Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said Tuesday that core elements of his agenda — including implicit bias training and making sure classroom materials reflect a diverse set of experiences — are not just sound education practice, but are urgently important for student survival.

Referencing rhetoric from federal and local officials “that students are hearing all the time about who they are, where they come from, what their parents are,” Carranza suggested students are internalizing harmful messages.

“So, the idea of implicit bias training, the idea of having culturally responsive and sustaining curricula and pedagogy is not a matter of just educational practice,” he said. “In many of our communities, it’s a matter of life and death.”

Carranza’s comments are striking because they underscore his belief that those policies will have dramatic ripple effects in students’ lives. They are also defining elements of his agenda for the nation’s largest school system.

The department has required implicit bias training for the majority of its employees, which has invited mixed reactions from educators and invective from conservative commentators, but which Carranza has forcefully defended. And last month, officials announced they will begin ensuring that book lists and the curriculum recommended to schools represent students of different backgrounds. 

Carranza’s remarks came during a panel discussion Tuesday about a new study on teacher and parent perceptions of childrens’ identities, hosted by the Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit responsible for the Sesame Street television show.

Carranza also referenced a series of problems connected to racial identity, including that the vast majority of the city’s students are black, Hispanic or Asian, but most educators are white. He said that helps explain why black students are disproportionately punished, even receiving longer suspensions than students from other racial backgrounds for the same infractions. Some research backs the claim that black teachers are less likely to remove black students from class as a punishment.

Acknowledging controversy over his agenda, Carranza emphasized that he remains committed to raising questions about racial equity.

“You have a Latino chancellor who has been unvarnished and unbridled about talking about this issue and how it affects our kids,” he said. “The story really is what are parents wanting to learn and what are we doing about empowering those adults that work in the school system that do not look like the children they’re serving,” he said. “How are we talking about issues of race and issues of identity?”