I want to start this post by reiterating Nate Bowling — “America really doesn’t care what happens to poor people and most black people.”
Now that this statement is out of the way, allow me to share what unfolded a few weeks ago at a gathering of educators [teachers, policy makers, district officials] committed to reframing schooling and moving to a “learner-centered” model.
The week of June 19th, I found myself at a 2-day training event, held by an organization I hold in the highest esteem. But the first thing I noticed walking into a conference room at a swanky downtown Chicago hotel, were four white <arguably middle-aged> facilitators seated at the front of the room. Later in the morning, I noticed the diversity of young staffers seated at the back of the room.
Despite feeling triggered <once again, in a room full of people tackling education equity but lacking diversity, led by an all-white group>, I found my seat with 5 wonderful educators and an education evangelist from Google. The morning was rich in conversation and perspectives of educators and administrators trying to change their schools/classrooms/communities. The key facilitator, borrowing from the Landmark Forum, introduced the room to the *art of ‘enrolling’ and ‘distinguishing’. And at lunch, I found myself with four women from a celebrated district in Iowa <and a winner of the XQ competition>. They spoke about restrictions, politics, and more generally school leadership that resisted change.
Sitting down to dinner later that evening, I found myself talking about education equity and the need for greater diversity of voices/experiences/color in the room. People at the table talked about coming to this ‘work’ because of their own desire to see something different for their children, of what it takes to find the right school for their child, and often the expensive and competitive nature of private school enrollment. Naturally, I questioned the group’s desire to fight for EE while making choices that lead to greater segregation! The answer, “well, when you have kids, things change”. How/what you choose is a reflection of your beliefs. That you can choose, is a reflection of your privilege.
Nothing changes when people of color, those in the bottom rungs of society <socioeconomically>, have children. The 5th worst gap in achievement between White and Black students in the nation can be found in Seattle, a city that claims to be the most “progressive” in the nation. And I have firsthand witnessed simultaneously the debilitating disparities and pride in Seattle’s apparent liberalism. Nate Bowling is more eloquent than I could ever hope to be — truly — polite white society finds consolation in giving $ to charity, supporting EE organizations, protesting TFA coming to their city, fighting for/against charters <whatever is fashionable in the region> and at times, working on the frontlines. While their children attend schools far away those who have committed the sin of being poor.
The cynic in me says there is no way out of this, but the problem-solver in me acknowledges that there is a solution. In fact, there are many solutions. I’m here to offer something to the leadership of organizations looking to make a positive, lasting impact in this space. Don’t look to spreadsheets and strategic plans. Begin with a critical examination of your values, beliefs and the ways in which we all propagate segregation. Stop making excuses for why you choose differently for your child. Stop making excuses for why your child deserves differently <and often better> than a person of color from a lower socio-economic bracket. If a system/school/teacher is not good enough for your child, don’t allow it to be ‘good enough’ for someone else. Sit in your discomfort with having conversations with people who think/feel/know differently. Invite them to your inner-circles, include them in discussions/decisions, hire them, work alongside them. Don’t pretend or make excuses, listen.
*Anyone familiar with the Landmark Forum’s approach to coaching and personal transformation tends to familiar with this language, and more generally the flow of conversation. Throughout 2016, I had a Teach for All fellowship and worked closely with a coach with the same orientation.
Originally published at appyrae.com on July 9, 2017.