Education MUST Lead the Way

I wish we were in person to have this conversation because that’s what it really needs to be, a conversation. Written-word is difficult in these circumstances because the words that I write may be interpreted differently when they are read versus if I said them out loud. Additionally, in person you’d be able to question, challenge, and engage with me in real time…in writing that can’t happen. Also, this could get a little long…

Regardless, I’m going to muster the courage to share my thoughts in writing with you because I believe it is important that we engage in conversation one way or another.  I hope my writing today will inspire you to think more, learn more, have more conversations, and possibly push your thinking forward. This is my current thinking…

As an educator I’ve believed in the need for a revolution in education for a long time now. Generally speaking, the way we teach and approach education is antiquated. Any “new” initiatives are largely old educational philosophies repackaged with updated technology and, essentially, perpetuate a cyclical educational system that has largely failed us over and over again. 

A personal example of that cycle: I joined Teach For America (TFA) 15 years ago. TFA was founded in 1990, 30 years ago, with the intention of helping to close the achievement gap in America. To be fair to my next statement, TFA was never going to be THE answer to the achievement gap, I know that. According to TFA’s website, “with nearly 62,000 alumni and corps members in over 50 regions around the country, our network now includes more than 15,000 alumni teachers; 4,700 school principals, assistant principals, and deans; more than 500 school system leaders; over 1000 policy and advocacy leaders; nearly 300 elected leaders; and more than 250 social entrepreneurs.” Despite this immense impact and hundreds of millions of dollars spent by TFA alone (not to mention all the other initiatives) over the last 30 years, the achievement gap has not significantly improved at all.

That example may seem disheartening, and it should be in many ways. Personally, I make myself feel a little better by looking back at the data from my two years as a TFA corps member and recognizing that I did help my students “catch up” a bit during the time that they were in my classroom. However, no matter how much I pat myself on the back and make myself feel better, nothing has changed systemically…and that is a big problem. So I go back now to the idea of a revolution in education…what have we (as educators) done over the last 30+ years to really improve what we’re doing? What have we done to address the problems in education on a large scale?

I know educators care and we certainly work hard, I don’t know if there is a harder working profession out there! It’s almost impossible to care more than we care about our students and their success. Yet here we are, 30 years later with no progress…what do we do?

I know what many of you are thinking…it’s not our fault, we’re doing all that we can!!  Well, maybe you’re right, kind of.  I’ve been down that road, I’ve thought that way and passed the blame to society. Guess what, society passes it right back and here we sit; no change, no progress, no matter how much we want to think otherwise.  Everyone is to blame, society, governmental systems, educational systems, and, well, pretty much everyone except the students!

So what a perfect time in our nation’s history to step back and rethink it all. The whole system. Covid-19 is changing the way education thinks about itself, forced reflection and possibly (hopefully!) some revolutionary change in the ways that we approach the inequity in our educational system. Beyond education though we’re having another conversation about the way things need to change in our society, let’s combine them all!

Many of the failings of the educational system can be traced back to the systemic racism in America. We need to face this racism head on and start addressing it at the core. I believe that the educational system is one of the pieces of that core (poverty and historical racism are two other major parts). As a society we need to find ways to address all three of these pieces through having conversations, listening to each other, learning from one another, demanding change from our elected officials, voting for change, and participating wherever we can have an impact. I don’t have all the answers and there are certainly a lot more ways to address societal change but I’m mostly focused on the educational changes right now.

As educators, our voice is loudest in the educational system. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a major role to play in the other areas, but it is in education where we can have the biggest impact. I could go on for pages and pages but I’m going to try to wrap this up with some challenges for you as educators:

  1. Learn about racism: Learn about the history of race in this country. Learn about how your race impacts your life. Learn about how other races are impacted by their race. Learn about how your race impacts other races. Learn about the role of race in the classroom. Learn about the drivers of the systemic racism that corrupts our current society. Here is a wonderful place to start if you’re not sure where to begin (Don’t get overwhelmed, pick something manageable and start there, digest that, then come back for more. Also, despite the title…anyone can learn from the information on this page!!)
  2. Use what you’ve learned: Your voice grows as you become educated and informed. You may not always have the right answer but it’s not always about the answers…ask questions, lots of them!  Question your elected officials, question your public school system, and most of all question yourself. Ask your government what they are doing to combat systemic racism in your city/state/country, ask your school board what they are doing to make your school district equally accessible for ALL students, ask yourself all of these questions and more!
  3. Have conversations: This should probably be first on the list but I think people feel more comfortable having conversations after a while (those other things can start immediately). Start by talking about racism with your family and friends. Talk with people you trust and who know you. Be open, let down your guard, and be honest. Share your thoughts, listen to theirs, and keep an open mind – be ready to change your beliefs and opinions. Changing your opinions doesn’t mean you’re weak or stupid, or that you were wrong before and that you’re right now…it only means that you’ve changed your mind, it’s okay to do that!
  4. Expand your conversational circle: The vast majority of us, no matter who we are, have friends and family who have very similar lives and experiences to ours. So, while having those conversations close to home is a good starting point, eventually (and it’s okay if this takes a while) the best way to learn more is to expand your circle and have conversations out of your comfort zone. Key note here: These MUST be conversations – honest, authentic, open-minded conversations – if you don’t feel like you’re ready for that, then please don’t take this step yet! 

Lastly, thank you. Thank you to everyone who has read my messages and commented, shared resources with me, or had a conversation in the hallway or on Twitter. All of the positive feedback and encouragement continues to provide me with the motivation and courage to put my thoughts and beliefs “out there”. 

If you’ve appreciated, even slightly, my thoughts throughout the year(s), then please take this final message of the school year to heart and really dedicate yourself to helping make the changes necessary to improve this country (world). We, despite all of the craziness, are lucky to live in the country that we do and enjoy the many freedoms that we enjoy. While it has become evident that some enjoy those freedoms much more than others, there are many countries in the world where no one enjoys such freedoms as we do. Now is the time we can come together and make sure ALL people in this country enjoy ALL of our freedoms equally!!  

One thought on “Education MUST Lead the Way

  1. Tanya de DB June 8, 2020 / 9:27 am

    Thank you! Very insightful and profound.

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