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Choosing to See: A Book Review


In recent years, education has undergone a significant shift as educators grapple with pervasive inequities embedded within our systems. This transformation is particularly acute in education publishing, with a proliferation of literature focused on culture and equity (e.g., Street Data, Grading for Equity, Coaching for Equity, Build Equity, Join Justice, to name a few). These works are among the best books I’ve read in recent years, as they provide practical strategies for promoting equity and justice in educational practice. Among these, Choosing to See: A Framework for Equity in the Math Classroom by Pamela Seda and Kyndall Brown stands out as a vital contribution, offering both a philosophical foundation and actionable guidance for educators committed to promoting equity and change.

 

Why read Choosing to See? The book is not only an academic treatise but a practical guide for real-world application. Seda and Brown draw from their extensive experience as educators and researchers to provide actionable strategies that teachers can implement immediately, moving beyond a theoretical discussion of change to a clear, practical framework for achieving it.

 

At its core, Choosing to See tackles the pressing issue of visibility in education. The title itself is a powerful metaphor for the political act of sight—of seeing students not just as learners but as whole individuals with unique backgrounds, experiences, and potentials. “Seeing” is, thus, crucial because, as Seda and Brown suggest, what we choose to see in our students has profound implications for their educational outcomes and personal development. Choosing to see involves recognizing and valuing students’ cultural backgrounds and lived experiences. It implies a choice, which positions seeing as a political act that challenges dominant narratives that often position certain groups as invisible. Educators can break down the barriers that often inhibit student success by choosing to see students, especially those from vulnerable communities. The argument here is quite simple and, in its simplicity, remarkably potent.

 

Choosing to See explores several key questions that, by now, are all too familiar: How do we recognize and address inequities in the classroom? How do we provide strategies for “seeing” our most vulnerable students in their full humanity, acknowledging their strengths, and leveraging their experiences to enhance learning? By centering students’ identities and experiences, how do we create more engaging, relevant, and effective educational experiences?

 

The ICUCARE framework presented in this book answers these questions. The framework offers a pragmatic and transformative approach to achieving equity. Each principle of ICUCARE—Include others as experts, be Critically conscious, Understand your students well, use Culturally relevant curricula, Assess, activate and build on prior knowledge, Release control, and Expect more—serves as a cornerstone for upholding the change we wish to see. This framework is not a rigid set of rules but a flexible, comprehensive guide that empowers educators to tailor their teaching to meet the unique needs of their unique students.

 

In the context of the framework, “seeing” means recognizing our students’ unique identities, experiences, and perspectives. It involves understanding the socio-political contexts that shape their lives and the systemic barriers they face. This is crucial because “seeing” directly impacts student engagement, motivation, and achievement. Researchers have found that students achieve better social outcomes when teachers see them. Thus, by choosing to see, educators can build essential relationships with students and foster environments where students feel valued and understood and, thus, thrive.

 

The impact of “seeing” students extends beyond individual relationships. Research by Ladson-Billings and others showed that culturally relevant teaching practices improve student engagement and achievement. This approach validates students’ cultural identities and integrates them into learning. That is, it sees them.  

 

Addressing stereotypes and biases is another crucial aspect of the book. Seda and Brown highlight the detrimental effects of stereotypes and bias on student performance. Steele’s research on stereotype threat demonstrates how awareness of negative stereotypes can hinder students’ academic achievement, underscoring the importance of addressing and countering negative stereotypes that can impair student performance and self-esteem. By fostering a classroom environment that “sees” students, educators can help mitigate the harmful effects of these stereotypes, as stereotypes persist in our blind spots. The book provides strategies for educators to confront and mitigate these biases, fostering a more inclusive classroom environment.

 

Beyond its practical applications, Choosing to See is a deeply inspiring read. It challenges educators to reflect on their own practices and biases, encouraging a transformative shift in how they approach teaching and learning. By choosing to see their students in their full humanity, educators can unlock the potential within each learner, fostering a more equitable and just educational system.

 

References

 

Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001). Early teacher-child relationships and the trajectory of children's school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625-638.

 

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.

 

Seda, P., & Brown, K. (2022). Choosing to See: A Framework for Equity in the Math Classroom. Solution Tree Press.

 

Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52(6), 613-629.

 

Zeichner, K. M., Grant, C., Gay, G., Gillette, M., Valli, L., & Villegas, A. M. (1998). A research-informed vision of good practice in multicultural teacher education: Design principles. Theory Into Practice, 37(2), 163-171.

 

Seda, P., & Brown, K. (2022). Choosing to See: A Framework for Equity in the Math Classroom. Solution Tree Press.

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Suggested citation: Kirkland, D.E. (2024). Choosing to See. In forwardED Perspectives, https://www.forward-ed.com/post/choosing-to-see.

 

David E. Kirkland, PhD, is the founder and CEO of forwardED. He is a nationally renowned scholar of education equity. He can be reached via email at: david@forward-ed.com.

 

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