviorally as well as in his academic performance just weren’t there. And so in the report of the doctor who did the first evaluation clearly said, do not look at 71 as his true IQ, right? Other factors are playing a part. But when the school received reports, all they saw was the 71. And so they were like, well, someone, that’s all, you know, he’s a 71.

Terra:
This means he needs to be in this placement because anything else just won’t won’t won’t be suitable for him because his IQ was said one. And I kept saying, but that’s not truly his IQ. And the doctor is saying that that’s when he’s showing us because his attention is everywhere. He’s not able to repeat the assessments because he’s not under any kind of treatment. We don’t have any accommodations in place. We don’t have any tape. No, there’s nothing that’s in place for him. This is how it’s truly operating without any of those supports. But the doctor in his report said, if you put certain things in place, you would be able to see his true ability with those things in place. Right? So for years that 71 continue to be this albatross keyboard because, you know, I couldn’t, you know, the initial testing rolled out learning disabilities.

Terra:
It was just severe ADHD with generalizing bite. Cause you can imagine that if you have severe ADHD and you’re not changing any kind of instructional strategies or practices, you’re going to get anxious. You’re going to get highly anxious because you can’t be successful. Like there’s no way for me to be successful in this situation. So seeing that he was, you know, highly anxious at, at six years old is painful for a parent cause you’re like six years old for six. Um, and understanding that the school really wasn’t trying to find the right accommodations or placement for him that was going to help them lower. The anxiety was, was very nice, my memory, cause you’re just like, but you can tell he needs help. And this isn’t working for him. So are the district’s kind of placement was like, we’re just going to put him in all resource classes and I’m not even really addressed the whole ADHD thing.

Terra:
We’re just going to put them where we think his IQ spits. And, but again, that wasn’t really his IQ. And so, um, so a year later, fast forward, we, you know, as an educator, I started to dig through what were the accommodations. He really needed the instructional accommodations. And he really needed for him to be able to focus and take material in smaller chunks and be able to tackle them one at a time versus all at once or at a cookie-cutter setting. Um, what kind of structure and the way directions were given to him were work best for him. So all those kinds of things that were teacher-centered versus, um, Andre to do. And so, yeah. Um, and so we got those in place in terms of his paperwork. And then we made the choice that at seven years old I’m on medication and I resisted the medication for as long as I possibly could, but then it came a point where we’re like, let’s try it and just see if it makes a difference.

Terra:
So for him it made a world of difference and it was able to really be something that helped him take all the noise from his head and focus and be able to just able to take content in and be able to understand it, consume it and move forward and grow. And so if at the age of six is when his first diagnosis was given, it took Intel. So that was he, we started him in kindergarten late. So by first grade is when we started the ball rolling. It took until really third grade. So two years later to get his placement, his accommodations, his supports, um, to the place where he needed to be because 71 with all they could ever see, it was nothing else. And I had him retested after he had been on medication for a year and his IQ went from a 71 to a 93.

Terra:
And if you think about the placements and the things you give to someone, who’s got a 71 versus someone who has a 93 vastly different. And so I say that to say that during that process, um, even when he was first being evaluated, several of the people involved on the district side came to me and were like, you know, we just want you to know, and this is going to go back to talking about race a little bit. You know, there are conversations that your son could be, EDV emotionally disturbed. And I was like, what? Child’s definitely not emotionally disturbed. I’m like, well, there’s talk of that in four African American voice, that is one of the highest, uh, classifications that African American boys get in ed. And it’s concerning because I knew that there was nothing that he was outwardly doing that was enough to lean to that direction.

Terra:
But because he didn’t learn like everyone else, it became a possibility. And it became possibility that I knew where I in the district that I was in, that that was a high classification for a certain group of kids who didn’t learn and fall in line like most kids did. And so he was not, or nor has ever been diagnosed with that. But there was this conversation that was coming out. Like that’s a possibility too. And the people who were telling me to be concerned about this or telling me that, because they wanted me to make sure I advocated that he wasn’t in that case, that wasn’t what was really causing him to struggle with learning or struggle with behavior. It was the ADHD. Like he just had a really hard time doing the things behaviorally that we expect kids to do. He had a hard time sitting still.

Terra:
He had a hard time following directions. He had a hard time, not fidgety, all classic outliers of ADHD, but for that, it was a jump from ADHD to now he’s eating. And it was like, so those were the things that were concerning to me is the score. And then the behaviors automatically placing him in a different category than what he truly was. If he was any of those things, I would have accepted it and supported it. I knew from an educator perspective and from a mom perspective, that’s not where he was. He did have some, he did have some concerns that we knew we had to address, but we needed to address them appropriately in the right manner with the right data to support why this is what we needed to do. And we were struggling for a year or so in doing that. And so I look at it in his story and think, what if I had not been a knowledgeable enough to understand if I don’t step in and get him reassessed, get additional data, get additional reports to support why putting them in all resource classes, it’s not beneficial for him, or why giving him a different curriculum is not beneficial for him.

Terra:
And I remember sitting in art one time and very clearly saying, no, I don’t want him in resources, resource boxes, because if he, if he stays in resource classes, it was going to be much harder for the mainstream as he got older. And in Texas, if you’re in resource classes all the way through high school, you graduate with a different diploma and you don’t get to go straight to college, you have to go a different route. So I’m thinking way far ahead. I don’t know if college is really like, so more than making comments about where and what he could do, which was tasting.

Genia:
Yep. Um, Julie Causton, a previous she’s a, um, educator as well on a previous guest on the podcast. And she was saying that there’s been research that shows I may get the number wrong by a decimal point, but that it was 0.0, zero, 2% of kids who went once they went into a segregated program that ever returned. So it is, it is, you know, um, it is real like that concern about, you know, um, and so, you know, we think we see this all the time with kids with disabilities, that they get, they get a label and then people make some assumptions about who they are, what their potential is. Um, and then that tends to lead to more and more problems that are not inherent to the child necessarily, but, but can become in, you know, internalize, um, by the child and, and can get lead to all kinds of stunted development and trauma and wounding.

Genia:
That then becomes something that they are, um, exhibiting. And so for, for drew, he was experiencing the slapping on of disability labels and low expectations and the slapping on, of common, um, racist labels, essentially. Like whenever you’ve got a, whenever you’ve got a condition like emotionally disturbed that gets dramatically diagnosed more frequently in a particular, um, group of kids based on their, the color of their skin or their racial background, it’s clearly racist. Cause we know that that’s not, that’s not a thing. Um, and, uh, and so how, how then moving forward, I mean, you’re, you’re an experienced educator, so you have insight into this that the vast majority of parents are not going to have. But how have you, in the past, I guess, or moving forward, how will you parse apart or kind of addressful on the issue of how racism is impacting Jews education?

Terra:
So, you know, I took it the way that I started to become very successful in all of our meetings. Cause I literally had probably from the time that he initially had his full evaluation meeting, the first one that sets kind of everything in motion, uh, he, I never ever brought race into it, but I knew that was behind it. Right. But I also knew I had to come and talk in forms of data. Like I had to make sure that it wasn’t emotion that was driving what I was seeing. So I had to make sure that, and almost in a sense, I was coming in as an advocate, like a paid advocate, but not paying cause he was my son. Right. And so I have to do all of the research and all of the things that I know advocates do when they come into a meeting to, to meet them where they were, how they were talking and how they were substantiating placements or recommendations, I had to use what they were using because otherwise it was just like, well, you’re just being really emotional, you know?

Terra:
And so I had to strip away any kind of emotion I was coming in as dr. Smith, not terrorists to different people in a way. Right. Because I knew that if I couldn’t pick apart all of the paperwork and find where they were going astray or where they weren’t following guidelines or policy, or really, you know, it was getting that particular because I needed them to understand I wasn’t here to just okay. Everything that was being said that every time that we got to a point where I wasn’t going to agree, we would have to suspend the meeting and come back because it wasn’t going to be like, it’s my way or no way. But it was, what are we using to substantiate this placement? What are you using to document this objective and this growth? I want to be able to see it because if we couldn’t do that, then why are we doing?

