Authored by Philadelphia Teacher, New Book Provides Practical Strategies for Engaging High School Students in Conversations About Race

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“Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom” Based on Author Matthew R. Kay’s Personal Experiences

At a time when our national conversation about race continues to escalate, it is more critical than ever that we learn to have productive discussions on the topic. No place is that more important than in classrooms around the country. Today Stenhouse Publishers unveiled Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom. Authored by classroom teacher Matthew R. Kay, this guide provides practical strategies for engaging students in conversations about race.

Inspired by Frederick Douglass’s abolitionist call to action, “it is not light that is needed, but fire,” Kay based this book on his personal experiences as a teacher learning how to lead students through the most difficult conversations about race. Kay makes the case that high school classrooms are one of the best places to have those conversations and provides a method for getting them right, with guidance on:

  • How to recognize the difference between meaningful and inconsequential race conversations.
  • How to build conversational “safe spaces,” not merely declare them.
  • How to infuse race conversations with urgency and purpose.
  • How to thrive in the face of unexpected challenges.
  • How administrators might equip teachers to thoughtfully engage in these conversations.

Dan Tobin, publisher, Stenhouse Publishers, said, “Matt’s message is critical for the times we’re living in. His book and his teaching show how to create the conditions where thoughtful and honest conversations about race can flourish.”

The first part of the book proposes developing an ecosystem that can reliably support effective classroom race discussions, such as developing quality relationships among students and with their teachers. Then Kay takes a close look at meaningful conversations about race that he has had with his students on topics, such as “The N-Word: Facing it Head-On” and “Playing the Other: Thoughtfully Tackling Cultural Appropriation.”

Kay asserts in the book, “Successful race conversations depend on a very specific ecosystem. As teachers our biggest mistake is undervaluing any of the many elements that might, on their surface, seem inconsequential—but that turn out to be vital for our discourses’ survival. Without healthy classroom relationships and sound conversational structures, race conversations cannot thrive. Without honest interpersonal skill development, teachers’ successes will depend more on natural personality traits, which are more unpredictable than we like to think. Finally, without clear methods of establishing purpose, students will rarely decide to invest enough mental, spiritual, and emotional energy to move any race conversation from light to fire.”

Kay is a founding teacher of English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. A product of the Philadelphia Public Schools, he graduated from West Chester University and earned his master’s of educational leadership at California University of Pennsylvania. He is the founder and executive director of the Philly Slam League, which hosts slam poetry competitions for teens in Philadelphia.

Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom
By Matthew R. Kay
ISBN: 9781625310989

About Stenhouse Publishers
Founded in 1993, Stenhouse Publishers produces books, classroom resources, and videos by teachers and for teachers. Stenhouse recognizes and embraces the complexity of teaching and learning. We are devoted to helping teachers inspire deep and creative thinking in their students. Our publications are grounded in sound theory and research and informed by our authors' years of experience in the classroom. Stenhouse is part of the Highlights for Children family of companies.

Matthew Kay is available for print and broadcast interviews. For more information or review copies of Not Light, But Fire, contact Lisa Wolfe, L. Wolfe Communications, lwolfe(at)lwolfe(dot)com, 312-953-8085.

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Lisa Wolfe
L. Wolfe Communications
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