Featured

How Black Genius is Misdiagnosed as Disability

Full disclosure: I am an educator who has long fought against the tendency for Black students to be disproportionately diagnosed w/ disabilities, especially considering the huge error of margin in rushing to judgment in an institutionally racist system which regards our children as an “other” and given the common thread of behaviors which intersect an ADHD diagnosis and that of giftedness/exceptionalism. As an avid believer in the oft-neglected, innate genius of Black children (in particular), and one in awe of the indomitable spirit of our people as a collective, I am convinced that Black genius has routinely been misdiagnosed as a disability in K-12 schools in America. I argue that it’s time for the entire pedagogical profession to shift our myopic views of what constitutes a developmental disability and consider how our bias too often informs the disproportionate labeling of Black youth as special needs. If scholarly research determines the validity of an existing pattern of prevalent pedagogical practice, findings would likely augment the veracity of modern testing protocols and inform the measurement of youth of all other ethnicities as well. Academic testing – How Academic Testing is Racist – in any form is racist, as such disproportionate disability diagnoses can scarcely be deemed viable, when rendered in a system which is firmly rooted upon antiquated systems of oppression and when performed at the hands of educators suffering from the scourge of the perpetual mis-education of Black students.

Honestly, has it ever occurred to a large percentage of the reigning resident experts, i.e. “holier-than-thou” educational policy makers that the students most prone to “acting out” during daily instruction and/or those least engaged with the didactic (and predictable asf) teaching style, are merely bored beyond belief and grossly underestimated in terms of their scholarship and ability? Surely, we must shift the blame from Black students’ and other students of color supposed inabilities, given the unrealistic expectation to conform to a flawed, Eurocentric model of education which neither places their experience nor their uniquely cultural (and multiple intelligences inclusive) learning styles at the forefront of the learning experience. For example, if indeed restlessness, inattention, impulsivity, high activity levels, and creativity infused day-dreaming are regarded as evidence of superior intellect in African centered or AP (advanced placement) classroom settings, then such behaviors are also representative of the trademark virtues commonly associated w/ being gifted. Yet, these behavioral indicators are often only afforded a positive connotation in specialized, small, private or otherwise affluent schools, overwhelmingly comprised of White students. Unbeknownst to many non-educators, in the average public/charter schools, the exact 👏🏾same 👏🏾descriptors 👏🏾are used to disenfranchise Black students and to otherwise limit, or completely obliterate a universal belief in the natural genius of our Black youth. This practice typically manifests as a large percentage of Black students in integrated school settings (and especially those in large, urban, underfunded school districts), as belonging to a special needs population, encumbered with academically underperforming tendencies or severely developmentally disabled labels and treatment.

There is widespread knowledge among pedagogical circles that the behavior profiles of gifted students closely mirrors that of troubled and/or non traditional students. Therefore, the only discernible difference in opportunity, resources, service delivery and corresponding student performance data is how a student has been officially labeled while on the K-12 trajectory. In affluent districts, student’s who are not traditionally served by general education classroom settings are almost immediately assumed to be gifted and prescribed to being set apart as bright, talented, creative, or as markedly gifted children who would benefit from advanced academic placement and smaller class sizes (among other interventions). The corresponding academic and social expectations are subsequently raised, the requisite resources and teacher quality soars and students officially begin the lifelong trajectory of designation as “gifted”. On the contrary, in urban schools across the nation, our most gifted population of Black students show traditional signs of non-conformity and are immediately regarded as academically, socially and behaviorally disadvantaged and after enduring the referral process, they languish in poorly staffed, scarcely resourced and sparsely funded Special Education departments. In this model SPED students are otherwise relegated to a bleak future wherein academic, social dysfunction is expected and deemed as the norm. Sure, they are placed in small class environments too – only these spaces are not labeled as advanced placement classes, but resource rooms. The bulk of these students almost exclusively mirror the self-fulfilling prophecies of lowered expectations, poor academic performance, social stigmatization and exclusion from the lifelong learning opportunities afforded to their equally gifted peers (born to a different culture and socioeconomic class). Ultimately, the inherent bias, labeling, and level of services offered by educational institutions is predicated upon the slightest nuance in special needs classifications and despite the apparent and often overwhelming intersections between giftedness and diagnosis as “an other”, there’s a literal world of difference between the two categories. Sigh . . .