Terra:
And so, because our district was not in a place to talk about, I think you’re making recommendations based on rates. Like they aren’t, but I have to be able to talk to them in the language and the data they were using me back to that, because sometimes that stuff is so overwhelming. Like you’re just like, I don’t even know what all that means. I don’t know how to parse that out. And I depend on people who could help me look through it and make sense of it in a way that I could understand and go, Oh, I see what happened here. I see where this particular data is being used to support this. But that data point isn’t the right data point that we should be using. Because, you know, for example, if you, um, only use data from the first evaluation form to make all of the judgment calls, well, you don’t do that every year.

Terra:
You do that every year. So you can’t use that as the sole defining indicator because you’re not doing that consistently. So you have to start looking at well, what data do we do regularly that we, you can use to monitor? Cause it’s not this data, this is giving us our starting point, but it’s not the thing that we’re going to use to show mantra growth in these different areas. So what does that look like? And if we’re saying that this particular area is, for example, I’ll use an example of reading. Drew was behind in reading many times between a year and a half to two years, like the biggest gap with like a two-year gap. And I think that was the biggest area where we fought to get him back into general education, not resource because I could see what they were doing in resource.

Terra:
And he would never, ever close a gap would never close. He would only maintain the gap or the gap would get bigger based on what I was seeing and what I knew he was capable of. And so if we’re talking about early reading and being able to become literate, there was a timeframe that if we didn’t get on it, we would lose it and it’d be so much hard to time out. And so it was important by second grade that he was in a place where second, third grade, where I wanted him as much as possible to be in generalized instruction because I could see what they were doing was more, um, apt for kindergarten. Like it was kindergarten stuff, right. He would never get past. And so, um, you know, we, when we finally gotten to where he needed to be with the right supports with the right teacher, drew closed his gap and reading in a five-month period from being a year and a half behind to being at grade level a little bit above grade level. So again, looking at, you need to look at where those markers are, like, what data we couldn’t use, whatever assessment was done when he was six years old as the marker of that’s where he is in reading, I needed real-time data and assessments to be happening throughout his school year to show his progression. And I needed the supports to mirror that progression. Right.

Genia:
And also the pedagogy to be driving in the right direction. Like one of the things that I just heard and correct me if I’m, if I miss hearing you, but one of the things that I’m hearing is that, you know, getting, getting drew into the regular, his regular class with his peers is almost like being in a river with a current that’s like,

Genia:
Yes, yes. In the resource room, it was really more like a stagnant pool with no, actually pull forward. Yeah.

Terra:
That’s a perfect analogy. Like if I’m always in the waiting pool, then all I will ever do is wait. And I will realize at some point I can stand, I can probably get out of this waiting pool and go to this big pool. But since no, one’s helped me walk to the big pool. What’s the point. So I’ll just stay back in the waiting pool, right? Like, right. Yes. That’s appropriate the resource room. You can’t even see the big pool. Right. Cause you don’t even know you’re there. You don’t even know cause you don’t even know it’s there. And as a parent, if you’re not in education to realize what you’re receiving, like you’re looking at it and go, well, he’s getting something. But as a parent, as I was seeing, because the other part of what my role was an education as I was walking classrooms, part of my job from elementary, from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Terra:
And even though my background is secondary in the role that I was in at that point, I was seeing pedagogy and entity practices happening from kindergarten to fifth grade. So I knew very clearly where he should be and what he was receiving and was like, Oh no, we’ll never, we’ll never move. We’ll never get out of this stagnant area. If you don’t put him where it will be challenging. But if we give them the right teacher with the right supports, he will make the growth. I had full faith in that and he did, but I guarantee you had, I not been like at every meeting, he needs to be in this place and he needs to have, you know, it wouldn’t have happened because there wouldn’t have been a desire to change something that seems to work for the adults. So why, why put him in that?

Terra:
Right. And so, um, so it was a hard, hard battle, again, dealing with systems that were, even though I’ve been education for, at that point in the last couple of years, 14, 15 years as a parent, this is something that could be so overwhelming because there was just so much stuff that you have to kind of pay attention to and try to figure out. I’m curious about like now with your experience as a parent, whether you look back on your experiences as a teacher and principal and kind of think, Oh, I wonder if you could you see it differently? Some of those, some of the discrimination, both on the basis of the devaluation of people with disabilities and also the devaluation of people of color, like does that because you were part of that system, which I imagine makes harder to see the system. Right. And I think for most educators, administrators and teachers who sit on the, our meetings, they fully believe that the recommendations that they’re being given, that the testing that they have been told is accurate and appropriate. You believe that because,

Genia:
And unbiased.

