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Chalkboard Drawings

Education as Reparations: And healing for all.

February 22, 2022

I love the word equity. Every time I read it and hear it, I get goosebumps thinking of individuals receiving resources customized to suit their unique circumstance. I get happy imagining processes designated to compensate for strategic disinvestment and oppression. I feel inspired thinking of healing harm caused by former and current systems, processes, laws and institutions. I feel motivated imagining the movement from reforming to transforming said systems, processes, laws and institutions.  

And in the many areas to focus equity’s attention, I take a particular interest (given my expertise and because of its impact on the masses), in the ministry of education—that is the systems, processes, laws and institutions designed to shape our youth, to develop their knowledge, understanding, their awareness, and therefore, to influence our collective futures. We live in a nation that values education, celebrating it as the great equalizer, yet some 200 or so years after the systemic establishment of public schools in America, the divides, separations, and hierarchies of human value in our society are persistent. And these days, our collective consciousness is moving towards equity as the answer; I couldn’t agree more. However, as I observe and participate in the “work” and “implementation,” I can’t help but notice the repetition of the same pattern—putting a shiny new directly on to a pile of stool. This is very troubling to me, because as we understand the physics of shiny amongst stool, the stool will smear itself all over the shiny, and eventually the shiny is unrecognizable. We can’t let that happen this time, we must eliminate the stool completely, making shiny the new long lasting normal.  

I must say that I don’t blame any of the educators or activist that are architecting the integration of equity into education. We have, as a nation, bought into integration as the answer to many of problems and the road to many of dreams—and sometimes it proves itself to be effective. However, we’ve already illustrated what this looks like in education—shiny turned to stool. The idea of integrating a model for equity into a structure designed for the opposite is oxymoronic. This is the biggest trouble with how we’ve been imagining equity in education, we’re still buying into the illusion of a quick fix. But as human beings that have all warn band-aids, we know that it doesn’t stick. The only way to truly see equity in education make a return on its investment is to re-design and re-structure the entire ministry of education; this is how we move towards transformation

One of the most important elements in need of transformation are our indicators for student(system) success. We are all witness to an education model with success measures that, too frequently, do not adequately measure up to what is valuable or practical beyond school walls. Educators have been conditioned to see students as numbers on standardized tests that they must achieve, instead of individuals to be equipped with skills and knowledge that will improve their standard of living. I found my own self appalling insisting that a child calculate without a calculator when calculators are always available. However, the test called for no calculator, and the test has for so long been the measure of the effectiveness of our education. Yet, we all believe that the purpose of education is to learn something that will result in your ability to improve and sustain your own quality of life. So, why isn’t the standard of living an indicator of the success of our education system? What would happen if the reduction in gun violence was the indicator of the success of Chicago Public Schools—would we teach healthy conflict resolution? What if the number of households with 3 months or more of their expenses in a savings account was an indicator of the effectiveness of our education, would we teach more financial literacy? Why is the effectiveness of education determined by a child’s ability to recite or retain or apply information that does not lead to improvement of the quality of life for themselves or their family? 

This leads us to trouble with equity in education number two—the idea that everyone should be in the same place, so they should all learn and produce the same thing. In my own city, what a 7-year-old growing up in Roseland needs to learn to improve their quality of life is different than what a 7-year-old growing up in Streeterville needs to learn at that same time to improve their quality of life. Unless we create equality in those neighborhoods first, there is no amount of teaching that will make these two students the same. For that matter, there is no amount of teaching that should make two students (from the same neighborhood, in the same classroom) the same. Human beings are not meant to be the same. The illusion of sameness as rightness is ridiculous. Sameness as the threshold for success will never be achieved, and essentially in trying to achieve that effect will always be harmful to those who’s standard of being is not valued in the established system. Who has the audacity to say one human model, one way of being, one form of intelligence, one style of application and understanding is the rights way, and we should all replicate that model? Take my brother and I for example, I am a natural reader and writer, he is a natural cartoonist—which of us were celebrated in school? Which of us was groomed to use our natural gifts in a way that would sustain us and bring us the most peace? I do know that neither of us is more valuable than other, I know that I am very valuable in my lane, and he is in his. To compare and judge us is a violation to our individuality, to try to make us the same is a violation of our humanness. Education should make each person a better version of themself.  

That that’s why I believe it’s important that we all be aware of the opportunity that equity presents for education, because it presents an opportunity for each of us. Imagine what your life would be if you spent K-12 learning how to be the best version of yourself, instead of trying to be like or being criticized for not trying to be like the person next to you, or the unknown person across town. What if someone took time to examine who you were and where your gaps were, instead of presuming gaps based on someone else’s standards and values? Pull yourself out of the trap of, “this is the way it has always been, so this is the way it has to be.” Do away with, “it is what it is,” to make space to imagine what it can be. If not for yourself, for our children. In 2022, we all know that nothing must be the way it once was, let’s not make an exception for education. Eliminate the idea that equity is an addition to how we educate, ensure that equity is the way we educate. Transition your mindset away from, "Jonte’ should be more like John," embrace, "What does Jonte’ need to be his best self?" and give it to him, knowing that his best self is not to be like John.  

Constructive conversation welcome

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