Vista Grande High School (VGHS) invited Dr. Sharroky Hollie, the executive director of the nonprofit group Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching, for a lecture at the Taos Country Club on Oct. 6. The presentation was part of the Indigenous Education Initiative grant Vista Grande High School received from the New Mexico Department of Education.
Speaking to a crowd of K-12 teachers and educators, Hollie took an activities-based approach to the lecture in order to illustrate concepts like “Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness (CLR)” and how to achieve “equity” in the classroom.
Santa Fe Public Schools defines CLR as the method and practice “that acknowledges, responds to, and celebrates fundamental cultures offers full, equitable access to education for students from all cultures.”
Hollie defines CLR in his book “Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning: Classroom Practices for Student Success” as “the validation and affirmation of the home (indigenous) culture and home language for the purposes of building and bridging the student to success in the culture of academia and mainstream society.”
He emphasizes in his book that educators need to be more culturally “responsive," “connected," “relevant” and “competent.”
At the lecture, he said CLR is based less on race and based more on one's cultural identity.
“The journey to responsiveness is that you are on a journey to be more sensitive and more understanding and more aware of the students – who need you to be,” said Hollie at the country club.
Hollie conveyed the meaning of CLR through activities that focused on communication through body language, voice inflection, and speaking directly and indirectly. In one activity, he asked the educators in attendance to turn to one another and use facial expressions and body movement while saying the simple phrase: “Don’t act like you don’t know my name.”
“So I want you to use more facial expression, body language than what you're actually saying. Why? Because culturally, around the world, in some cultures, nonverbal is more important than verbal. It's more important to be expressive with your body, with your hands, with your face than it is whatever you're saying. Now that's hard for some people to conceptualize. But it's true, because in these cultures, it's not what you say, but how you say it,” said Hollie.
Hollie is based in Los Angeles and has a PhD in education, specifically curriculum and instruction, from the University of Southern California. He was a former K-12 teacher in Los Angeles. He has been teaching CLR at schools for over 20 years.
Since the 2020 national protests over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Hollie said he has received many more requests from schools to have him teach CLR to their teachers.
“That's where basically, the demand tripled. With what happened that summer, and you know, everyone just was wanting to take action and do something. I would say that there's been sort of a little bit of a pulling back, since all the CRT stuff,” said Hollie.
CRT or Critical Race Theory is the academic movement to have lesson plans about systemic racism and inequality. The theory posits that racism is embedded in U.S. laws and institutions. CRT has garnered recent national controversy with parents and others protesting at school board meetings. Protesters in several states do not want CRT to be implemented in K-12 education.
Hollie said he does not want people to conflate the terms CLR and CRT. Hollie said that CRT focuses on systemic racism, while CLR focuses on cultural understanding.
“Whereas CLR is really focusing on the culture piece, and specifically how it applies to students. Whereas CRT I think it's more meant for us – an adult audience some would say like a university academic audience. And the principles are ... macro; it's about systems. Whereas this is very micro, right? And I mean I'm getting down to the dynamic of the relationship between a teacher and a student,” said Hollie.
Educators understanding CLR can lead to more “equity” in the classroom, according to Hollie.
After George Floyd, Hollie said that he went through what he called his “post-George Floyd change.” This meaning that he only goes to schools that are serious about full implementation of CLR in their classrooms.
“It hit me hard after what happened with George Floyd in our summer protest. And the whole racial justice reckoning because I realized, a lot of places that I had gone previously, they were faking the funk. You know, they were just about the ‘rah rah.’ But they really weren't about trying to do the deep work. So I had to make an adjustment for myself,” said Hollie.
Hollie said he’s hopeful CLR will be taught more widely in the U.S. After teaching it for over twenty years, he said it can feel like, “two steps forward, two steps back.” Lectures like this at the Taos Country Club, however, where he was received well and had engagement with the audience, gives him hope.
“I feel like we just need to do a better job of articulating, what is it that we're asking for?’ And what we're needing to make for a more equitable situation,” said Hollie.