In the last few months, I’ve done several interviews with college and graduate students writing papers on the need for greater equity in education. It seems to be a big topic in college classrooms.
The goal in education used to be equality --assuring that every student received the same treatment and resources. But we now understand that many kids arrive at school with disadvantages that require they get more of some things.
It could mean more funding, more individual attention or more time on task. Equity sets out to make sure all students receive what they need to succeed, which will vary based on a student’s circumstances and background.
In theory, I find parents support equity; most people recognize children growing up in a household without books on the shelves, green vegetables in the fridge or sometimes even a bed to call their own arrive at the first day of school less prepared.
However, I find that sympathy wanes over time, as middle-class parents begin to want more from public education for their own kids. Parents of kids gifted in math ask why there aren’t more acceleration opportunities in middle and high school. The parents of teens who love theater or music want more funding for those programs, which are often the most vulnerable to cost-cutting. Almost all high school parents in suburban communities lament the lack of counselors dedicated to helping their kids figure out and apply to colleges.
I had a mom contact me because a middle school language arts teacher refused to give her son a pen or pencil to complete an in-class assignment. The mother could afford pencils and pens; her son just forgot them repeatedly, and the teacher finally said no more. The mom contended teachers should keep a stash of paper, pens, and markers for kids who forget, citing the school taxes she paid. Her taxes were paying for poor kids to go to summer enrichment programs, she said. Certainly, some of the money could buy pencils.
We are increasingly asking teachers to champion equity, especially with the push for social and emotional learning. For example, the National Equity Project states:
Social emotional learning offers the possibility of acknowledging, addressing, and healing from the ways we have all been impacted by racism and systemic oppression and to create inclusive, liberatory learning environments in which students of color and students living in poverty experience a sense of belonging, agency to shape the content and process of their learning, and thrive.
The Edutopia blog listed six steps toward equity, leading with:
Know every child: First and foremost, get to know each student as a unique and layered individual. Embrace storientation to learn where they’re from, what they love to do outside of school, what their family is like. Don’t subscribe to a single story about any child. The more you know, the more you can build trust and differentiate instruction.
I believe it’s important for teachers to know their students, but I am not sure that can happen when teachers see 100 or more kids a day.
The equity steps also included, “Make it safe to fail: Teach students that failure is just another form of data.”
But that data is used to judge teachers and schools.
We don’t live in an equitable world, so we are asking schools to light the way for us. At the same time, we are urging schools to recognize students who have experienced or are now living with trauma. I have seen a surge in articles on trauma-informed teaching.
In talking to educators about this, they agree it is vital to see the whole child and to recognize unmet mental and emotional needs.
But once teachers recognize those needs and see that trauma, where are the community resources for those children and families?
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