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Today a new website launched, with the mission “to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children…the education they deserve.”

So please allow me to offer an “honest, fact-based” look at this new education endeavor. And why it’s decidedly wack. [Look it up if you don’t know the term. Consider it an invitation to grow your vocabulary.]

The majority of students now in public schools aren’t white. Based on demographic trends, the fastest-growing groups in U.S. public schools for many years to come will not be white. The racial and ethnic gap – more like a crater – between students of color and their teachers is a well-worn topic. Many including myself have noted the disparity, and the necessity for more teachers of color is apparent.

Now comes The Seventy Four to remind us that it’s not just the teachers in public education that are blindingly white – so are the voices trying “to lead…conversation” in education. These are the so-called experts who will hold two forums with presidential candidates for both major political parties, taking their temperature on what education in America should look like and how it should perform.

Of the staff at The Seventy Four with “Director”, “Editor” or some indication of management in their title, none are perceptible people of color. Of the Board of Directors, the same percentage applies. For those who might ask “Why does this matter?” you’re the reason why this erasure of voices of color, with a handful of notable exceptions, has been the way of education leadership for so many years. Ideology aside – be it reformers, traditionalists or the newest label du jour – it’s white people doing white things and having white brainstorms about nonwhite children and schools.

Who among us thinks Campbell Brown and her cohort are looking to “overhaul” schools in wealthy white suburbs. Or will The Seventy Four stake their claim speaking for students of color, parents of color, communities of color … racial and ethnic groups they wish to lavish with benevolence, but who are not sufficiently capable of serving on The Seventy Four’s Board or serving in high-ranking positions on its staff.

The Seventy Four is just the latest example of whitewashing in education newsgathering. Coming on the heels of The Grade, offering “praise and criticism” on education journalism through the categorically white lens of five white education journalists who serve as the blog’s advisors. Colorblindness is racism. And colorblind education leadership is an insult and a disgrace. Racial and ethnic representation matters.

As a parent of color, spare me your imperialistic colonialism. People of color in this country have a long, sordid history of white people speaking for us and acting on our behalf. We’re not three-fifths of a human being any longer. We can speak, think and act for ourselves.

Here’s my “honest, fact-based” conclusion: Rather than the new kid on the block, The Seventy Four is looking more like the same old, tired retread.

 

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The concepts contained in words like ‘freedom,’, ‘justice,’ ‘democracy’ are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.
–James Baldwin, “The Crusade of Indignation

Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence denounced slavery as a “cruel war against human nature.” Mind you this rousing language was written by a man who owned slaves. Anyway, Jefferson’s paragraph on slavery never made it into the final Declaration of Independence because slave-owning delegates from the South and delegates with business ties to the slave trade from the North debated Jefferson’s passage and stripped this language.

Let’s just stipulate for the record that America’s Independence Day – celebrating “freedom” and “democracy” – is rife with hypocrisy and cowardly logic. Frederick Douglass peeped it and called it out in 1852. All of this history is an interesting sidebar to fully grasping what occurred last weekend as a room of about 7,000 educators in Florida tried to reconcile their principles with their practices.

The nation’s largest teachers union on July 3 unanimously approved a measure to combat institutional racism, “taking a historically bold stand against racism and hate.” Channeling the country’s Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, it was a powerful moment of righteousness and justice. But like Baldwin noted, true justice requires “enormous…individual effort” and like the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, the NEA delegates on July 4, 2015 came up short.

First up was an item calling on NEA to “support…efforts to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.” The ensuing debate reminded me of a game of Twister. Clutching and grabbing at any excuse not to ban the Confederate flag and racist symbols that glorify slavery and oppression – while looking desperately for a comfortable and steady position to land.

Some of those in attendance, and some watching online, had profound observations. Like Baldwin’s essay, so clear and uncomplicated.

After about a two hour debate “and other symbols of the Confederacy” was stricken from the item. A great public school for every student is the Association’s vision – though if you’re one of the thousands of Black students forced to attend a school honoring racist leaders, it might not be so great. Oh well.

Over the next couple days the assembled educators flirted between flashes of consciousness and backpedaling from / equivocating on actions that would show their institutional racism vote signaled a new way of thinking and doing. Based on the NEA’s elected representatives who gathered in Orlando, the jury is out on whether the union can “move to confront racism” and “demand changes to policies, programs, and practices that condone or ignore unequal treatment,” as cited on NEAToday.org.

What appears obvious is that NEA members have an opportunity to put some teeth to anti-racism work or leave it untouched on the plate. Over a year ago I challenged educators to step up and address racial injustice. It’s still your move.

During a January panel discussion at EduCon on “Connections in Education” I cited three books that are mandatory reading for every teacher and school administrator. I offered these book recommendations for educators to grow in their understanding of race, culture and ethnicity, and in the process strengthen their connections with nonwhite students and parents.

That appearance led to an invitation this spring from MindShift KQED to write on a book that had a profound impact on my life today – a book that I was eager to share with others because of the lessons I learned. I chose “Faces At The Bottom Of The Well: The Permanence Of Racism” by Derrick Bell.

Excerpt:

The conversation sparked by Bell’s Faces at the Bottom of the Well among four Black women sitting in a Northeast D.C. living room is as indelible as the book’s content. In education, one of the foundational principles is that understanding and learning is enriched when students learn with and from each other. But not all learning happens in a classroom, and peer to peer education can take many forms. This book club rebuffed light reading fare. Its members – a PhD in social psychology, an English professor at the University of the District of Columbia, and a graduate student – saw the monthly book club as a seminar in raising racial consciousness and saw themselves as social justice teachers.

Faces at the Bottom of the Well pierced my perception and views about race and racism in America.

Read more on how “Faces at the Bottom of the Well” affected me and continues to influence me as a writer, parent and lifelong learner.