Until now, little attention has been devoted to the similarities and differences between the two groups, particularly from the viable perspective of race and class inequalities as manifested in educational settings, thus raising the potential for misidentification in both areas — giftedness and disabled. Overwhelmingly, White students are referred to psychologists or pediatric physicians for their non-conformist, ADHD behaviors while Black students are routinely referred to behavior interventionists, deans and even external law enforcement facilities and detention centers at an equal (or accelerated), rate. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that Black students comprising the disabled ranks in segregated, underfunded inner city schools, possess levels of, as yet undiagnosed genius and have been failed by a system intent on their mis-education. Instead, Black students are increasingly diagnosed with ADHD, ASD and/or as distinguishable only in the form of academically, socially or behaviorally significant statistics.

As a general rule in academic practice, when White students’ even begin to exhibit behaviors in alignment with boredom, misbehavior or not working up to his/her apparent ability, they reap the corresponding benefits of attending well funded, resourced educational environments in which their parents’ favorable property values, all but guarantee that the best available social workers, psychologists, counselors and highly compensated administrators and staff will service their every need. In such idyllic environments, every educational and familial stakeholder is well versed in engaging an all-encompassing protocol replete with early intervention allowances to ensure the academic and social success of the individual student’s. When afforded a timely opportunity to be assessed on their academic strengths and weaknesses, the student is then, more often than not, determined to be “gifted and talented” in one, or more, distinct academic disciplines or social emotional capacities. As a veteran educator and scholar, I am not the least bit critical of this high expectation infused protocol of educational service delivery. On the contrary, I merely interrogate the absence of the same tried and true procedural precision in widespread application in the urban schools where I have taught/served as an administrator and in environments in which Black student scholars predominate.

Perhaps as evidence of the grave disparity in being diagnosed as gifted, in a recent Twitter thread, one middle-aged woman courageously, unwittingly exposed the frequency of White, affluent students being diagnosed as “twice-exceptional” in adulthood for harboring a virtually undetectable disability as adults, after having already been labeled as exceptional/gifted during their K-12 years. The thread quickly went viral and it rather innocently exposed the wealth of people who admitted to having benefited from being gifted early in life, while exhaustively detailing the corresponding frustration at struggling academically (or socially-emotionally), later in life when their learning disability was finally diagnosed. For many people, the academic and social differences only frustratingly emerged while enrolled in Ivy League Colleges or whilst working in corporate America, so clearly their White privilege anesthetized them from the special needs shame uniquely experienced by Black students. This only increasingly underscores the reality that the traits of giftedness and disability seamlessly intersect w/ race and class being the only discernible distinction in classification. Common admissions on the twice-exceptional thread included statements in line with this one: “Identified as gifted in grade school. I “never paid attention” in class, always turned in homework late, but did great on tests. I was only later diagnosed with ADHD at 19…”.

Educators must consider that if a student doesn’t finish his/her assignments, or hastily answers questions without showing their work; if their handwriting and spelling or organizational skills are poor; or if the student persistently fidgets in class, talks to others, refuses to keep a seat and often disrupts class by interrupting others they might well be aptly deemed as requiring intervention. The pivotal question is whether the student is gifted or developmentally disabled, and furthermore who is in the best possible position to render such a profound diagnosis? When students’ prematurely shout out the answers to teachers’ questions it’s admittedly annoying (despite the fact that they are usually right). Likewise, when a particularly bright light of a student daydreams during whole group instruction or seems far too easily distracted – these tendencies are typical precursors to being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, because of the inescapable reality of institutionalized racism, in similar case studies involving Black students we rarely if ever, pause to consider whether he/she is gifted, developmentally disabled or some semblance of both? More often than not, Black students are overwhelmingly diagnosed as falling within the confines of the latter Special Education population. While this should not constitute a prescription for academic disenfranchisement, it usually manifests as just that. Therein lies the dilemma of mis-education.

Since in current practice, educational professionals reach the consensus of an ADHD diagnosis by initially listening to parent or teacher referrals (detailing the child’s academic/behavioral profile), w/ only the insufficient contribution of a few brief classroom and social observations of the child, we must make allowances for human error and bias. Even in other cases, when brief screening questionnaires or assessments are used, these measures typically supplement the parents’ or teachers’ subjective descriptions of the original behaviors. Admittedly, only students who are fortunate enough to have thorough physical evaluations, which include screening for allergies and other metabolic disorders, and those afforded extensive psychological evaluations – including assessments of intelligence, achievement, and emotional status – have an equal footing at being accurately diagnosed as either gifted or disabled. It is clear that any student, Black or White, affluent or impoverished, may well be gifted and/or have ADHD or ASD. The truth is that without a thorough professional evaluation, exclusive of the assumptions common in a codified system of oppression, it is difficult to tell. Determining whether a child has ADHD can be particularly difficult when that child is also gifted. The use of many instruments, including intelligence tests administered by qualified professionals, achievement and personality tests, as well as parent/teacher rating scales, can substantively contribute to discerning the the subtle differences between ADHD and giftedness. All evaluations must also be followed by appropriate curricular and instructional modifications that account for cultural competencies and nuances, advanced knowledge, diverse learning styles, and various types of intelligence.

