Seattle Public Schools

Liberatory Education

Liberatory Education Changing the Way Students Learn About History   

The word liberate means set someone free from a situation, especially imprisonment or slavery, in which their liberty is severely restricted. It can also mean releasing someone from a situation that limits freedom of thought or behavior. 

Manager of Black Education Anita Koyier-Mwamba, Ethnic Studies Program Manager Alekzandr Wray, and Ethnic Studies Curriculum Specialist Madelin Hall have been working to build a program reflective of the needs, demands, and concerns of the community. Previously known as Integrated Curriculum, the team is now rebranding as the Department of Liberatory Education.  

Why the name change? The Department of Liberatory Education, which includes Ethnic Studies, and Black Studies, creates curriculum designed to eradicate the dehumanization of people of color while highlighting their steadfast resilience. The team believes we all have a moral and ethical obligation to teach our children in a way that liberates their minds, bodies, and spirits.   

SPS Strategic Goals focus on eliminating opportunity gaps and ensuring every student will receive a high-quality education. This includes providing students with culturally responsive professional practice and instruction.  

In an interview with Koyier-Mwamba, Wray, and Hall, they shared their thoughts on how liberatory education is changing the way students learn about history. 

How would you describe liberatory education? 

Koyier-Mwamba: “I think it’s important to understand that we are examining how the past has contributed to the present. In order to make the changes that allow the full humanity of Black children to be encouraged, supported, and experienced, we must create spaces that don’t compel them to live two lives in one body.” 

What falls under Liberatory Education? 

Wray: “We’ve got Black Studies. We’ve got Ethnic Studies U.S. History, Ethnic Studies World History, Filipino American History Studies … basically any class whose main intention is to be able to speak truth to power and be able to speak to the lived experiences of students furthest from educational justice.” 

Hall: In my mind, all classes should fall under Liberatory Ed, and that is definitely not what’s happening currently, but I think what our goal as educators should be is that all classrooms are trying to fight power and helping kids to break from the constraints that the our education system has historically put on them, and that means all students who are stuck in the confines of what education is.” 

How do you combat those who say this type of curriculum is teaching critical race theory (CRT)? 
Koyier-Mwamba: “Let’s take the literal application: critical race theory. It’s a theory, right? … I’m less caught up with that because if you ask most of the people who oppose it, they don’t know what it is. They are opposing what’s different and what’s unfamiliar and what’s not known to them. Yes, I can spend time addressing that issue, but the urgency is in providing the children with what they say they need to be successful and thrive in their schools. They want … classes that are reflective of their personalities, cultures, and their entire diversities.” 

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