Designing Curriculum for Social Justice: Staff Spotlight on Dr. Darin Stockdill

Expansions Vol 2

Dr. Darin Stockdill is the design coordinator for the School of Education’s Center for Education Design, Evaluation, and Research (CEDER), and he is responsible for managing CEDER’s instructional and program design projects. 

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His drive for creating a more just education system through curriculum design is inspired by some of his earliest memories of his parents. Dr. Stockdill’s mother was an early childhood educator who dedicated her professional career to working with marginalized and low-income communities. His father was a public policy expert on mental health who focused on developing community mental health services. He says he has “always been exposed to working around issues [of] access and injustice,” even as a child.

Photo of Dr. Darrin Stockdill

Dr. Stockdill attended U-M for his undergraduate degree, and he graduated with a BA in History. As an anti-racist activist on campus in the early 1990’s, he was involved with the Latin American solidarity movement and found his passion for social justice best integrated professionally into the field of education. He was also actively involved in the University’s former Ella Baker-Nelson Mandela Center, which focused on anti-racist education and operated a police brutality hotline. Further inspiration for his current work came from the 10 years he spent teaching in Detroit as a social studies and English teacher working with both middle and high school students. Dr. Stockdill’s students were predominately immigrants from Mexico, and as he taught them social studies, he started to question the content that was in their textbooks. He noted how the stories of his students’ lives were not represented in the curriculum being taught. Drawing on a concept termed by sociologists as the “sociological imagination”—meaning the “ability to locate ourselves in history”—Dr. Stockdill decided he wanted to do a better job as a teacher to help his students do just that. He said he was looking for ways to relate what they were learning in school to help them “understand what was happening in their community, and some of the inequalities they were facing, and be better equipped to push back against it and resist it.”

After earning his MA in the social foundations of education from Eastern Michigan University, Dr. Stockdill earned his doctorate here in U-M SOE’s Literacy, Language, and Culture program in 2011. Now, he says almost all of his work is equity drivenF, and he gravitates naturally towards the social justice aspect of curriculum design. With the principles of design-based research and social justice education guiding his work, Dr. Stockdill believes in education as a tool for liberation and thus champions high-quality education for all students. Through his work with CEDER, Dr. Stockdill also helps design social justice curricula that makes their way into marginalized communities where many students are not provided with high-quality materials.

“Little Stones” and “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” are two of the most recent curricula that CEDER has offered to school communities under Dr. Stockdill’s leadership. The Little Stones Educational Toolkit is based on the documentary by U-M alumna Sophia Kruz. The film unites the personal narratives of four women around the world who use art to create positive change in their communities. The toolkit was completed in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Driftseed in order to teach high school and college students about gender-based violence, and to show them how to create change through the power of art. The kit includes eight lesson plans as well as a final project, discussion guides for after a screening, and workshops on poetry and graphic design. As Dr. Stockdill puts it, “We wanted to encourage people to become involved with this already ongoing conversation and empower people to take action in their own communities.” Indeed, given his own experience as a former teacher, Dr. Stockdill understands the importance of adaptability and flexibility that is so necessary for educators, so the toolkit is designed to accommodate all schedules and needs. You can find the free tool on the Little Stones For Educators page.

“Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” is a collaboration between the team at CEDER and African-American composer Joel Thompson. Mr. Thompson was moved to respond to the killings of unarmed black men by police and non-police, like George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s case. He wrote a choral piece of the same title as the curriculum, which was inspired by a classical piece called “Seven Last Words of Christ.” Mr. Thompson then connected with Eugene Rogers, who is the director of the U-M Men’s Glee Club, and they developed a score and arrangement. Upon the premier performance of that piece, Michigan Creative created a documentary entitled “Love, Life and Loss.” Eugene and Margo Schlanger, of Michigan’s Law School, then reached out to CEDER for expertise and guidance in designing the educational resources related to “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.” CEDER subsequently partnered with the artists and organizers to build a three-day lesson plan to accompany the half-hour documentary.

Dr. Stockdill shared that as he designs curriculum, he asks: “How do we engage kids in meaningful, responsible ways with really painful issues that need to be tackled, but need to be tackled responsibly?” He strives to engage youth in thinking deeply about both problems and solutions, as well as empowering them to use their voices. Dr. Stockdill would like to see youth “produce works of art or other works of reflection in which they are wrestling with these problems and finding ways to make it better.” His ambitions are reflected in his contribution to CEDER curricular projects like “The Seven Last Words,” which includes the poetry of Detroit youth. “The Seven Last Words” resource guide represents just one of the many ways that Dr. Stockdill helps CEDER, SOE, and U-M overall, innovatively pursue significant dijeobjectives.

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