In the end, thoughtful consideration and appropriate professional evaluation is warranted before concluding that bright, creative, intensely gifted and talented Black students have developmental disabilities – or not. We must collectively consider all of the characteristics of the gifted/talented child’s culture, class and background (as well as that of the resident experts) before rushing to judgment. Parents: Do not hesitate to raise the possibility of giftedness with any professional who is evaluating your child for ADHD or ASD, as it is your right to interrogate this possibility. It is vitally important for all educators to make the correct diagnosis, and for parents and teachers to be similarly obliged to educate ourselves, since giftedness is often neglected in our collective professional development training. Together, in mindful consideration of the prevalence of mis-education, we can curb the incidence of Black genius being misdiagnosed as a disability. Otherwise we are all guilty of a grave disservice to all of humanity.

#EducateToLiberate

When Words Fail Me, Life Takes Over

Words have failed me for so long now. The first half of this year launched me headfirst into the depths of fear, loss, anger, despair, relentless work ethic and longing for the familiar escapes of faith, family, nature and self care that have sustained me through the years. Here I am photographed in my outdoor armor (even in summer), as I placed a neck covering shawl over my maxi dress, and tied an African wrap over my nose and mouth, with my mask firmly in place underneath. The few times I’ve ventured out to run essential errands my survival instinct has been kicked into high gear, because I’ve lost so many family and friends. I have wanted and even tried on many occasions to commit pen to page and just write. But so often, words failed me and life (in the time of Corona) simply took over. Writing for pleasure has been nearly an impossible task since the onset of this dreadful pandemic. The novelty of this coronavirus and my people not just feeling, but actually being, under attack since February, 2020 has taken its toll. So the things I have always done effortlessly (breathing, writing, introspection and deep thoughtful activism), have been limited to going through the motions and doing just what was needed to survive.

For six months (and counting now), I have kicked in high gear in a major way, in virtually every area of my life. To God be the Glory! And if I’m being completely honest, it has certainly taken its toll. I have done my level best to cultivate the joy and gratitude I have for each day to maintain a peaceful solace and stability in our admittedly peaceful household. I have felt immensely blessed by the presence and quiet, unassuming yet indomitable strength of my creative, brilliant and thoughtfully beautiful adult daughter. She brings me joy, hope and abundant blessings as she weathers this difficult period of life’s trajectory with the exploration and enjoyment of the arts, music and painting especially, and in crafting brag worthy culinary feasts. Meanwhile, I have somehow begun to rise to the occasion as a leader in my immediate and extended family -by enthusiastically convening weekly family connection calls since March, which have now (thankfully and admirably) morphed into bi-weekly business meetings which have united us in a collective desire to forge ahead undaunted by fears of gloom and doom. In addition, I have spearheaded the near all-encompassing immersion of my entire church family and membership into the 21st Century age of technology as we now surpass snail mail totals with our online PayPal business account for the submission of our tithes and offerings. Also, we have been blessed and spiritually nourished via our now routine weekly Zoom worship services – which are streamed live in the true spirit of unity. These joint family and community initiatives have been a labor of love to be sure, but no easy task to maintain as it has meant an increased commitment of time (over and above my already busy work schedule). Most importantly, I have also been intentionally prayerful and even more intimately connected with my own mother – my best friend, confidante and a revered elder in both our family and local Black Nationalist and activist community alike – to ensure that as she has been routinely pulled in countless different ways and called upon to minister, give unselfishly of herself in leadership as a tenured professor or a retired elected official and grassroots community activist leader, that she continues to thrive physically, emotionally and mentally and that ultimately she counter her physically active days and nights, with a more predictable “shelter in place” norm which ensures that she is healthy and whole. This has been an especially important priority for me through this time of crisis. As she has lost an inordinate amount of peers to this tragic virus and as the eldest daughter, I consider it both an honor and my absolute responsibility that all of my Mother’s needs are met (despite her continuing refrain that “she’s got it”) ❤️. As such, nothing has given me more satisfaction than to have my Mom and honestly every other member of my family within my immediate (or technology savvy reach) be as: healthy, centered, happy and most importantly the picture of wellness as they can possibly be; our people overall are under attack in experiencing the acute impact of pain and loss during this horrific time in human history.

