Race and Social Problems

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 84–96 | Cite as

Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Race: Ethnic Studies and Literacies of Power in High School Classrooms

  • Cati V. de los Ríos
  • Jorge López
  • Ernest MorrellEmail author


This article explores the potential of a critical pedagogy of race in high school classrooms to foster civic engagement and academic development. We begin with an exploration of the role of white supremacy in “race-neutral” curricula in US schools. Even as the largest 60 school districts in the nation are 80 % non-white and states such as California and New York move toward non-white pluralities in their school systems, curricula remain largely unchanged. We outline some of the larger systemic inequities that result from this often alienating and exclusive approach to teaching in city schools, and we conclude this first section by acknowledging various efforts to name and resist racially oppressive curricula and pedagogies. The second section of the article provides a brief historical context for the Ethnic Studies movement as a response to white supremacist curriculum and instruction in high school and college classrooms. We trace this movement back to its inception in the 1960s to provide a framing for our work. Our goal is to show that (1) the tradition of teaching Ethnic Studies in the high school is as old as the movement itself; (2) the teaching of Ethnic Studies has always been tied to both academic development and civic engagement; and (3) Ethnic Studies courses and content have been infused across disciplines and taught to racially heterogeneous groups since the outset of the movement. The third section of the paper will focus on three case studies of the critical pedagogy of Ethnic Studies with high school students. Two of these cases are of high school classes and the third explores a summer and after-school program where high school students engage in youth participatory action research projects around issues impacting youth of color in their neighborhoods and communities. Across each of these cases, we define our conception of a critical pedagogy of race and we explore the connections between the teaching of Ethnic Studies and the development of literacies of power, agency, social awareness, civic engagement, and academic achievement. We conclude the article with implications for pedagogy, policy, and praxis in city schools.


Ethnic Studies Critical pedagogy Race and education Urban education Curriculum Theory Social justice 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cati V. de los Ríos
    • 1
  • Jorge López
    • 2
  • Ernest Morrell
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Teachers CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Roosevelt High SchoolLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Teachers CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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