Terra:
It’s unbuttoned, believe it scientific. Like why would it not be? There would be no reason for that. I mean this, and so yes, a hundred percent as I was going to do this with my son, I was like, what did I miss with other kids that I sat as the presiding person over the art or the five Oh four. I’ve always been very, um, cognizant of racial bias of implicit bias for race because of my own background, because of I studied history in college, I majored in African American studies. So I w I’ve always been very, very aware of how that plays out. I was not as conscious about how that plays out for students who learn differently. Students who think differently, whose who behave and just in general have different life experiences in this way. I didn’t see it that way because just like race, if you’re not involved with a lot of racial stuff, you don’t see it. You don’t, you don’t call it out like that because it’s not happening to you. So until it was happening to my child, very directly that I go, “Oh, wow”

Terra:
Wow. There are things that, as an educator, as an administrator, I would say more than a teacher that I, what did I miss? Because as a teacher, regardless of who I had in my class, I wanted them to learn. And I was always that type of teacher that was like, whatever works, we’re going to do it. Even if it’s not the standard way of teaching. And I didn’t teach history in a standard way, I didn’t use the history textbook. I used primary sources and I used outside articles and it was very much project-based and student-centered. So I was not the prototypical history teacher. I just want the kids to love history. And however way I can get them to work history, then I would do it. And I would work with kids wherever they, they might be in their learning. So as a teacher, I think that was a different experience for me and I didn’t your accommodations didn’t drive what I would do for you.

Terra:
Like if you needed something beyond that, I was going to do it because I just want you to be successful. But as an administrator, I would say sitting in on those meetings, I presume all the paperwork that was coming to me, all of the, um, that the debriefing over the data and all the decisions that were being made from the data were in the best interests of the kid. I would have believed that 100%, I wouldn’t have doubted it. It wasn’t till I got to be a parent having to sit through it that I realized a lot of times it is not being what’s in the best of your certificate. It’s, what’s in the best interest of how do we schedule the kids with services that we have available on our campus,

Genia:
Yeah. Yeah. It does make sense. So tell me a little bit about the work that you do now.

Terra:
So the work that I do now, um, how I got to it was, I had already decided to leave the school district that I was in, in March. Um, prior to the, I had already decided I was going to leave and I was going to provide professional learning to educators and leaders, um, through my own company. And it was going to be based off of best instructional practices for all kids, for equity and access. It was good. That was going to be the focus and it was going to be face to face traditional workshops, seminars, whatnot, then the Pynamic happened. And that was like that. And school districts were putting their money into other places, into other trainings and, um, trying to figure out how to do virtual. And so I had already made plans to leave. And so I had to think about, what am I going to do now?

Terra:
Like what can I do now? And then we start seeing a lot of the social unrest happening shortly thereafter. Um, the George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, um, even, you know, this past week. So, you know, we just kept seeing more and more. And because I’m an educator because I’m African American. I have a lot of parents reaching out to me saying, how do, what do I do? Like, am I doing the right thing? My kids like how it’s everywhere. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t know how to explain race and racism and diversity and inclusion and what it even means because we are lucky enough. Most of my friends were pretty, um, privileged is the best way I could say they were privileged to not have to worry or think about that. They weren’t, it wasn’t in their house. You know? And even them hearing from me that with my ten-year-old drew, that we’ve already had the talk because my 10-year-old, he looks like he’s 12 to 14 years old.

Terra:
He’s very tall. And so he is going to be faced with interactions from people who don’t know, he’s really 10 years old and doesn’t understand some of the things that they’re saying or asking him to do. And so we already have had versions of the talk that you give to black boys of how to interact with the world outside of your home. And so, um, so they were shocked to hear that, like you talked to your kids about that, like, yeah, you know, my son can’t go outside with a, um, a Nerf gun to play because someone might think he has a real gun or his best friend is a blonde hair, blue eye boy who, their best friends. They often think they’re twins. Now my son is like several feet taller than him. Definitely not. He’s Brown and Brown hair. Now, you know, they’re not twins, but in their eyes, they are the same, which is beautiful.

