How to Talk about Race with Students in a Way that Matters | A Conversation with Matthew Kay


Matthew Kay’s new book Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom is one of the best books on teaching I’ve read. Its topics are crucially important for teachers (both race and conversations) and its writing has that mark of the best pedagogical scholarship: theory and practice woven intimately together. The first half of the book presents principles for facilitating classroom conversations about race, while the second half of the book reproduces in narrative form specific conversations on topics (such as cultural appropriation). The two most important things I am taking away from this book for my own teaching are Kay’s exhortations to build trust and a sense of community, rather than merely declaring a “safe space,” and to push past the obvious and tired discussions (where everyone trots out the expected positions in the familiar debates) and get, instead, to the hard, the unknown, and the new. Although Kay wrote the book specifically drawing on his experience with conversations about race in high school English classes, the pedagogy he presents applies just as well, with a little adaptation, to college and to other topics and other disciplines. In our conversation below, among many other key points, Kay stresses the importance of listening to students and of getting students to listen to others. I’d add, it’s important we all listen to Kay.



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