On a professional level, I have experienced a perceptible shift in the scope of my primary work as an Instructional Coach working directly with select school districts across the country to ensure that equity is leveraged as an all-inclusive priority. Despite the in-person closure of districts, I have ramped up my work on a global, virtual platform to ensure that I am instrumental in the development of our collective capacity to lead as administrators, lead teachers and ELA subject area practitioners. This meaningful work has been largely fueled by my life’s work and overarching mission to dismantle oppression and mis-education in such a way that the needs of Black students, in particular, are met commensurate with the unique genius, culture and exemplary humanity we bring to the world is similarly acknowledged in educational spaces. Well, in this time of unprecedented chaos and given the potential for substantive change, one of the ways I have certainly stepped up the very real challenges of meeting the wide-ranging needs of our youth leadership (aka students), has been by using news articles to design rigorous, Common Core curricula aligned lessons that were inclusive of close readings, text and life experience-based analyses, oral/written critical reflections, and formative evaluations. After fashioning an intentionally engaging high school distance learning curriculum from scratch (with only a unit theme and the accessible Newsela site as a guide); I then commenced to connecting virtually with students via a digital platform and hosting daily videos in a pre-recorded series of lesson accompaniments designed to at least mimic the sort of seamless, caring, engaging instruction my teaching might otherwise offer in person. The resulting immersion in student facing, content creation and a coveted opportunity to counteract trauma and otherwise contribute to an integral part of their abrupt, post-school closure/early onset of the pandemic daily lives, became as much of a soul-enriching blessing to me, as I pray it was to each of them. Admittedly, this work was highly fulfilling and close to my heart over the course of the 10-12 weeks duration in which it was produced. Since then, I have been committed to consulting an increasingly extensive body of research to determine the ‘best practices’ of an equitable school restart plan which would empower us to essentially reimagine school on a solid foundation of Revolutionary promise which would capitalize upon the spirit of the day and prioritize the needs of students. However, over time the challenge has been to fulfill my own personal, self care centered goals with my trademark of excellence…as the death toll increased exponentially in my own personal life and as the world was literally falling apart all around me/us. I’m sure you can more clearly see how/why blog writing took a seat wayyy in the back of life’s priorities.

During the interim period in which words and my love of writing failed me, I did manage to write a very therapeutic, narrative poem as a sort of ode to Paul Laurence Dunbar’s classic We Wear the Mask. But it laid bare so much raw pain and revolutionary fervor that I opted not to publish it at the time it was written as a means to maintain the public facing integrity of this educational blog. In retrospect, if I have stepped up either personally or professionally, in ways that did disappoint, it truly was not my intention to do so. As I progress through my forties, showing up as my authentic self means that white supremacy norms and unattainable dispositions towards perfection are no longer feasible. I am unapologetically me. In fact as if the aforementioned jobs were not enough, because I have always been a multifaceted high achiever, the noted primary work obligations were uniquely complemented by my ongoing and very active vocations as: a college graduate professor (to a host of truly brilliant and selfless educators), and an online international ESL language teacher to a small cadre of brilliant and highly motivated Chinese students (but, only on the weekends, given my expanded schedule and professional obligations since November of last year). Lastly, as a small business owner I have suffered significant lapses in clientele and company growth/expansion with the overwhelming constraints of conducting business in a post-pandemic and failing American economy. Essentially, through all this admitted busyness, I have scarcely had time to breathe, sleep, eat, exercise, meditate and pray. So writing: my self avowed first love (only rivaled by my loves of reading, being immersed in loving relationships and enjoying and loving life overall), had been forcibly thrown to the wayside in the hierarchy of priorities. Having honestly admitted these heartfelt truths is therapeutic for me. I must say how grateful I am for the faithful blog supporters who stuck around and hung in there with me, through lengthy periods of absence and the literal deafening silence which had come to be the reality of this beloved blog in the time of Covid.