Terra:
Right. But outside in the public, like when they’re interacting with each other or playing around with each other, I have to tell them the world that’s may not see you as this close-knit of people. They might think Drew’s trying to harm you or something like that. So you have to be careful because though we know y’all are best friends. The world doesn’t know that. And so you have to watch how you interact with each other sometimes because you don’t want someone to get the wrong impression. And so, anyway, um, so as I came into hearing all these requests about what can I do, what do I need to learn? I started thinking probably should create some online courses or webinars or things for parents to use with their kids. So they can have tools to talk about race, racism, social justice, inclusion, equity issues.

Terra:
That makes sense for where their kids are. And so the best way I could do that was through children’s books and or young readers books that take those issues already and make them into a storyline that is easy for you to read with your child and to talk about it because it gives you context. And so I think the hardest thing to talk about any of these issues, if you don’t have the context, if you have the privilege to not have to deal with any of this, you may not have the language or the tools to be able to talk about it in an authentic way, but books give you that because it encourages family time literacy, which is huge. You want your kids to be engaging in learning outside of just traditional school. You want them to understand the value of reading and the places that can take you.

Terra:
And the one thing that reading can do is it can take you into perspectives and places that aren’t the same as where you are and let you get to know characters and people that look and sound differently than any. And so it’s a very safe way to start to engage with inclusion, with diversity, with issues of social justice, in a way that makes sense to your kids. And it also gives you a venue to talk about, have you ever been treated differently or have you ever treated someone differently? And it gives you that appropriate context where it’s safe and it feels comfortable. And it allows parents to start this dialogue early on. So as their kids get older, you continue the dialogue. It’s not like a one-time type of situation. It’s something you continue to do.

Genia:
Yeah. So, so then how are you, how, well, usually I ask people at the end of, of interviews, how people can access more information I want, I don’t want to, and I’m not, I don’t want to end this cause I still haven’t. I have some follow-up questions for you, but if people are interested in that, um, in, in getting some help from you around how to talk to their kids about issues of racism and equity and inclusion, where do people find?

Terra:
So you can visit me on my website and it’s www.unlearningracism.net. And right now I have a couple of different evergreen or courses you can get in webinars. You can get any time and it downloads directly to you. Two of them are around books specifically. So I have one for children’s books for ages two to six, and then another one for young readers from seven to 14. And essentially I walk you through different books that give you different ways to use with your children that are, um, completely around the storylines of embracing diversity. And it’s not just diversity around race, it’s around diversity, around multiple different types of things. From the way you look, the way you think, the way you learn all sorts of different things so that we understand that identifying diversity is important and seeing the value that diversity brings.

Terra:
And that uniqueness is not something that should be set you apart, but it gives you value to your community. And so those books, especially for the younger kids, really hone in on that and really talk about it in a very, um, uplifting way that makes everyone understand like the differences shouldn’t set us apart. It should draw us together. And that’s a really common message that we have to continue to kind of bring into our children because their mindsets and their beliefs and their values, all STEM from what we expose them to. And if we don’t expose them to that early, then it’s not likely to be nurtured and thrive within them as they get older. We just kind of ignore it and say, well, we just don’t talk about that. And they’re going to think there’s something wrong with that. And there’s gonna be some things, some shame around that. So we don’t want that. We want to bring it to, into the light and really celebrate those things.

Genia:
So you were talking earlier about, uh, you know, being very clear about how racism functions in your own life and in society, but really having your eyes opened by your experience of having a child that learns differently and seeing that aspect of societal devaluation play itself out on your own child, which now means you can see it far more clearly. And I think that’s really interesting because, um, just, just that re not exclusive to you, you, um, for all of us that being able to see devaluation discrimination, stereotyping, and wounding of one particular group of people doesn’t necessarily mean that you can see it for other groups of people, right?

