In the Name of Equity, Some School Practices Must be Abolished

Some of the age-old practices that schools engage in and passively endorse should be revamped or altogether abolished, for the sake of equity.

Schools, oftentimes unknowingly, contribute to mis-education by centering whiteness and affluence via cultural traditions, rewarding students not burdened by poverty or by further marginalizing those who are oppressed (through no fault of their own).

Among the questionable practices are:

Thanksgiving/ANY holiday feast

Perfect attendance awards

Charging for lunch

Scholastic book fairs

Free dress days (@ cost)

Policing uniforms/shoes/hair

In their own unique way, each of these seemingly harmless practices are biased, classist & egregious. In many ways the policies isolate, demean or exclude children of a certain culture and class and essentially contribute to lowering individual self worth in a manner consistent with mis-education.

Honestly, the list goes on & on re: the endless ways schools normalize cultural whitewashing; celebratIng affluence; limiting personal agency and otherwise excluding students from an equitable educational experience by simply doing things the way they have always been done. I don’t believe that all schools harbor malice towards impoverished students or are complicit in the vein of purposeful harm. Given the widespread popularity of these practices, it’s likely that some schools are even conscious of their negative impact upon students. However, those of us that know better – are required to do better. And stated plainly, many school norms further mis-educate, marginalize or disillusion Black students and those oppressed by the limits of poverty.

Imagine the worthlessness a student feels when/if they are unable to afford a “free dress ticket” or a popular $5 young adult novel at the book fair, upon witnessing their peers’ privilege. Consider that a class or school wide field trip, which might even be sponsored by the school, still assumes that students are capable of bringing along spending money to purchase a lunch, novelty gift or other memorabilia . . . When in fact, this expense, seemingly minor in the eyes of those who are financially stable, becomes an impossibility for families without the luxury of a few extra dollars. Even holiday feasts, when wholly purchased and professionally catered by teachers, administrators and staff seem to forcibly normalize Western, Eurocentric Holidays which may or may not, exist as a part of a child’s cultural or religious traditions. I’m not saying that schools should eliminate all extra curricular activities and experiences – but we must certainly strive to make them more universally inclusive.

An exemplary, veteran elementary educator and colleague wisely shared that even bake sales, selling bagels and juice, and field trips are practices which must be totally FREE otherwise they risk becoming symbolic of systemic inequity. Many of the schools we work in (by choice, not by force), are demographically classified as 90-100% Title I institutions, thereby comprised of a student enrollment reflective of an overwhelming majority of low-income families. Thus, as a general rule the needs of all children must be thoughtfully and equitably centered in all of our decision making.

In conclusion, what if free dress day were truly free for students? I guarantee they would enjoy it more and there would be less of a demarcation between the students who could afford to wear spirit day outfits and those who weren’t. What if “twin day” (which must be an absolute nightmare for those who are socially awkward or don’t have existing friendships), could be transformed into a dress like your favorite athlete, author or entertainer day instead? This would be a more inclusive option than the latter. One of my thoughtful Educate to Liberate Instagtam followers wisely proposed that schools consider abolishing any spirit week’s that include a “nerd day” because further isolating brilliant, bookworms or computer science geeks is just mean spirited and wrong. Ultimately, we can (and should) consider revamping or altogether abolishing those thoughtless practices which have even the slightest potential for harming our students. At the very least, it’s something worth thinking about.

Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

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