In conclusion, I wish I could say that things would be back to normal soon, whatever that means, in terms of post pandemic life and our collective new normal. Sigh…but sadly, the death toll here in Detroit had only falsely appeared to dissipate and it now seems to be back on the rise with no end in sight. Also, the pivotal work of dismantling oppression in education is especially needed right now and does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. While I am due for a coveted and long awaited week long vacation – that I hope to soon schedule and enjoy – I can only commit to keeping myself, the health of my family and friends and my life’s work uppermost in my priorities for the foreseeable future. I would LOVE nothing more than to write like my life depended on it, (because really it does), and to once again think deeply, rest sufficiently and experience joy without limits. Alas, the reality of this dual pandemic of COVID and racism means that my survival (and that of those whom I love) is truly not guaranteed and thus, the world turns in such a way that duty calls. What I can promise is that when I do get an opportunity to pour out of myself on this very public platform, I will do so authentically and somewhere within the unique intersectionality (thanks Sis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, #CiteBlackWomen), of Black woman, Mother, Scholar-Educator, She-Her-Hers, my health and wellness, fighting on the front lines of liberation and education. Until then, please be well! Asé ❤️✊🏿

The Right to Literacy

Let’s just say this at the outset: despite what you heard about Black folks’ support of state government and the swell of popularity a certain elected official has unduly benefited from (at the hands of a non-voting, yet vocal minority of talented symbols of youth pop culture), in this COVID era pandemic; #BigGretch is not worthy of praise and is still NOT invited to the proverbial cookout. #Period. In fact Black women, educators and an overwhelming majority of Detroit parents in particular, call upon Governor Gretchen Whitmer to finesse and harness all of her useless task force creating energy to finding her voice and to finally taking a stand on behalf of the marginalized masses of students in this state, who undoubtedly have a right to literacy. Failure to utilize a prime opportunity to expediently settle the #RightToLiteracy case has been a pronounced area of grave inequity and political legacy crushing inactivity for Michigan’s governor. Please understand: inactivity is silence and silence is complicity. Justice delayed is and always will be, justice denied and on this pivotal platform it is clear that you’ve chosen to be on the wrong side of history.

For Michigan’s Gov., Gretchen Whitmer, to come under such presidential fire as of late and yet still make a conscious decision NOT to take a stand on behalf of the children of Michigan’s inalienable right to literacy is tantamount to a willful betrayal of countless Black lives in the state’s largest school district – DPSCD. The degree of selective tone deafness is maddening. So just so we’re clear…you’re tuned in enough to hear your praises being uttered in rap form and wise enough to rebuff the mindless, crowdfunded Buffs from said artist but don’t know enough to do what’s right on behalf of Black students right to literacy? Yeah – okay.

COVID-19 has the Black community on the ropes and in a literal fight for our lives, so I’m far too emotionally exhausted by oppression, despair and the actual deaths all around me to detail the lengthy, sordid history of the many ways in which years of legislative decisions have been synonymous with justice denied for several generations of Michigan’s Black students, who have suffered mis-education in every conceivable form since white supremacist oppression reared its predictable presence in the emergency mis-management, rape and pillage of our once glorious public school system. People are encouraged and welcome to exercise their own free will (and Google) to unearth the reprehensible, true story of educational malpractice of the highest order which has already happened in this state. In addition, I’ll not spend any time connecting this egregious history to the very existence of this historically relevant right to literacy case, to which I have referred throughout this blog. What I will share and have the energy to unabashedly announce is that we’ve seen this before. My people have sadly grown accustomed and are admittedly tired of the white men and women who brazenly leverage privilege and white fragility, when convenient, from empowered elected official seats and other positions of power, while willfully dishonoring and confirming your relative disdain for Black lives when it comes to our: water, schools (Benton Harbor High School) and now via this selective, deafening silence in the 6th Circuit Court case #RightToLiteracy ruling. This is common practice in the playbook of institutionalized oppression.

May I remind you that it was misguided Black folks who joined liberals across the country in coming to your defense when #45 sicked his legion of armed, right wing, white supremacist, hate spewing factions to your doorstep in the states capital – not once, but multiple times – and with undoubtedly more rabid dog, screaming protests yet to come. In spite of this, you still have yet to find your voice on behalf of Black children and their right to literacy. I’m confused. Wasn’t it you who made ill-advised, profanity laced pronouncements that you would “fix the damn roads” and promised to ensure funding and advocacy for education the whole time you deceptively campaigned across the state? Hell, why not fix the damn schools instead – now is your chance. Honestly, even if you were to decide to settle this landmark case, in this, the final hour of decision making relevance . . . It would still be too little, too late. We see you 👀.