Genia:
So I feel like within the ability movement, now, this is the parents movement specifically because actually black disability activists have been, um, opening people’s eyes to these issues for decades and decades. So, but within the parent movement, I think that we’re not necessarily, um, there’s certainly not a really broad narrative where we’re talking about how our own kids experienced discrimination and devaluation, and then we’re taking what we learn and applying that in the way that we talk to our kids and talk to our communities about discrimination and devaluation in general. Right? And so, or not, not in general, but applying it to, you know, how we think about racism. For example, I’m not sure that the parent movement is feeling like, you know, they have a responsibility to becoming an ever-growing anti-racist

Genia:
Themselves as part of their request that people address their others address their ableism to work towards, towards a better, you know, towards better communities and a better society for all of us. And one of the things that I think is a struggle because we can’t, you know, we’re as humans, we’re not, um, we, we just don’t see, like you said, we don’t see what we don’t see. One of the things that can be really helpful is having some tools to check our own biases around that. And I know that that’s something that you help people with is like, yeah, how do you check your own bias?

Genia:
I just need to pause here and point out what I just did in this conversation. It was talking about the parent movement, the disability parent movement. And I made statements like the disability parent movement is all white or at least white-dominated. And in my experience that’s true. But that of course is not the whole story. The fact that my experience of the disability parent movement is white and white-dominated is a result of racism and white supremacy. And the fact that that’s been my experience is one thing. The fact that I spoke on behalf of an entire movement, which of course includes black indigenous and people of color, um, that’s unconscionable. So there you go. Ah, I made that mistake. I’m not editing it out. Um, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to encourage all of us to think about how racism and white supremacy has influenced, uh, our experiences. Oh, it has silenced voices and excluded important leaders and advocates and visionaries from making the difference in the world that they should be making because of their silence or their being filed and occluded. All right, let’s jump back in.

Terra:
Right. And so, you know, the, the larger thing that I offer beyond these short little webinars is a four-week course for parents because reading the books and having the talk and using the tools is important. But I think we first have to take a step back to understand how did we get here and how did I not know we got here? Like, those are some really important things to do. And so part of what I say a lot of is you have to relearn history to unlearn racism. You have to understand where all of this is coming from, that we weren’t even fully aware of that we were being conditioned to think of people of color in this way. And so to be able to do that, you have to be willing to re-look at history. We look at where did your own beliefs and values and mindsets come from and do a lot of self-reflection on that.

Terra:
It’s important to do that self-reflection before you start to have these conversations with your children because what you may not even realize is that you either done or said things that had a lot of loaded bias into it, but because to you, it was normal, or it was how we were raised, or it’s just the way that we are known to speak or talk, or, um, we, we don’t even realize that it’s there and not one person is immune from having bias. We all have bias. It’s just a part of how we’re conditioned as human beings to see the world is that’s just who we are. Even if you’re a wonderful, sweet person, there’s still some sort of bias there, right? And it’s being able to acknowledge the bias that you have and understand where it came from, but it’s not something that you sought out or that you purposely inherently took on.

Terra:
It’s just how we were conditioned to be in terms of how you learn history. And we look at history from high school through college. Most of the textbooks were written by the same publisher and the publishers kind of throughout the nation have the same textbooks. And they tell the same history and it’s very surface level. And so we all come away with thinking like this grand donation that, you know, slavery ended 400 years ago. I’m not sure why people are so mad, like what is going on, right? And so if you just think of the history that we all were taught, and it’s the same history and the people who know of a different history because of culturally and how we’ve grown up, um, particularly if you’re in the South, you know, a very different history than people that might be in the North or the Midwest, um, because of our own experiences with it, you may not have the full grasp of why there is this sense of pain and frustration within the black community.

Terra:
You may not understand all of the different things that have happened since the end of slavery till today, and where systemic racism plays a role in it and how mindsets and beliefs uphold that system. And so until you, as an adult, take time to really look at history from multiple perspectives and come up with your own, your own gleanings from that, right. Take your own set of critical thinking to go. Well, that doesn’t sound what I’ve always thought to know or what’s taught, right. And then be able to take that and use that to really go through what are your own biases that you may have. And I asked you some very clear questions that there’s in the course that I give. There is a workbook that goes with every module. And it’s basically asking you some very personal questions, it’s for your own self to answer. So you can answer the questions or not answer the questions, but it’s for those who,

