Equity Principles: Accountability and Reflection

I was super fortunate to be able to go to a session at Free Minds Free People Rad PD with Paul Gorski (if you don’t know of Paul Gorski and his work, please check out his website and his immense amount of resources.)  I’ve been thinking a lot about his session and his work around Equity Principles (Read this article!!) The session has given me some more lenses to look at the systems that I live in and work in. I am certainly a work in progress here, but wanted to share how I’m using this information.

I’m going to think about my own work that’s needed through each of the Principles and as I think about it I’m also going to layer in where I’m living in the Courageous Conversations Compass – if you haven’t engaged in this, please check it out. I am certainly centering myself and probably re-explaining this article for many readers, so if you’re someone who knows this work, please hold me accountable.

Direct Confrontation Principle: The only path toward equity progress requires direct confrontations with inequity. We have to be able to recognize it, name it, understand it, and eliminate it.

For me this is obvious and can be uncomfortable at times. But, for me, it’s the obvious principle that’s needed as a stepping stone towards all the others.

It’s really about naming the things- intentionally, explicitly – policies, practices, curriculum, behaviors, routines, traditions – and then removing (mostly) and replacing. But not replacing one inequitable, harmful “thing” with another. So asking those who are harmed or finding what has already worked in other spaces (that were recommended or created by and from IBPOC, especially women). I think this is where things get tricky, often well intentioned white people realize something is harmful or problematic and we only change the practice slightly, and often in ways that are only helpful to the adults. Many problematic things just need to be removed. For example, if we are talking at a policy level, oftentimes in school handbooks there is a policy that states: no durags or gang affiliated attire. Now this statement is connecting durags and gang affiliated attire – things that aren’t affiliated. Once folks realize this is problematic, the policy shifts to no headwear (e.g. hats, durags, bandanas, etc.). Again, this is a problematic and racist policy considering that durags and bandanas are often worn by Black people to protect their hair. Instead, the policy should just be abandoned completely because why do we (educators, administrators) need to police folks’ headwear and hair?

What do I mean by policing headwear, hair, and bodies? I mean the systematic methods that educators and adults use punitive methods to change students’ head wear choices, hair choices, and bodies in general. The example above around durags and bandanas is one; but this article explains another and this article by Dr. Bettina Love explains it further.

We also need to do check in to ensure the impact is as intended which is something not done often enough. If a policy shifts, especially if the intention is to minimize harm, then a check- in is needed to ensure the impact. 

But what if I’m not a policy maker? (I’m not but I do have the privilege and opportunity to sit in meetings where policies are discussed.) I confront the things I can confront, I shift/replace/discard policies that are racist in my classroom, in my own practices, and I state that that is why I am doing it.  

As I think about this work I am in the Thinking/Intellectual quadrant because I have information, data, and history to back up this work.

Prioritization Principle: Racial equity requires a reimagining of policy and practice in ways that actively prioritize the interests of students of color.

This one isn’t about making things “equal” like not just having the same amount of white western artists in my “Master Artist” slideshow, but about PRIORITIZING BIPOC artists. It’s about having MORE BIPOC in my slideshow than white artists. It’s about focusing and centering those artists’ lives, experiences, and artwork. It’s about ensuring that all the representation that you have isn’t just exceptional BIPOC but also that within your everyday imagery or visuals or whatever is “everyday” in your classroom and life also has representation within.  And this isn’t just good practice within a student population that is BIPOC, but also with a student population that is primarily white. For more information about why representation matters no matter your student population, check here and the #DisruptTexts website and hashtag on twitter.

This area I don’t (yet) have enough examples because I’m working this one a lot. Listening to some incredible educators, scholars, and humans. Some to listen to are Tricia Ebarvia, Dr. Debbie Reese, Julia Torres, Shana White, Val Brown, Dr. Adrienne Keene , Dr. Kim Parker, Dulce Flecha, Cornelius Minor, Marian Dingle, Jose Vilson, Shea Martin #EduColor #ClearTheAir #DisruptTexts

As I think about this work, I am in the Moral/Believing quadrant. I don’t necessarily have the data to “back me up” (a huge foundational piece of white culture is the love of the written word) but I know that this Principle is “right”.

Ideology Principle: Racial equity can be achieved only through ideological shifts that inform all policy and practice decisions. Implementing strategies without these shifts has never worked, so why do we keep doing it? (See: interest convergence.)

This principle is one that I struggle with mightily because I feel like this just should be and it’s not, so I struggle thinking of how folks aren’t thinking this way. I think it’s vital to shift mindsets and a few years ago this is where I tried to put so much of my work. Convincing folks, pointing to the incredible work and achievement of students that had been written off, providing resources – all in the hope that I was changing minds. And maybe I was, but not of the people I was working really hard on and focusing on. This is where I’ve started to shift my energy – it’s not the folks who are dug in, those who are obviously racist – I can’t convince them, instead I can shift folks understandings who are listening and watching and curious. Those are the folks who I can work closely with, those I pull in tight, those I support and love when they mess up. So this is where I have to speak up still, but not in a performative way to show how much I know, but using the Direct Confrontation principle in order to shift those who make policy and practice decisions. This is risky work because the status quo wants to remain the status quo. Here’s an article about mindsets and poverty to help with some of this confrontation.

As I think about this work, I’m in the Moral/Believing quadrant as well as the Emotional quadrant. I feel this principle in my heart so I have to ensure that as I do this work my emotions don’t cloud the work. 

#FixInjusticeNotKids Principle: No amount of our equity efforts should be spent on initiatives designed to fix students or families of color. All of our equity efforts should be spent on initiatives that transform the conditions that marginalize students and families of color.

Here’s the one that might be the most important (although they are each so important) principle. This one is about fixing the injustice NOT FIXING THE KIDS. I see (and have done) things to try and fix kids with a veil of fixing the injustice – things like growth mindset when applied to teach kids to try harder; grit when applied to have BISOC learn how to be resilient; mindfulness when applied to “de-escalate” or “calm” kids down – instead of fixing the systems like gatekeeping into advanced classes through pre-requisites or grades; creating environments where students can express emotions even when they are uncomfortable for adults; and dismantling systems where kids have to “survive”. Changing these initiatives, celebrations, traditions, policies, and practices to those that support and ensure thriving conditions is where energy should be placed. 

So what am I going to do here? As I lead PD and coach, I am going to ensure that I am sharing resources that are not about changing kids but about the injustice. I facilitated a “Classroom Management” workshop last year with this lens – not about rules and regulations but about listening and compassion and understanding the teachers’ role in the responses of student behavior. I am going to revisit and rework this workshop and will share the resources in a later blogpost. 

As I think about this work, I am in the Feeling/Emotion quadrant as well as the Thinking/Intellectual quadrant. I have the information to help this work and I *know* where to head. 

Which principles do you think your school or community might have the most trouble embracing?

Which principle might you have the most trouble embracing?

Paul Gorski asked us these questions to reflect on, to ponder, to share out – which might you have the most trouble embracing?

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