We, as people of good conscience, long memories and even more powerful voting blocs and records of holding people accountable for doing what the hell they claim they’re gonna do, were merely admonishing this governor to keep a campaign promise SHE made. It’s cool though. Your trademark white supremacist adjacent silence and inaction has been duly noted. It’s now incumbent upon us to respond accordingly. Lastly to this point, Black ppl need to stop giving weak excuses, political cover and begging others of us to exercise patience and grace when it comes to inequity (especially when it comes to Black students’ education). It’s our collective responsibility to cease and desist in affording points or credit to this or ANY elected official when they have only earned our scorn (after having unjustly solicited our votes). From now on and forever more, just get accustomed to holding all people in positions of power accountable to doing their jobs and, perhaps more importantly, to keeping their word. Our children are watching. And they deserve better. 💯

Embracing The Loss of Business As Usual

I have been in mourning. Deep, unmistakable and heartfelt mourning. I have had trouble focusing on work (essential educational work being done from home), and significant trouble sleeping. I have shed tears intermittently (as various losses have been experienced), but then quickly recovered in a sincere effort to maintain focus on the work related tasks at hand or to keep up a brave face for my immediate family and friends. Of course I realize that putting off my grieving until a time in which it will be more convenient is damaging, but honestly this has all been almost too much to bear and it may be healthier to process grief in smaller doses, over time.

Educators have always been heroes and exist among the greatest of all those who serve the needs of others. Now more than ever, educators are essential workers who have a unique obligation to let our lights so shine, so that our students/families might know that they are valuable, protected from harm, appreciated and loved. I am an educator to my natural core and yet for the past several weeks I have only been able to go through the motions and perform the most basic components of my job. Nothing feels quite real anymore. The entire Coronavirus and COVID-19 reality haze seems like a Sci Fi nightmare . . . except that it’s painfully real. Far too real a nightmare here in Detroit. People are sick, suffering and dying in astronomical numbers and there’s no question that nothing will ever be quite the same.

I know how important writing is for me. Despite this it’s been useless trying to process this level of grief in a coherent, written form. For me, writing has never been a chore, it operates like an essential form of therapy – a sort of soul, spirit outpouring – which allows me a healthy avenue to express what’s inside – no matter how raw and unfiltered. Except that since early March, there’s been so much foreign matter inside that I’ve had no means of processing it (much less attempting to express myself in writing). I admire my fellow blogging comrades and colleagues who I’ve seen churn out piece after piece, as a sort of testament to the strength of their health and the benefits of this craft. For me there have been no journals, no blog posts, very little human interaction (by both choice AND force) and it’s literally been all that I can do to just find the simple joys in each day. I look for something, no matter how minuscule to celebrate and give thanks for in each day. I have done this for my own well-being and sense of normalcy. Because it’s my very nature to be joyful, optimistic and give thanks even for the small rays of sunlight in a dark, cavernous pit. Except that in my 40+ years, nothing has ever been quite so dark, so endlessly cavernous and so very depressing without the slightest hope of relief or the healing warmth of the sun.

Work has been harder than ever. I’m still able to teach (online) and somehow creating curriculum and sharing the innate joy I have always had for teaching and learning is still easy for me, even at this most difficult of times. Teaching has been a wonderful, welcome diversion and like second nature; a healing balm and a blessing indeed. I pray that our collective work (as the rank and file front line of educators, who are still working from home), has been equally fulfilling while somehow serving as an inspiration to our students who are still very much entitled to benefit from the endless joys of learning. But at the same time, the thought of being anything other than our glorious, authentic selves at this pivotal time is truly unthinkable. The thought of being anything other than somber, angry, sad, grief stricken and wounded has been virtually impossible in the presence of and in collaboration with those around us who still somehow seek to perpetuate an illusion of superiority and power. Sigh . . . I welcome an end to all play acting and the abrupt halt to the collegial facade which dictates that people in power have a right to abuse such powers as a means to wield punitive measures and systemic harm all while masking their own insecurities and lack. I can’t wait for people to rise up and demand an end to the madness of feigned superiority. No more, over, the end.

That’s what this virus is (or at least what it feels like), the end. The end of the innocence of our youth, the end of pomp, circumstance, ceremony and future aspirations for those of us who are mature and/or idealistic in nature. This unprecedented time in history marks the end of life as we know it in so many significant ways. Ultimately, we must all come to embrace the absolute end of all business as usual. For that I initially grieved deeply and looked for ways to summon the strength to continue to rebuild anew. However , after some deep thought and consideration I have come to realize that the reality of nothing going back to normal is in some ways, a blessing and something to celebrate. After all, normal wasn’t really working for us anyway, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves. There was so much in our lives that required shaking up, change and permanent reform and/or disruption that I suppose there had to be an end to life, as we once knew it, for us to regenerate the earth, restore the health of our environment and bodies and to cleanse the very toxic energy of our souls/spirit. As for me, I welcome the unvarnished truth in all things. The return to things simple and a kind of forced vulnerability which renders each of us as universally traumatized and equally receptive to the forging of authentic relationships and living.

