Equity work in schools is not about closing the achievement gap. The "achievement gap" is in and of itself a racist notion. Therefore, the widely held belief that an excellent education is one that gives poor black and brown children [read marginalized students] what White affluent kids have is way off the mark and, frankly, racist. We need to de-center Whiteness in education and end oppression, nothing less. That is quality. That is equity. That is an excellent education. Read the article below by Irbram X. Kendi to learn more.
High diversity stats do not equate to high levels of equity in a school or organization. Recruiting diversity is not eradicating oppression. Promoting inclusivity is not combating injustice. Schools and organizations should not focus on recruiting diverse students, teachers, leaders, and staff if they have upheld the dominant culture and sustained an oppressive environment. We must only do diversity and inclusivity work once we have done deep and honest equity (read: anti-oppression) work. The order isn't Diversity, Inclusivity, Equity; instead it is always equity first! #equityliteracy *See this post and more on LinkedIn
My post on LinkedIn hit a nerve. I challenged the notion that Diversity Initiatives are a form of Equity Work. Equity Work requires us to do anti-oppression work. If we are not actively engaged in anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, etc. work--and we commit to primarily Diversity Work--than we are recruiting marginalized people to learn in, work in, and teach in oppressive environments. That is the opposite of equity.
Equity Work is a safe way to describe the work I do with schools, districts, and networks. In reality, though, my work with educators is Anti-Oppression work. More specifically, [much of] it is Anti-Racist work; it sees and dismantles White Supremacy in our classrooms, schools, and networks. These words can make educators, funders, and leaders uncomfortable (at the very least) and scared, angry and defensive at the worst. But what happens if we stop using these words or never start using them at all? This article in Yes! Magazine helps explain why we need to say White Supremacy if we want to undo systemic racism in our schools and society.
"We must be able to sit in the pain and pride of a student's narrative." - Dr. Amber Kim
Friday's keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Amber Kim from the University of Colorado. Dr. Kim teaches and talks about "equity literacy." She sees her work as anti-oppression work. Meaning, we have to create systems and spaces in schools that do not oppress or silence individuals or groups of students. Her message was powerful, poignant, timely, thought-provoking, and emotional. She told a number of stories, used great videos, and shared some important realizations that she has discovered. Two of the messages I feel compelled to share, are as follows:
1. There is no such thing as the voiceless. Everyone has a voice.With that said, there are certainly situations in which voices are not expressed, heard, or permitted to matter.Dr. Kim argues that we need to create the space in which voices are afforded real opportunities to be heard and matter. She says that true voice must include expression and power. We need to create systems and environments in which everyone feels their voice is valued, critical, welcomed, and influential. Voice is so critical in the creation of the circumstances in which people can learn and flourish. We talk so much about relationships, but those relationships are not deep, genuine, or impactful if the voices within those relationships are not real, respected, and taken into account. We talk about student voice and work to provide opportunities for it to be heard. As I step back and look at the systems we have in place, if I am being honest, there are explicit and implicit barriers within our structure that deter, impede, and/or dismiss the voice of some of our stakeholders. I...we...can do better. One way is make sure the voices we solicit have power...that leads me to my next takeaway.
2.We need to foster within our learning community, the idea that everyone's voice has power.We cannot solicit it, pretend to hear it, and then move on as previously planned.We need to create multiple opportunities for all of our stakeholders, especially our students, to be able to articulate their needs and see action as a result. We need to share and, in some cases,hand over the decision-making power and demonstrate trust in our studentsthroughout a process of sharing leadership. Our students' voices are the most critical in the equation of education. But, it is hard to want to engage and exercise voice when there are no results. So, I know I need to be, and I suspect we all could be, more cognizant of the explicit and implicit ways I am silencing or not hearing the voices of our students...all of them.
Dr. Kim told a story about voice and power that made me tear up. She said her husband was tickling their young daughter one night and while she was laughing and have a fun time, she was saying, "stop." Now, I do this with my girls all the time...in fact, Bryn thinks I am "the world's best tickler." They say, "stop" regularly and it never phases me, so long as it is said in the playful way. On that night, however, Dr. Kim later said to her husband, "When she says stop, I'm going to need you to stop." Her husband at first questioned it, but Dr. Kim went on to articulate that their daughter needs to know her voice has power. When she says, "stop," she ought expect that whoever she is speaking to, even if it is dad, stops. I could not agree more and this weekend, I was intentional about stopping and starting to ensure that Calla and Bryn know their voices have power.
While this story hit me as a father, it also resonates as an educator. Our students have voices and they are using them all the time. We need to find ways of not just allowing, encouraging, and permitting them. Rather, we need to truly hear, offer some power to, and continue creating the spaces for students to share, speak up, ask, disagree, and/or use their voice.
I want to thank Dr. Kim for such an inspiring and moving keynote on Friday. It has had me thinking...
I am thrilled to be giving the keynote address--"Space to be Heard"--at the Democracy Schools Network Convening on March 10. The keynote reframes the concept of student voice in schools emphasizing the fact that we do not "give" students voice. It reminds that there are no voiceless, "only the deliberately silenced, and the preferably unheard" (A. Roy). For more information see:https://www.eventbrite.com/e/democracy-schools-network-convening-tickets-31650739213
Below is the link to Mattea Juengel's reflection on the "Equity is NOT a Buzz-Word" session I designed and facilitated for the SRI Winter Meeting in Denver CO. In her blog post, Mattea outlines in detail many of the main teachings and tools I used. She begins her piece by saying:
"The delightful Amber Kim presented a variety of research, videos and activities designed to push educators from across the country to think more deeply about what equity really means. Additionally, she provided practical, academically grounded approaches that encourage educators to build a system of education that increases academic achievement for students, while equipping them with equity literacy and positive socio-cultural identity. Before even attending the conference, I knew that the session was going to push beyond the typical conversation around equity based upon the thought-provoking article we were asked to read before the session. While it is impossible to capture all of the amazing things shared in today's session, I hope to share some of my major take-aways in this post."
Learn about internalized oppression, anti-oppression and how student-centered learning educators can help students from marginalized communities tap into their socio-cultural identity in their project-based learning classrooms. Listen to this podcast hosted by Arthur Baraf.