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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?

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How Schools Dishonor Black History Month

As a lifelong educator having been blessed to work in every professional capacity imaginable, from: teacher, curriculum writer, academic interventionist, instructional coach, assistant principal, principal, chief academic officer and now as a graduate education professor – I have experienced my fair share of how school districts across the country uniquely (albeit clumsily) interpret the best way(s) to pay homage to the proud legacy, traditions and future aspirations of an entire nation of people during #BlackHistoryMonth. Sadly, I have also been witness to my fair share of #Fails in this regard. In light of being an educator always ready and willing to teach and in the spirit of full transparency, I wish to share my ideology re: the many ways that school districts across the country (often unintentionally) dishonor Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s brainchild for an annual month of recognition, and more importantly, how we can best rectify this aberration.

This morning, I watched a pre-recorded interview on a local podcast featuring education and government officials in order to support the guest appearance of a fellow educator and scholar historian. During the broadcast, I caught an interview that a local journalist had with an official from our Detroit Public Schools District regarding the special curricula offerings being interwoven into SS for #BHM⁠ ⁠. Though not at all surprised, it was admittedly disheartening and glaringly unacceptable that slavery/slave narratives were soon referenced when asked about the diversity of the #BHM curriculum being featured (sigh). #Miseducation is certainly alive and well.

Among the countless injustices of this flawed yet, all-too-familiar approach to acknowledge Black history is the glaring truth that our history does not begin with enslavement. All attempts to reference history through a warped American lens, distorted by centuries of White supremacist rule is disrespectful and disingenuous to the critical thought of ALL children who must be taught that all life has its origin on the continent of Africa. You see, this is not African-centered education or even a feel good, affirmation relegated to Black history, this is irrefutable, historic fact which must be taught as a mere starting point for dismantling the gross mis-education of all students. Further, the Detroitk12 system is not unlike all other school districts’ in that they must all be more mindful of the need to counteract the White supremacist ideology and mis-education inherent in the “slave narratives” which are all too common pitfalls of the antiquated state standards and comprise either the official or unofficial go-to curriculum choice for Black History Month and the entire academic year.

Though I must admit to being offended to the core, (please note for the record that vehement dissatisfaction for the racist U. S. school system is a sentiment shared by literally hundreds of academics, activists and people of good conscience whom I follow on Twitter), I must assume that school systems would DO better, if in fact they KNEW better. Well, it’s not rocket science, and the most informed and appropriate way to cease violating Black people in crafting a Black History Month curriculum is via explicit instruction from Black academic scholars and increased, unrelenting public demand from all people of good conscience. It bears repeating that Black history does NOT begin w/ enslavement. As such, BHM⁠ ⁠warrants infusion in every core subject and at every grade level. Most importantly, White female teachers – those who comprise the bulk of the teaching force of an overwhelmingly diverse majority of students – are woefully ignorant, academically unprepared and otherwise ill-equipped to deliver the truth of African/Black history (especially before the period of enslavement), without explicit instruction themselves and sans a targeted retooling of pedagogical policy, enhanced teacher education protocols and ongoing, job-embedded professional development training (which consequently, Educate to Liberate LLC provides across the country, with seamless accuracy and exceptional corporate/nonprofit consumer satisfaction).

As such, all educators MUST willingly and eagerly commit to being lifelong learners or resign. I realize that this prescription may sound harsh, but if in fact teaching is a calling then anti-racist and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to the profession. Any perceived hesitation or refusal to submit to this “fix” of everything that is wrong with our educational system, means the perpetuation of the status quo and a curriculum of bias, exclusion and a guaranteed future of mis-education for all the generations of gifted, brilliant students who are not affluent and/or White. Trust me, our children deserve better and opting to retire is the absolute best service that the resistor could offer, because it’s no secret that you are doing more harm than good.

Finally, consummate educators like myself have formidable career records of 25+ years (and earned doctorates!) for having mastered #CulturallyResponsivePedagogy and can boast of a proud record for countering racism and gross mis-education in schools from Detroit to New York City. This passionate blog, my charitable efforts in the community and a lifetime of grassroots activism exist as proof positive that I don’t just “talk the talk”, on the contrary I (and countless others) “walk the walk” and stand ready and willing to assist, as needed to ensure that every school, in every district across the country is empowered to #EducateToLiberate. ✊🏿 We can do this educators. It takes all of us: Each one, Teach one and how affirming it is to know that we are valiantly supported by people the world over in our admirable efforts. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of any assistance to your conscious efforts to change the current narrative of mis-education.