The only caveat is why so much death among my people, Black people in particular, for massive change to be wrought? Of course the technical answers all fall short – for failing to scarcely acknowledge the systemic racism and deep inequities that marginalized us as a people in pre-COVID reality. Here in Detroit, there are so many people (Black people) – young, middle aged, old, poor, working class, wealthy, pre-existing conditions and completely healthy – who have already succumbed to this virus in increasingly record numbers, that I/we can’t help but to continue to reel from the very real loss and grief being experienced by so many of us. No longer is education falsely denoted as the great equalizer – but rather loss, the sting of death, permanent shifting of our consciousness and the degree to which we are all rendered powerless – has become the greatest equalizer of the year 2020.

On the last day that I left the house for work, Thursday March 12, 2020, the virus was already at the forefront of our news. The risk was already seemingly palpable and the threat of great change was looming large overhead. Still, I reported to one of the countless, densely populated local high schools, to collaborate with like-minded professionals and to meet with the intention of exploring literature circles and novel study as a complement to an existing English Language Arts curriculum implementation plan. How utterly meaningless an agenda in our current reality. On this Thursday, I was conscious of the need to keep a healthy distance from others even as I met, planned and collaborated with the other educators in the meeting space. I was focused on the task at hand, but still cognizant of the fact that my daughter’s state college had cancelled all classes on the previous day and seemingly overnight, students had been packing up and leaving for their homes in droves. My pensive daughter was anxiously awaiting my own arrival after the conclusion of my workday, so much of my focus that day was already in flux and justifiably so, considering that this was the eerie definition of the veritable calm before the storm.

While it was then (and still is), painfully clear that danger was afoot and that a change from business as usual was necessitated – there was truly no conception of just how bad things would soon get. There was still little preparation or thoughtful acknowledgement that this would technically be my last time outside of my own home for any extensive length of time and that all work/school and daily errands would soon become figments of our imagination of past lives rather than components of our everyday realities. How to predict that dozens of lives lost would soon morph into hundreds even thousands of fallen, unsuspecting people and the death rate keeps climbing day by day. This reality is truly unchartered territory. Everyday is like a progression deeper into the abyss of the unknown. But still, all I know to do is to accept the unknown as it manifests and to be open and receptive to what the universe is teaching us right now. We have no choice but to embrace the loss of business as usual. Blessings, love and light to us all!

Asé

Would you Pass an #Equity Litmus Test?

“Walk it like I talk it” is what comes to mind when you think about the attention paid to equity across today’s educational and professional landscape. Although a widespread verbal commitment to equity is now politically correct and upon everyone’s lips as a trendy way to appear #Woke, we must advance beyond mere lip service and into the realm of the tangible in order for deeply entrenched levels of equity to be realized. In other words, it’s time to show and prove that we can walk it, like we talk it.

In this sense, equity starts in your own belief system and household and does not encompass merely the lip service paid while one enjoys the privileges of whiteness or working/middle class affluence. Question: would you enroll your children in an integrated, inner city neighborhood public school? And educators: would you consider enrolling your own children in the schools in which you teach? 🤔 The question is no doubt rhetorical, but if the answer to this question is not affirmative, chances are that you are painfully aware of the inequitable funding, resources and academic outcomes which are a reality within a widespread system of mis-education; yet you have, like so many others, deemed low-income, Black students as expendable. #Smdh.

Ultimately, NO student should be regarded as a sacrificial lamb from an educational perspective but Americans have made a conscious decision over the past few decades since Brown v. Board of education, to re-segregate education (and housing) on the basis of white privilege and affluence – thereby rendering mis-education as a myth or the inescapable inheritance of those unfortunate, marginalized children. I guess the real question is: who decides which children are unworthy of an equitable and high quality education education? The resounding consensus is that WE do . . . Everyday and by virtue of which schools we opt to enroll our own children. Truly, actions speak volumes over words and the act of personal investment in an inequitable system goes a long way towards establishing your commitment to and unwavering involvement in fostering widespread change. For the record, I’m not speaking about my opinion here, I am honestly about that life and telling you what I know from my own experience as both an educator and a parent who made a conscious decision to invest in my own child’s education as commensurate with the sacrifices I was willing to make on behalf of our people and all of the other children whom society regards as expendable. If the neighborhood school system in the countless cities in which you make your livelihoods aren’t worthy of your own child’s enrollment…perhaps your commitment to equity is in lip service only.

