Meet Lucy Breidenthal Bernardin: an NYC based woman, educator, partner, dreamer, creative, entrepreneur, and changemaker. Read along as she discusses the importance of decolonizing and transforming classrooms and social impact program development.
Hi there! Please introduce yourself.
Who are you (I’d like to invite you to think about your own multi-layered identity)?
Hi! I’m Lucy Breidenthal Bernardin. I am a woman, educator, partner, dreamer, creative, entrepreneur, and changemaker. Practically speaking, I am an educational and development consultant committed to decolonizing and transforming classrooms and social impact program development.
What is the purpose or function of education in society?
The function of education is to empower, embolden, lift up, and understand our students, so that they might experience the full richness and vast experiences this world offers. Education should function as a means to liberation in society; when we teach about systems of oppression, when we see education as a means to the radical disruption of barriers, borders, and inequities that divide us, then education is liberating. When we educate ourselves and each other to understand (or at least bear witness to the diversity of the human experience), we have the beginnings of a society that is consumed not with borders and walls, but with emergent, celebratory, interwoven differences that permit us to make compassionate, brave, compelling, transformative decisions to consistently vanquish injustice.
What are your experiences in the field of Education?
I have worked in the independent school environment for five years, teaching early childhood through 8th grade as a specialist in social justice education and school chaplaincy. I studied feminist pedagogy in graduate school, particularly in the transnational feminist context. I also worked on education partnerships and initiatives in Haiti, primarily in a faith-based context. My passion for decolonizing education initiatives in the mission-work field stems from my graduate work as well as my time working in Haiti. While working in independent schools, I developed curricula around antibias, antiracism, and decolonizing community service and global justice work, and am currently working on a new curriculum for Episcopal Schools on community organizing, development, and decolonizing service-learning, mission trips, and humanities classrooms.
In what ways can education be transformative and/or liberating?
For me, education--for all ages--has the power to expand our understanding of the human experience. Meaningful education is one that teaches us the power of listening--to ourselves, and to others--and creating space for new knowledge to emerge from that listening.
In what ways can/should the current system of education be transformed or liberated?
I think we have a lot more work to do in terms of transforming curricula to include diverse and marginalized voices--I’m not talking about adding people of color or women or people with disabilities to your lesson and calling it a day, although in some cases that would be a start; I’m talking about teaching TEACHERS about systems of injustice and giving teachers the tools to teach about those systems in ways that allow children early on and well into adulthood to understand the intersection of oppression with race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability. I think teachers are often overwhelmed with common core, grading, parents, funding for their own school supplies, fighting for their children to have flexible seating or any other list of challenges, that taking up the mantle to self-teach about anti-bias and anti-racism that’s actually effective can feel overwhelming. School administrators need to prioritize effective training of their educators in these fields, and it needs to be long-term, consistent, and in step with the developing pedagogy of the field of inclusion and diversity. It’s a lifetime of work and unlearning and our educators are at the forefront of it. Administrations need to care about the theoretical approaches to teaching and training anti-bias and anti-racism, and need to include feminist approaches to understanding.
Have you ever felt like you needed to hide certain parts of your identity (e.g.-race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, social class, etc.) in order to be embraced either as a student OR teacher in school settings?
I have a very privileged place in society. I am white, middle class, straight, and Christian. As such, my experience teaching in school settings has been one of ease. However, I teach a lot about body positivity and body acceptance as it relates to social justice and radical acceptance and part of that comes from my own struggle and journey to love and accept my own bigger body and overcome disordered body image. When I first started teaching middle school, I was extremely anxious about my body and my weight--middle school girls were acting out diet culture at the lunch table--and on the sports teams I was coaching-- and middle school boys were just coming into their exploration of what was acceptable for men and women in a toxic masculine culture, and I always felt like I was a target. In fact, early on I remember breaking down in tears when a 4 year old boy had consistently came up to me in the hallways to tell me I was “too big.” It was hard for me to tell his teacher that perhaps they needed a lesson on body diversity, because I was ashamed at the time of admitting what my body looked like. I remember feeling that while the teacher was lovely to me about it, that I was embarrassed to be pitied for something that was probably seen as a personal failing and a reflection of my own weakness. I’m slowly learning to develop a strength in my heart so that I can teach about body diversity and body acceptance without feeling self-conscious but rather feeling empowered.
What advice do you have for teachers of color/of the Global Majority OR teachers who teach children of color during these deeply challenging times?
As a white woman, my advice is for other white teachers and educators: educating yourself is critical if we are going to transform systems of oppression in our students’ lifetimes. We cannot decide that we are done learning. There can be no end to the constant work we have to do as white people to unlearn the systems of oppression and privilege that we profit from consciously and unconsciously. Adopt a practice of listening. Adopt a practice of sitting with discomfort. Adopt a practice of self-reflection. Adopt a practice of creating space for students of color to be safe, to be nurtured, to be supported. If you don’t know how to do it, find a colleague, a mentor, a friend who can be that person. Do not ignore race in your classroom. Do not avoid discussing privilege. Teach your students that they have both the power to speak up, and the power to listen. Incorporate diverse books that tell stories about diverse families living their everyday lives--not just stories about POC heroes. Teach about people of color all days of the year, not just during Black History Month. Check your bias and your privilege--every single day and be open to learning—even from your students.
Lucy is a freelance consultant and public speaker through her project, Zanmitay Collective. She consults with educational non-profits, schools, and workspaces to decolonize classrooms and transform communities with impact. Follow her on instagram at @zanmitaycollective, check out her website at www.zanmitay.com, and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to book her to speak at your event, give your organization or school an inclusion and decolonizing mission-work workshop, or give a one-on-one consultation for inclusive lesson plans, projects, or partnerships.
A Snapshot of Lucy's Wonderful Work: