Public education was designed for the purpose of providing all Americans with equitable access to quality instruction, social opportunities, and other interests that might not have been possible if families had to pay for the same privileges. Once regarded as one of the opportunities that made this country great, it has become a competitive marketplace for students and staff alike, having to prove their knowledge, skills, and even ethnicity to have access to all.
What has happened?
Martin Luther King once stated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” His dream is one that should have taken shape already, but with movements toward noticing barriers to learning, inequity of opportunities, and even the scary subject of “reverse racism,” it seems that we are now more than ever acutely aware of the racial divide in education.
What are educators teaching, anyway?
Each year, hundreds of thousands of educators flock to diversity training, equity seminars, and affirmative action workshops to “understand” the populations they are working with. Terms like “barriers to learning,” “racial injustices,” and “social-emotional wounds” leave many of us frustrated and looking for deeper ways to identify with students and staff alike. Many well-meaning educators just trying to make a difference are accused of racism, favoritism, and other grievous errors as they teach content given to them by institutions, states, and national corporations that is archaic and outdated. What we need to realize on a deeper level is that building relationships is paramount to any other concept or skill taught in the classroom.
Curriculum is getting a bit too political
With current affairs, societal and economic norms, and political climate being highly charged at this time, teachers and administrators find themselves on a hotbed of controversy, having to make curriculum decisions that “reach many” and “exclude few.” Unfortunately, those quiet voices in the corner feel devalued, unheard, and disrespected, and it may have nothing to do with race. As we make decisions on what to teach and how to teach our future leaders, we should be less concerned about whether content will offend and more concerned about how well we are training them to be responsible, free-thinking, contributing members of a well-functioning and compassionate society.
Let’s stop compartmentalizing each other
Reducing each other to categories of gender, race, religion, background, nationality, and sexual preference simplifies their treatment as members of preferred or despised categories. This reductionism and labeling violates the individual spirit and essence that grants dignity to a person. It is also a violation of human rights, which are vested in the individual, rather than the category. By categorizing each other, we are putting limitations on what we perceive others to be, which in turn affects the richness of relationships that can develop.
Forgive and forget?
There’s no denying that portions of our nation’s history are downright uncomfortable and ugly, but don’t our children deserve the opportunity to have all the information put before them so they can make a determination on what they believe to be right and true? How much longer do we need to keep apologizing for the sins of the past without looking forward to bright opportunities that the future holds? A history forgotten or worse—not taught—-will inevitably repeat itself. If we wish to see societal change at a fundamental level, we need to begin seeing each other with new perceptions–ones built on the essence of potential, love and trust. Perhaps the racial divide that we see in this country at this time is the direct result of putting each other in boxes, assuming limitations, and refusing to see beyond the surface as we view each other through the lens of what someone else views as “good” and “evil.”
A call to all educators….parents……people passionate for change
Start questioning what your children are being taught…..about history, about society, about their own classmates. Have courageous and uncomfortable conversations at home, and stand up for fundamental rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Look forward to better days while refusing to revisit past mistakes, take responsibility for your own lives and your own choices. The only way we can seek change on a national….even global level….is to live authentically, from the heart, speak and seek the truth, and allow others to do the same.