The Lenses We Wear

I’ve heard it before but it’s really hitting me hard – equity, anti racism, love as a pedagogy, UDL – are lenses that we use to see and teach and move through the world. But I guess I believed that folks just hadn’t found their glasses yet, that by modeling or giving them resources or strategies that they’d find their way. But it’s so much more complicated than that and also NOT complicated. I find it more complicated because many people haven’t spent anytime learning about the “history” that’s flawed or questioning the theories they believe in (e.g. culture of poverty) but it’s also not complicated because the information is out there for the learning, unlearning, and relearning. (If you’re someone who needs support in this process, please reach out)

Have you ever been to the eye doctor? With that machine? A Phoropter? The one with the lenses? Where they say – this one or that one as you look at letter from a distance? The phoropter is the incredibly complex machine that eye care professionals use during an eye exam. They push it towards your face, over your eyes, and then they switch out the lenses, over and over, as you look towards a sign with letters. (Wikipedia) Often the lenses are so close it doesn’t seem like much of a difference when they ask “this one?” But those slight variations make the difference between seeing the world clearly or a slight fog or a headache over time.  

This one or that one? 

As I look down the room at the letters, often I am squinting or still adjusting my eyes in order to see. My eyes have different needs and they work together so when they are separated I struggle. My right eye is the weakest – it has a significant spot on the cornea leading me to depend heavily on my left eye. I often am second guessing myself as I read the letters I see. My eyes deceive me. 

I notice that my eyesight is so similar to my viewpoints – often what I think my opinions are aren’t based on reality but based on guesses. So I have had to practice learning and unlearning  and listening. I have learned that I need to work at seeing the world correctly, just as my right eye is weak, my education has some significant spots. I am dependent on my other eye, or my community, to really help me see. I am in a constant of curiosity, of disbelief in my understandings based on the lies I have been taught through school. I in an urgent space of learning – inhaling podcasts, books, history, and stories from those who have lived through. I am listening intently without disbelief in that, but in my subtle (and often not so subtle) responses as I hear things that shift my world. I know that I was taught through experiences that my students’ families aren’t interested in their education. Comments such as “they don’t value school” referring to families and caregivers in ability to get to school for a last minute meeting or a meeting held only in English and with education jargon led me to internalize this message. Although when I did meet families and caregivers in the community, they never seemed to express this position that I had internalized. I am in need of constant questioning as I hear messages that don’t add up or seem too simple to something – “this one or that one?” I am also in need of bifocals to see clearly what is close, as well as far away. These glasses are necessary always. 

I make assumptions all the time, I think we all do. One of my bigger assumptions is around thinking everyone is wearing the same glasses as me, that they have the same right eye spot as me, so when we look at a piece of art their brain and eyes are taking in the same image. Turns out, it’s not happening. When we look at a piece of art, folks are noticing the details or the frame or the brushstrokes – while I might be noticing the similarity to other paintings in the room or trying to remember where I’ve seen the work before. Our experiences also shift what we are seeing and looking at. 

This need for glasses or lenses is imperative in order for education to really change. When I read an education book and it doesn’t have a racial equity lens, or the topic of race isn’t even mentioned, I finish the book wanting more, knowing that the book is missing something huge. If we aren’t talking about the barriers that systemic racism is creating then we are just making small talk about education. And if you know me, I don’t do small talk very well or for very long.  How do I push the thinking, the practices, the routines, the traditions within the spaces and contexts I am in? How am I modelling in action, language, and practices values that demonstrate that all humans are equal and no one is a throwaway? How do I center racial injustice as a starting point? How do I make sure that I have been intentionally inclusive rather than unintentionally exclusive? How do I share the glasses I wear so that others can see the kids as I see them – fully capable, incredible, and full of things to share?

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, July 31). Phoropter. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:15, September 2, 2019, from

Images from Wikimedia Commons

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