Genia:
If you don’t answer the questions you need to ask yourself why you’re not willing to answer the questions,

Terra:
But some of us need someone to ask us those hard questions, right. And make us answer them. And so that’s for those people who are in the situation, that’s like, I really do want to learn more and I really do want to do some self-introspection. I really want this for myself. And so I have rewritten this course, like two to three times, and each time I change it, because what I know is as parents we’re super busy, we have a lot of stuff going on. So, um, initially the course was like four different modules each an hour long. And I was like, that’s too much. No one can consume that. So I’ve taken those different hour-long modules and try to like make them into 20-minute chunks so that you could watch it, do some reflection and then move on to the next chunk so that you had some closure between each one.

Terra:
And, um, they’re consumable as you go, like, so on your own time, they’re not set in stone. You get them as you see fit. And it, I think it does help you understand history from a broader sense. Um, you get to understand what you learned and then what I missed as well, and also tie that back into your own implicit bias and the things that you want to do differently. And so we do all of that learning before we get to the third, uh, part of the module, which is how do we teach our children? Because you have to go through all of that uncovering to get to that. Now, my big goal is, um, is after kind of getting my feet wet with doing these different types of learnings, to create a membership program in which there will be con content released around diversity equity inclusion, but also advocacy.

Terra:
Because as you saw what I went through with my child, I feel like parents need to know more about how to show up in those meetings to adequately advocate for their child in a way that doesn’t require them to necessarily have to spend a whole lot of money to get an advocate, or to have someone come in to do that work for you. Because I know I was at that point, I was at the point where I was like, and then I figured out, how can I learn all this stuff that I need to learn to sit in a meeting to, to be able to advocate for my own child? So that’s the big goal is I’m hoping to launch that later in September for parents who want more in time content around those issues, whether it’s diversity, equity, inclusion, how to use storytelling and books for those things, but also for parents who need their own learning to happen. That be part of it as well as advocacy for your child, regardless of it’s around race or are around kids who just need additional supports from the school.

Genia:
Right. So I have, I, one of the things that, um, I believe to be true is that just informing, just giving people information, doesn’t actually get you very far. You know, it doesn’t really undo people’s bias or assumption, you know, which is one of the reasons why I think the, um, you know, the widespread practice of, uh, you know, there’s going to be a child with down syndrome entering the classroom. So before the child enters, you know, somebody comes in and teaches kids about down syndrome. Like, I think it’s a terrible, terrible idea.

Terra:
So how does your course for parents, like, you’ve talked about teaching the history, um, which I, I believe to be really important and it’s a really important step. But how is, how is it, how is your course different in so far as like, we know it’s not just enough to tell people information.

Terra:
So in the third model, that jump, then that third module we really started talking about, how do you make the job? What does it just looks like? What does that mean in terms of your daily actions, your lifelong commitment to this? What does this mean in terms of the things you do with your children from very young to elementary, to high school? What are the strategies that are ongoing that you do? And what’s the additional learning you will have to engage in for the rest of your life, right? Because it doesn’t matter how much I already knew about these things. I’m still reading tons of books that I’m like, Oh, I didn’t know that. Right? Cause it’s not done the work isn’t done. It’s. And again, this is not a one-time event engaging in this work with your children has to be a long-term commitment so that as they go through their stages of development, you’re right there with them.

Terra:
So having the conversations, cause I will tell you that someone who was a secondary teacher and administrator, our kids go very quiet. The older they get, they go very quiet. They withdraw into themselves and it’s much harder to pull stuff out of them. And so you have to really start to understand what are all the different things that they could be engaging in or witnessing or observing. And how do I have built-in that constant communication with them to draw it out of them? Because if I don’t, then I have no idea what they’re coming into and what they’re interacting with social media, with the occurrence of what kids do when they have their own cellphones when they’re away from their parents. So you have to be able to take all of this learning that you go through for every stage of their development to understand how do I proactively have systems and procedures built-in with my child to have this ongoing dialogue with them that they know that we don’t, we don’t just stop talking because they’d come a teenager.

