Nobility Complex and Accountability for Educators

One of the “perks” (a term I type sarcastically) of my new job is my commute. My ride varies from 40 minutes on a good day to 1.5 on a bad day (which is more common). All that time spent in the car has led me to listening to more podcast while I commute. Recently I was listening to one of my new favorite podcast Modern Figures which is a podcast that is elevating the voices of Black women in computing. In the most recent Modern Figures Podcast episode featuring Nancy Douyon, I was fascinated with her story and sharing about providing companies and digital spaces better understanding and context for humanity in their consumer based efforts. She told a personal story of when her family and others in Haiti were devastated by an earthquake, hurricane, and flooding, she got a clearer understanding of nobility complex. She was proactively working to create search teams to find family members and her friends said they couldn’t help with search teams, but wanted to donate clothes. So without asking, her friends assumed and offered help that was not helpful. Nancy mentioned this was a perfect representation of nobility complex where we might be well-intentioned, but have a gap in understanding the full context of a situation and the needs within that situation. “We are are susceptible because of our privilege, without accounting for explicit and implicit bias.” she shared. We often all use personal nobility as an escape hatch from responsibility of the biases we hold. Our desire as those with privilege is to be noble providing us a means to be excused from accountability.

“Accountability is important, but it is rarely most effective means by which we improve others’ results.”

Now the context of this quote as the original tweet was posted is related to the dynamics between administrators and teachers. However, I believe accountability or the lack of, it is how we are in the current space we are in public education across the country. Here are a few examples:

  • If more curriculum creators are held accountable, curriculum isn’t whitewashed and told from only a particular point of view.
  • If teacher accountability involved a bigger picture, taking into consideration a variety of factors of learning and community in classroom, not just holding teachers accountable based on students’ standardized test scores.
  • If more white educators held other white educators accountable for their racist acts, support of racist individuals and policies, and their overall complicity with institutional racism, our schools would be a lot safer for BIPOC.
  • If more district and policy makers are held accountable, teachers who work with students must engage in anti-racist training, culturally responsive pedagogy, and be working knowledge of critical race theory, within their professional development regularly.
  • If more education consultants were held accountable for quality, true change creation, and strategically minded PD, they would actually engage, support, and work directly with the district’s teachers for more than a day.
  • If more school boards, district leaders, and superintendents were held accountable, they would be required to visit classroom spaces and schools regularly and not for just photo ops.
  • If more people are held accountable, kindness and niceness would not be used as a substitutes for justice seeking and inclusion in schools.
  • If more people are held accountable, racist mascots would no longer exist in schools.

I could go on and on, I believe actually those in power have not been consistently held accountable enough. I believe unlike what the earlier tweet mentioned accountability, if used equitably can be the most effective for improving outcomes for all. Additionally, in my fourteen year in education, I believe often IRL and even more so on social media there is an increasing prevalence of nobility complex as it relates to educators, especially most notable among white educators. Instead of centering all voices or those most negatively impacted, white educators will dictate and prescribe strategies or suggestions to cure all ills. Beyond the blanket statements on how to teach, the nobility complex manifests itself in those outside of the classroom, who use pie in the sky, blanket statements about how things should be done, vastly missing the mark in regards to practicality, relevance to varied settings, and also depth. Idealistic dreams about the world of education are not wrong. The trouble with imagining without both a practicality and accountability piece in regards to working with human lives, will always miss the mark because it will always leave someone or group out of the equation.

Accountability requires personal responsibility and understanding that our daily decisions impact more than just us. As educators, especially those with privilege and/or power, that must deeply resonate with us. Every decision we make or do not make impacts others and I am responsible for both that decision and its impact. We must remain vigilant and vocal, especially if we truly believe in public education, that those in power must experience increased accountability. How am I mindful of the impact of my decisions (albeit noble as I believe the decisions are), especially the impact of the decisions on the underserved, most vulnerable, and marginalized? How are my decisions feeding the false ideas, myths, inequities, and untruths about and within the public education system?

Accountability always must be equitably applied and equally requested for everyone in school settings. Repeated misconduct thrives without accountability. Lack of accountability allows for injustices to continue to flourish. When accountability is avoided especially by white people or those in power, those from marginalized groups are always left out, ignored, or decentered further. We all, but especially white people must be mindful that whiteness is the antithesis of accountability. Whiteness always absolves itself of consequences of actions as it relates to race, believes certain things do not apply, and swiftly turns me from offender to victim. Whiteness in educational settings provides me arrogance to dictate what others need rather than honoring and listening to their actual needs as well as allows my actions to feel personally noble but actually positively impact no one.

As educators, both in our online spaces as well as IRL, we must remain watchful of the nobility complex and avoiding accountability. We cannot allow either as a means to absolve responsibilities for my choices, silence, and/or complicity as it relates to the racism, inequities, and gaps that exist in our schools.

Accountability equitably applied and equally requested from all stakeholders in our schools.

With more power comes more responsibility and accountability. Less nobility complex and more accountability required of our most powerful stakeholders in education will actually be one of the most important means by which we improve others’ results in schools.

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