Wednesday, June 19, 2019

THAT LECTURE MADE ME FEEL INVISIBLE AND SIMULTANEOUSLY ANGRY!


This word “equity” in education is a rather interesting word for me. I hear it used in a variety of different ways…some correct and some downright confusingly. Some see equity as some sort of new and hot topic while others have engaged in equitable practices for decades without affixing the word, equity to their work. For them, equity was just plain common sense (I like to put myself in that category). I even hear some use this word with a great deal of zeal, emotion and passion which is justifiable given the need for equity in all of our schools and classrooms for all students, but particularly for students of historically underserved populations such as African American and Latino students. I have also witnessed the word equity make some feel uncomfortable and uneasy as it forces all of us as educators to have to come to grips with who we are as equitable practitioners in our classrooms and schools. In classrooms across North America, equitable practices must evolve into a complete way of life.

As it relates to the aforementioned, in a post-graduate course I took, I had a professor who grouped the different generations of the 20th and 21st Centuries by categories and labels. As I listened to the lecture, my equity eyes and ears were in full effect as equity is simply the way that I have been wired over the past four decades. My professor made reference to an era in U.S. history which were the years beginning with the stock market crash of 1929 through the early 40’s.  He referred to the people of that era as the “be happy you have a job” generation. In the context of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, I get it fully. Here’s the problem though as it relates to equity. I was one of only a handful of African Americans in the classroom. My life experience, history and culture is that of an African American in urban North America. Because of that experience, I view the world through THAT lens and found the lecture to be insensitive toward African Americans. Consequently, I received the professor’s message (who happened to be white) as “unconscious bias.” “Unconscious” because I was convinced that he meant no harm at all. He was presenting this information through his own cultural lens without considering the entire class. 

As an African American, the aforementioned period means something very different for me from “be happy you have a job.” In other words, in addition to the Great Depression, there was another “Great” happening simultaneously – The Great Migrations of African Americans migrating from the southern states to the northern and western states for different and better opportunities. A better word for “migrations” in this context though would be “escape.” African Americans were escaping the brutal socioeconomic oppression of living in the south post-slavery and the wrath of the KKK, angry white mobs and militias, etc which created a reality of lynchings of thousands of African Americans (men and women) throughout the south from 1882 – 1968.

As an African American listening to this lecture, I concluded that it was not speaking to me at all…it did not consider me…it did not address me and it ignored my historical reality. I began to think about children in classrooms – particularly underserved students of historically oppressed populations and how when subjected to inequitable teaching practices and unconscious biases, find themselves in situations that are comparable to the one I found myself enduring that day. I felt simultaneously invisible and angry….not for myself, but for the countless children across the country who are subjected to the same but may lack the wherewithal to address it and express it. Of course, I spoke up and the professor was better for it. But what about the child who lacks a context to speak up? This youngster invariably suffers in this environment which may have lifelong implications. Equitable classroom practices are therefore a must. No child can afford to be ignored and left out. As a society, we must ensure that all children are met right where they are which requires solid relationship building, student-centeredness, cultural-responsiveness, cultural-relevance, differentiation, personalized instruction and professional learning for staff that address each of the aforementioned toward giving all children an equitable opportunity for classroom success.

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