Do you ever wonder how we as a society arrived at this place of profound educational inequity, and what we can do about it as educators?
Facing History’s most recent Teaching for Equity and Justice Summit explored this timely, complex, and longstanding question in a dynamic, three-day virtual summit with over 300 educators in attendance. Together, we tackled some of the most vexing issues facing educators today and explored rich frameworks designed to empower teachers to orient their work toward equity and justice. Here are some of the core themes that we explored together:
The Academic Achievement and Civic Empowerment Gaps
Too often in the United States, there are measurable differences in school experiences and outcomes for Black, Brown, and Indigenous students when compared to their white and/or more affluent peers. These measurable, disparate outcomes manifest themselves in the form of lower test scores and reading levels, higher dropout rates, higher suspensions, and disproportionate tracking into remediated learning experiences for students with historically marginalized and racialized identities. These troubling disparities have come to be known, by some, as the academic achievement gap. At Facing History, we agree with researchers like Meira Levinson who contend that this well-documented academic achievement gap often masks an equally important civic empowerment gap reflecting the lack of opportunities for students’ civic learning and engagement based on socioeconomic status.
Leveraging History to Dispel “Single Story” Narratives
The Summit offered educators an opportunity to grapple with educational inequity, interrogate simple explanations, and understand the problematic nature of assigning blame. All were invited to reflect upon their prior experiences, think analytically, and reimagine their classrooms, schools, and school systems as places for educational equity and transformation. We attribute the high levels of attendance at this summit to the fact that educators rarely have access to perspectives that place the field of education and current student outcomes in historical context. We embraced this opportunity to engage in dialogue in those areas and sat together at the crossroads of educational equity, social-emotional learning, and civic learning. There, we found the courage to face educational inequity head on and allowed each participant time to begin mapping out the work necessary to mitigate it within their own spheres of influence.
We explored significant issues relevant to educational inequity in an effort to help educators gain a more nuanced understanding of the forces shaping individual lives and our communities at large. For example, we explored and challenged the myth of meritocracy--the notion that if, say, Black, Brown, and Indigenous students just cared more or worked harder, they would achieve levels of success comparable to other students. Of course, because we value individual agency and student empowerment, Facing History implores all students to care and work hard. And yet, hard work and care alone will not close the achievement gap. In addition, meritocracy doesn’t mean that white students (or adults) have been “given everything and have not had to work hard.” Our team invited participants into a more complex analysis of “meritocracy” by examining the source of race-related barriers that continue to limit the academic success and access for Black, Brown, and Indigenous students. These barriers cannot be overcome merely by pulling up one’s bootstraps (i.e., working harder), so we examined the historical nature of “strapless boots” that manifest in the form of limited resources, racial bias, and inequitable policies that determine educational experiences.
Inviting Educators of Color into Inquiry, Too
There is often an assumption that interrogating concepts like "meritocracy" and "colorblindness" is the sole domain of white educators because the majority of educators in the US are white, while the increasing majority of students are students of color. However, a more complete exploration of the impact of unconscious bias and prejudice might address how assimilation and the impact of colonization shape the perspectives of educators of color, too. We believe that the opportunity to bravely face bias, prejudice, and racism in schools is both empowering and a privilege, and we were proud to deliver a summit that invited all educators into these nuanced questions as they relate to their own practice.
Educators are reporting powerful outcomes and renewed commitments to equity work in response to the summit. This is a small sampling of reviews that we have received from attendees so far:
“I never felt judged for where I am in my equity and justice journey. Everyone is so great at uplifting others and of course I learned so much about history for myself but also how to look and question things differently.”
“I think the focus on eugenics during the 2nd day was extremely valuable. I don't think many educators know about that and, if they do, it helps to refresh the memory of why being culturally and racially conscious is important… It also reminded me that affirming my students' right to receive an equitable education is a top priority, and something I needed to be reminded of going into this next school year.”
“Gholdy [Muhammad]'s keynote was the shining star of this summit for me! The variety of videos and articles was thoughtful and I appreciate the diversity it represented, not just the black experience.”
“The Four I's of Oppression [i.e., internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and ideological] offered a framework that addressed the complexity of racial injustice and helped me understand WHY the pull of white supremacist ideologies are so powerful in this country. The specific classroom activities and strategies provided takeaways that I can use tomorrow with both adult and young learners.”
“I've learned so much and I just wish this was something that was required nationally to even be a teacher. This summit has me ready to teach and to implement the information that I have learned.”
“This will not only have an impact on myself and fellow colleagues, but we are making large strides to present our learnings to our administrators to spur some institutional/systems-level change.”
If you were unable to join us for this most recent summit, join our mailing list at the bottom of this page and follow us on social media to ensure that you don’t miss the next opportunity to be in conversation.
In the meantime, check out our growing collection of classroom resources designed to support educational equity, justice, and inclusion. Among them is our featured collection of classroom resources How Did We Get Here?: Policing and the Legacy of Racial Injustice.