Terra:
Right? But we’re still going to have these conversations because one of the things that as when I was in college and we were having classes in education around these issues, a lot of my white counterparts just couldn’t speak on it. Or when they spoke about it, they spoke from a place of their own experience. And so in a way to negate kind of the experiences I was talking about. And so you want to set your child up to when they get into those conversations with other people who look and sound differently than they do that, they’re able to talk about it with an impact, with empathy, with, um, knowledge of others and their experiences versus feeling clueless or shutting down. Right? And so if you built this throughout their life with you, then they show up feeling much more comfortable talking about these harder topics to talk about.

Terra:
And so that’s really what module three talks about is like, okay, what, what, how do you now, you know, all this stuff, what are you going to do with it? And how do you deal with that? And through every age and how do you continue to use these tools that are available for you to be able to have these harder conversations with them on a regular basis. And also we lead into planning what our next steps, because a four-week course, isn’t going to be the thing that’s going to revolutionize your whole life. It’s the beginning, it’s the tip of the iceberg. So what are you going to do moving forward? And just like you said, passive knowledge consumption. Doesn’t do anything it’s going to take, what do I do with this now? How do I actively engage what I’ve learned and how do I then bring my family into the fold of it?

Terra:
And one of the things that I talked about with someone else is that the worst thing that you can do is if you live in a very monolithic community and it’s all the same culture and the same beliefs, and everybody looks and thinks the same, and you’re thinking, how do I have authentic experiences with other cultures? And the thing that comes to you is I will now take my kids to go to a shelter. And that is where we will do our work. Well, you also have to think that gives a different message to, like you’re saying that people who looked differently all in shelters, like that’s, it’s good work, but that’s not the only work you should be doing. Right. You have to think about how do I ensure that the experiences I decide to have with my children show that people can be on the same level as you, but look, and think and sound different than you are. And what do those look like? And how do I have this consistent, um, interaction? So you just have to be thoughtful about it because you don’t want to send another message to them unknowingly. That is what diversity inclusion is about. Right?

Genia:
Right. And in fact, you probably, without some guidance will do the wrong thing because like you’re probably going to, I love that example. I mean, one of the common disability examples as well, you want to learn about people with disabilities. So like you take somebody to a segregated class or you take them to an institution or you, you know, and it’s just like, that is not,

Terra:
That’s not the message I’m trying to say.

Genia:
No, but you, you play out your unconscious bias.

Terra:
Right.

Genia:
And so yeah, that guidance is really helpful. So all of these resources and courses are available at unlearningracism.net. Right. Just want to repeat that, that URL. So Terra, if you had just sort of one message that you really wanted parents of kids with disabilities to hear, what would that message be?

Terra:
My message is start now, make a plan now of what you’re going to do and how you’re going to engage your family in this type of learning and growth and understand it’s going to be messy. And it’s okay if it’s messy, but get started. Don’t wait for the right time, the right moment. Start looking now what you can start doing, even if it’s just, I’m going to read a book, my son, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s a start because that start will start to open your eyes and your heart to other people which will make you want to learn more and grow more and understanding that as much as you fight for your child, there are lots of other people that need other people will fight with them too.

Terra:
And they’ll be right there because for us, until everyone’s treated equally, no one’s treated equally. And so it goes for everything regardless of his race, whether it’s about intellectual disabilities, whether it’s about not having full capabilities with our body, it’s everything we all want to be treated equally and given access to opportunities. And we don’t want anyone to be left behind.

Genia:
Beautiful. Thank you. I think that, that is the perfect statement to, to wrap up this interview. And I just want to say thank you so, so much for your time. We’ll make sure that the link to unlearningracism.net is in the show notes so people can easily, you know, find out more about your courses and your offerings and, uh, you know, make that commitment to moving forward together. Thank you so so much.

Terra:
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it so much.

Genia:
Thank you so much for joining me today for this conversation with Tara. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did, and I hope that you’ll take advantage of the excellent resources on her website on learning racism.net. I just signed up for one of her webinars, embracing diversity and inclusion through young readers’ books. And I hope that you’ll do the same. We’ve all got work to do in becoming anti-racist and we’ve all got work to do and making sure that we are raising anti-racist kids. Thank you so much. And I will talk to you again soon. Take care.

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Special thanks to TERRA SMITH for joining me this week. Until next time!

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