Each of us is uniquely obliged and largely responsible for counteracting the institutionalized systems of oppression that marginalized people inextricably face in meaningful, tangible, and personally significant ways, not just with the imposter syndrome facades with which we adorn our public persona(s). How can the public, impoverished schools ever be improved upon and rendered equitable, if they remain as an enigma to our own experience as privileged, school choice decision makers? Inner city schools go the way of housing and many are wholly abandoned by the affluent change makers in our midst who use their privilege (as secured by educational esteem and degrees) as fodder for their decisions to move on up (and right out of) disadvantaged communities. That is until gentrification deems the financial benefits of re-discovering and re-investment in a well established ‘historic’ region with renewed interest and promise of prosperity and stability. Even more curious, the verbal commitment of educated professionals who ourselves work in inner city schools have often tied our public agendas to equity, student achievement and closing the opportunity gap, even as their own residence is outside the community in which they earn a living and their own children attend private schools. Recently, the Washington Post posited that equity “could be the most effective mechanism for driving better outcomes for Black and Brown children”, still it would be very telling to conduct a poll on one’s personal alignment to equity, using school enrollment and residency as a sort of personal preference litmus test (to determine if the private reality matches up with one’s public perception). I daresay, our collective actions speak louder than words.

Despite my esteemed educational attainment and lengthy career as a teacher, principal and now a college professor – choosing to devote the bulk of my daily energy to dismantling mis-education through my work as an instructional leadership coach – my life’s work pays homage much more to my own humble public school beginnings, than it does to framing an illusory portrait of financial stability and upward mobility. Because quite frankly, the truth is that for even working class professionals like myself, we are all merely 1-2 paychecks (or looming, depression-like recession status) away from the clear and present danger of financial crisis. So we must align our personal commitments with our public persona as a means to lend credibility and the spiritual fortitude of Ma’at (balance, truth and reciprocity) to our efforts and to what we hold dear.

My own daughter, nieces, nephews, and cousins have ALWAYS attended the same Detroit and Brooklyn inner city, public schools I have taught in. Moreover, in each of these cities, I also lived in the neighborhood in which the schools were located. This is not a novel idea, because my college educated, community invested parents ultimately laid the foundation for an exemplar of: community reinvestment, social activism, grassroots political engagement, Black economic empowerment and perhaps most importantly, neighborhood public school enrollment, involvement and accountability that I was genetically gifted with the literal playbook equity 101. Trust me: it makes a huge difference to be both immersed in and materially invested in (as opposed to pimping), the communities and schools for which we fight.

Equity, social activism, anti-racism and their inextricable ties to freedom from oppression are not just fancy buzzwords in my family – they were and always will be a way 👏🏾 of 👏🏾 life 👏🏾. If the communities in which we lived and the schools in which we chose to enroll our own CHILDREN were the litmus test for equity, progressive thought and an abiding commitment to anti-racist ideology, sooo many people (educators included), would fail. 👀💯 Contrary to popular belief, many social activists and leaders have similarly opted to align their personal agendas with their beliefs and public persona, and in doing so they courageously set the standard of a conscious commitment to equity (not just in words, but in deeds). Notably esteemed and admirably bad-assed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, would likely agree that she and her husband’s reported decision to enroll their 4-year old daughter in a high poverty school is not sacrificing high quality nor lasting academic performance and success, rather she is exercising equity in action by investing in the very community within which some of our best and brightest Black and Brown children have sprung. She vehemently defends this decision against critics who insisted that she shouldn’t experiment with her own child’s education to a social justice agenda and she wisely counters “whose children should be sacrificed?”.

Of course I can only speak from personal experience, still I have admittedly been blessed to attend AND work in schools within which the founders, school leaders and teachers/support staff, all had their own children enrolled. It made a fundamental difference in how equity was practiced in terms of teacher pay, academic quality and the depth of the lifelong relationships and alliances formed. How blessed I have been to have had the exemplary privilege to have been enrolled in and to have taught in such unique institutions which meaningfully actualized the Educate to Liberate mantra of education as the basis of freedom from oppression. Surely the breadth of my lengthy experience as an educator also means that I have attended and worked in schools within which the leadership and instructional team have had multiple school-aged children who overwhelmingly attended private, suburban or parochial schools in the detached, affluent communities in which they lived. But of course, by and large these educators comprised the non-invested, savior, or “I’ve got mine, you get yours” ilk who represent the portrait of mis-education. No judgment if this has been your experience . . . But kindly save us all the empty lip service regarding your heartfelt commitment to equity. America has been far too willing to sacrifice its Black and Brown children to mis-education, while privilege and affluence prescribes the perpetuation of the status quo for their own offspring. Equity is not just a popular buzzword but informs a living, breathing and autonomous decision-making reality in each of our lives. How about making certain that we can walk it, like we talk it?