Think Again: Ensuring real student equity
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
“Your mind is like a parachute; it only works when it’s open,” my seventh-grade teacher counseled. That inspiration — and Mr. Rogers’ assurance that he liked me just the way I am — helped me surmount the challenges of my ugly scoliosis-correcting brace.
I told this trauma-to-triumph story when applying for school and work, and later to our son as he coped with the challenges of dyslexia. His teachers inspired him to think again – he wasn’t different; he just learned differently.
Imagine his pride when chosen to address his eighth-grade graduation where he shared his lesson that though we can’t choose what happens to us in life, we can choose how to react.
People don’t shape stories as much as stories shape people. The Jewish Peoples’ slavery-to-freedom story repeated each Passover for 33 centuries cultivated a collective resolve not just to survive relentless persecution, but to craft ethics centered on human equality, helping civilize the world.
Similarly, America’s July 4th story forged a common identity derived from human history’s most revolutionary ideas — e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) and the democratic self-rule of a free people who are created equal. The conviction that man-made laws must reflect natural law birthed the anti-slavery, anti-Jim Crow and Civil Rights movements, and attracted multitudes yearning to be American.
As the lucky heir of both stories, I’m alarmed by anti-racist theories overtaking institutions, including K-12 schools. To advance justice, the book Critical RaceTheory: An Introduction advocates upending our “liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of constitutional law.”
Books like Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist,” popularized the absurdity that our liberal order is not systemically self-improving; it’s systemically racist. To address inequality, they argue, we must treat people differently based on their race.
Coining the term “KenDiAngelonians,” Black intellectuals John McWhorter and Glenn Loury call Kendi and DiAngelo neo-racist cult leaders whose illiberal ideas disempower minority children by suggesting they are unable to compete within objective standards of excellence. Who is helped by abandoning our created equal premise and the dreams it spawned – including being judged by our character, not skin color?
If this pernicious ideology hasn’t yet spread to your school district, blink. In my Aspen School District, leaders officially said no to critical race theory, though its jargon and vague, unsubstantiated claims linger.
Hiding behind benign words denoting fairness and compassion, school boards like Aspen’s are being encouraged to implement plans they say will “foster an equitable and inclusive environment” because “racism is systemic” and “rooted into our institutions, policies, and practices,” leaving many “ignored, discriminated against, and marginalized.”
With such stinging indictments, you’d expect supporting evidence, and recommendations for specific and measurable interventions. But you never do, leaving parents to wonder if those alleging systemic racism agree with Kendi, that “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination?”
The National Equity Project and the school “equity” teams they’ve hatched want to evaluate “data through an equity lens.” Though performance metrics reveal racial disparities, how do we know whether racism is the cause, and why do we assume students in each racial category are homogenous, defined only by their race or ethnicity?
Might systemic racism be the wrong diagnosis, unnecessarily polarizing people while diverting attention away from specific interventions that can help students advance based on their unique circumstances and talents, thereby deriving self-respect and empowerment?
After all, lifting differently talented kids from where they are to where they’re capable of going is education’s purpose. Though our son became a reader, not all dyslexics do, even when equally supported. Considering Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and Muhammed Ali were dyslexics whose talents changed the world, children can surmount disparity when inspired to develop their unique potential.
The feeling of otherness is the lived experience of generations of Americans, including my grandparents who overcame systemic prejudice to become the architects of their lives. Just as I’m the beneficiary of their story, might minority children benefit from stories of Black Americans who overcame unimaginable adversity to claim their created equal birthright?
McWhorter and Loury are in an alliance of Black intellectuals at 1776 Unites whose curriculum is dedicated to empowering children with stories of African Americans who persevered through the harshest circumstances.
“’Yes, we can’t’ has never been the slogan of Black America and it is not now,” insists McWhorter. Nor should it ever be — a declaration worthy of any resolution.
Think again – to promote real diversity, equity and inclusion, shouldn’t we inspire students to recognize that they’re created both equal and different, and valued just the way they are?
Melanie Sturm, founder of Engage to Win, aims to change communication for good through her training and writing. Encouraging readers to “Think Again, you might change your mind.” She welcomes comments at email@example.com.
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