Equitable Endeavours through our District's Equity Framework
In previous posts, I have shared my perspectives on the spectre of systemic racism in education, particularly in relation to Indigenous Peoples. I highlighted two interrelated constructs related to this issue: epistemic racism (the idea that there is only one form of true knowledge) and the related “racism of low expectations” highlighted in the 2016 Auditor General’s Report. You might also know that the Ministry’s Anti-racism Action Plan has a requirement that all districts embed anti-racist goals, actions and outcome measures into their strategic plans. It is a sign that government identifies racism as a serious enough issue that if left unaddressed will remain a great threat to our vision of having each child thrive our education system.
My goal for this post is to audition some thoughts on a way forward, understanding that it is a tremendously complex issue. Prior to proffering solutions, however, I think there are two important points we ought to come to grips with on an individual and collective level in our education system. The first is that racism is a highly charged word. People who have dedicated their lives to help children from all walks of life succeed can sometimes be shocked when someone tells them that they work in a system that is racist. So, I do think some caution should be extended about how we deconstruct racism in all its forms and leave spaces for discourse about this issue which O know many people have a hard time discussing.
The second point I would offer is that there are no universal solutions to complex problems. There is no one thing that we could apply across the system that will solve this issue, as it was a complex and interlaced set of circumstances and mindsets that created it over time. As frustrating as it might sound, this means that there is no one action – in policy or classroom practice or mindset that we can take that will immediately resolve issues of racism overnight. It is too difficult to “unbake” the cake of an inequitable education system. Rather, as our Equity Framework suggests we must look at the concerted individual, group, pedagogical and policy moves we can make to develop and sustain safe equitable and inclusive schools.
So, let me offer three ideas about how we might go towards building more equitable systems for our students. These thoughts are grounded in the lenses of our district’s Equity Framework, and are intended more to spark curiosity rather serve as definitive responses to this challenge
- The Individual Lens of the Equity Framework invites us, among other things, to educate ourselves about our various identities, the ways we see the world, the manner in which this shapes the work we do, the biases we have and the privileges we sometimes take for granted. Consider for example, the books you tend to read for personal pleasure or for professional growth. How many books have you read by Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic or Black authors? Consider the company you keep. Do you have any friends, acquaintances or colleagues from these communities and have you ever spoken to any of them about their lived experiences? I know that such topics are difficult and require a measure of safety (and we must be mindful of re-traumatization), but I would argue that part of the journey of building more racially equitable and inclusive schools involves all the adults doing some exploration into our mindsets, and asking the extent to which these perspectives contribute to kinds of schools we hope to create.
- The Interpersonal Lens also invites us to situate ourselves in the work of building inclusive schools and societies. None of us is neutral. The perception of neutrality has served over time as an invisible enemy racial equity. Civil rights activist Angela Davis is credited with the term “anti-racist” as she drew a distinction from those who felt that not being racist themselves was a sufficient response to the social crisis. She made the argument that silence is equivalent to complicity and urged us to abandon the idea of neutrality. We must build the courage to speak intelligently and compassionately to each other about the things that matter.
- The Pedagogical Lens asks us to look critically at our classroom practices to ensure that we support the various identities in our schools. Among other things, it invites us to give kids the tools to have conversation about race and racism. One of the big challenges is creating space in classroom for the marginalized students to see their cultures positively reflected in its ecology. This can be done in a variety of ways, but great thought must be exercised about the variety of resources we use. In addition, students, and their experiences and heritages are valuable fonts of knowledge for classrooms. By now we know that doing this work is not a deviation from the curriculum, but an expectation because students are required to develop positive personal and cultural identities in our schools. I know that trepidation exists amongst many teachers in terms of talking about race. Most of them will tell you that it is uncomfortable. We will certainly make errors, and I would suggest that errors of commission are better than errors of omission. Our mistakes will be our best teachers.
- The Structural Lens asks us to interrogate the invisible structures in our schools that inadvertently cause harm to many students of colour. Think, for instance about our discipline policies and how it is that Indigenous students are disproportionately represented in them. Or why it is that significantly higher numbers of Indigenous students end up in our alternate schools. We have had a tendency over time to point the finger at the kids or their families and have begun to take a look at the policies, structures and practices that we have taken for granted. How do we ensure that they work for all students? How do we detect the barriers built into them and how do we remove them?
Some of us might have seen the recent video gone viral of a Lyft driver kicking two patrons from his vehicle for making racist comments. They were initially relieved that for once they had a “white driver” and he promptly told them that it was not okay with their talk. When they persisted, he asked them to leave his vehicle ...of course amid a barrage of profanity from them. Martin Luther King said that “the true measure of a (person) is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at time of challenge and controversy.” Winston Churchill put it more succinctly, “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others.” The Ministry’s plan will not be successful unless we raise the consciousness, skills and actions of children and adults to become aware and artfully speak up when we perceive individual or institutional injustice. Our future will depend on it.