June 14, 2021

Using Design to Disrupt the Cycle of Racism

By Transcend

Young people face a world far more complex than we inherited and will continue to navigate challenges we can’t foresee. This moment calls for an education system that is committed to ensuring all students thrive and succeed in our increasingly complex world.

BIPOC learners—as well as other marginalized students—often face expectations and policies in schools that reflect bias, seek to control and shape behaviors in oppressive ways, and can have a lasting impact on students’ sense of self and life course. Many of their learning experiences are riddled with practices, systems, and policies that further oppress and limit their potential.

In order to advance learning for all, we must consider the impacts of these policies, expectations and practices and redesign systems to support, not harm. A liberatory school design approach, or one that empowers communities to lead in the creation of learning environments that undo oppression in self, community, and systems, is one way to do just that. Grounded in the work of Bettina Love, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and others, this approach has the potential to transform experiences for all learners.

Imagine liberatory learning environments, where school is a space in which…

  • Students are learning and experiencing rigorous and transformative learning opportunities.
  • Learners’ biggest and boldest ideas are realized.
  • Learners’ culture and experiences in the world are affirmed, seen, and heard.
  • Learners’ ways of communicating, seeing, and sharing are honored and explored.
  • Thinking and acceptable ways of being are not dominated by one culture, background, set of values, or norms.

We know and have seen that schools can be a place where young people and adults have truly liberatory experiences—both in the present moment and ones that support them in thriving in the future, shares Transcend Partner, Lavada Berger. This is not only possible; it’s happening across the country! At Transcend, we believe this is critically important and have been working in deep partnership with school communities to design, implement, and spread these practices.

A growing number of schools across the country are making commitments to adapting liberatory, anti-racist practices. These learning environments make key leaps to support students in having equitable, 21st-century learning experiences that transform their lives and contribute to collective liberation for all. The ongoing effort to shift thinking is a long game with generational impact that will not be achieved overnight.

Transcend’s recently released Liberatory Learning Resources help educators go beyond imagining and begin to create these types of learning environments.

About the Liberatory Learning Resources:
The Liberatory Learning Resources put ideas into action and help educators work to create empowering learning environments. These resources are available online for free to anyone, anywhere.

No matter what stage of your work you are in — Transcend wants to support you in your liberatory learning journey. Included in the growing suite of materials are example schools, templates, tools and practical guides.


Transcend supports communities to create and spread extraordinary, equitable learning environments.

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Transcend is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates nationally.