A song by Culture Club played during my last heavy set of deadlifts Saturday morning. You recognize the chorus of the song, right?:
“Do you want to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry”
Educational equity came to my mind as I listened to this song for probably the ten thousandth time. Instead of a song to a lover, I thought of it from the perspective of a student or entire class of students. Educational inequity manifests itself in a variety of ways that hurts and makes people want to cry. As an veteran educator of color, I’ve personally experienced and worked in a variety of schools during my career that have faced many of those inequities: racial, financial, support related, resources, and quality instruction too.
Educational equity is like an onion. It has so many layers, but often it only takes just one of those layers to make you cry. Crying because of sadness, pain, frustration, and anger, you witness or experience. The glaring inequities and the layers of inequity behind the visible ones that both students and teachers experience breaks my heart. The heartache often causes a soul wrenching, deeply emotional cry for those of us fully invested in this work. From school buildings with no HVAC and essential resources, to poor or incompetent leadership in our classrooms and buildings, many of the environments we subject students to is reprehensible. We expect for our students to give their best when we give so little or the bare minimum to them.
The emotional violence we subject many students to in our buildings and rooms continues to allow the layers of inequity remain bounded and tight, unwavering to opposition. People often forget violence isn’t just physical. Emotional violence is just has painful, harmful, hurtful, and dangerous. When enduring emotional violence in the form of gaslighting, whataboutisms, and constant exposure to various inequities, the toil it takes on a person’s spirit and body is extremely toxic. The emotional violence we expose students to also involves seeing peers treated differently or provided opportunities on the basis of skin color, gender, reading level, test scores, and/or socioeconomic level. We again cannot expect those who are labeled as the least, treated as the least, and uncared for or loved to want to be in a place that treats them as disposable. We cannot logically expect for marginalized groups of students to reciprocate the same care, attention, and effort towards an educational system that doesn’t even remotely do the same for many of them.
Although the task of addressing and dealing with inequity is exhausting, our moral imperative and work as educators requires us to pull back these layers and tackle educational inequity head on. Undertaking a hugely emotional and wearisome task like the various forms of inequity normalized and sustained in schools cannot be underscored enough, but still remains essential to our job. We all must do our part. In order to successfully begin pulling back and disrupting the layers, we need to first be well equipped in nuances and language of inequity as well as have the sincere understanding of its impact on our classroom and school environments. One easy example of adjusting from inequitable language that shifts blame from systems and the privileged to the marginalized (i.e. at-risk, low socioeconomic, etc.) looks like this:
Part of the process of equipping to dismantle inequities includes changing our language. We also must develop a conscious cognizance or regular self inventory. Within this self inventory we must not only acknowledge and comprehend various inequities (racial, class, social, gender, etc.) but also assess my current complicity with or my complete silence about these inequities. As a primer for engagement in a self inventory in regards to inequity in schools, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- How have I maintained a gatekeeper role for students? How have I subjected others (students, adults, schools) to a savior trope?
- Does my language and framing perpetuate deficit mindsets or inequitable thinking?
- How have I been complicit in unfair treatment of students or colleagues from marginalized groups?
- How have my biases impacted my mindset(s) towards certain students?
- How have centered myself and my voice in my environment/situation rather than those who are often overlooked, ignored, and unheard?
- Would this upcoming decision/choice be okay, good enough, or just suffice? Is there a better more equitable decision/choice?
- How have I used curriculum/content/grading policies in an oppressive or hurtful manner?
These questions, as well as others specific to you and your experience, will assist in gaining insight to how to purposefully and sincerely understand your starting point in addressing and actively dismantling inequity in schools. Until we better understand and then actively address the numerous and deep layers to the equity onion in schools, things will mostly remain the same. Remember equitable learning environments and experiences in our classrooms is an essential responsibility as educators. What we do daily in the classroom in regards to equity impacts and reverberates within society both now and later. How do you level the playing field, flip the hierarchy, stop the emotional violence, and democratize educational experiences and learning for kids? As an educator, continue to ask yourself, what am I doing to exacerbate or exterminate the various inequities that are manifested in my classroom or school? As fellow educators instead of Boy George singing this, imagine a student, your class, or school asking you this instead:
Do you really want to hurt me?
Do you really want to make me cry?
Words are few
I have spoken
I could waste a thousand years
Wrapped in sorrow, words are token
Come inside and catch my tears
You’ve been talking but believe me
If it’s true you do not know