Setting new priorities for public education

Personal Perspective

By |  Darlene Sampson, PhD, LCSW

If Not Now … When?

Reimagine, reclaim, restore, reform, and transform are some of the words regarding the institution of education I have incorporated into my lexicon over the past 20 years. Multiple missteps, lack of authenticity, and dissonance with concerned and committed community members such as myself have subdued and challenged my support to change and reclaim schools for all children. Given the push for social justice and reparations, particularly our most marginalized and oppressed students, a hopeful spark has been reignited. However, I have yet to see any level of the myriad terms come to fruition since the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case, in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. What am I to do as a concerned grandparent and community member fighting to center the experiences of historically excluded or minoritized students in educational settings?  What is being asked of us again as the coronavirus pandemic slaps its collective hand upside the heads of education?

Allan’s article, titled Public Education’s Opportunity To Shift Course outlines in brilliant and inviting language what schools, educators, leaders, and planners must do if we are to take the educational bull by the horns and tame its wildly inconsistent and troubling past. Allan is correct from the very first assertion that current educational dynamics have to be “reimagined,” reminding us that we are “fundamentally altered by the new norms given the regulations required when trying to keep schooling going during a pandemic.” As I think about instruction, curriculum, over-testing of our children, and the ability to pivot, I have found that these regulations were changed quickly in order to meet the demands of the pandemic. How is that possible when we have taken decades to build such an elaborate and structured system of education that failed to move quickly or efficiently? We have witnessed that it was possible to tear away or tear down this institution during the months that the pandemic has unleashed its unyielding ferociousness on the field of education.  If educators can focus closely in on the faces of children and families online and stop the majority of testing in a such a short  time, imagine what we could accomplish if we authentically desired to have a cause, dismantle a challenge, eliminate gaps, make reparations, or move us toward something better and greater. Have I been duped by having sat through years of community meetings about curriculum, transforming schools, infusing culturally responsive pedagogy, and thinking of the whole child when all of this was possible in nine months? 

The assertions in the article create the assumption that our schools are now providing innovative schooling face-to-face, in hybrid, or all-virtual, and that the educational system is “calcified” and stymied in its current state. Although these things may be true, we also saw a chipping away at hiding the opportunity gap, the technology gap, the attitude gap, and the gap of fragility while building back multiple options, albeit challenging our institutions. The pandemic gave us no pass in refusing to look at our children’s faces, it denied us the opportunity to uplift while disenfranchising others, and it pushed us to get innovative in connecting with both students and families. It has required us to make pedagogy interesting, more cultural, and hopefully more flavorful as we enter the sacred ground of the homes of students seeing their spaces, cultures, and needs. We were camera to camera with inequities, differentiated needs, and ourselves. We were forced to talk to parents and guardians, and we found out that they provided a village at the same time that  many were working, stressing, and hustling to keep their children engaged and educated. This pandemic made us look at the disconnect between policies and educators and pushed us to look closer at what is important for students to learn.

In the main article, Public Education’s Opportunity To Shift Course, Allan  refers to creating ties between education and life skills.  This marriage is so important as we prepare our students for life. The author asserts that our students need more practical skills and need to envision their own businesses and use of creative skill sets. I would question whose life we are referring to? Will the lives of White children and their families be asserted as the barometer, or will we support and shore up multilayered and multicultural examples of the lives that are all inherently rich and robust? The pandemic informed us that our students need real life skills for the long haul across many careers and opportunities, and they must see entrepreneurs, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, all genders, sizes, LGBTQ+, different levels of ableness, and skin tones in multiple fields of interest. 

Allan offers a profound and realistic view of the work we must do in education as we embed equity and culturally responsive practices across policy, procedure, curriculum, discipline, and within ourselves.  The totality of changes required absolutely appeals to my sense of fairness and equity as a community leader. However, as I read through the deeply layered suggestions, I found myself being triggered by all the inequities that BISOC (Black, Indigenous, Students of Color) have endured for decades. I worry that I will be asked to return to the stale table of reform and transformation, and there will be no food or movement on the inequity table. 

Lastly, as we rethink the idea of schooling, we cannot go back. Social justice and moral fortitude require that we move forward and utilize what we have learned during the triple pandemics of health, social justice, and economics as our road map toward obliterating educational inequities.  If not now, when?

Brief Bio

Dr. Darlene Sampson lives by her late parent’s mantra: “Giving back to others is in your DNA—you must respect and honor the shoulders you have stood on.” With that thinking in mind, Dr. Sampson has maintained a space of social justice and cultural humility as she works across the business, education, and social work fields as an administrator, leader, and equity specialist. Dr. Sampson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and also earned a Ph.D., in Educational Leadership with emphasis on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy.

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