We Must All Bear The Shame: The First Step in Advancing Equity
Dispositions matters, especially instruction. The way we think about something dictates how we behave. To advance equity and social justice practices in our schools, districts, and society, we must start with our thinking and dispositions. While it is true, we cannot force people to think differently, we can help them to develop reflective processes (open conversations, exposures, literature, experiences, perspective taking, etc.) to assist in expanding and unpacking the way they think and the reasons why they think the way they do. We can force declarations, mandates, regulations and even laws, but these things have not led to actionable steps that ensure equity for All of our students. So, what are the first steps in being more reflective regarding our personal and professional dispositions? It starts with accountability and ownership. Too often, those most vulnerable, most excluded, and most disenfranchised in our society are left being the ones who bear the shame of the inequities that exist. Deconstructing our thinking about equity and social justice is the most critical and foundational work that we must do if we want policies, practices, laws, and schools to do the real work of advancing equity. This work will not be easy, but it is doable, and it is necessary.
The United States has long been hailed as a Beacon of Democracy and Advancers of Justice:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” ~ Emma Lazarus 1883
Remember that gift from the people of France? The promises we made to be a democratic society of and for the masses, the forgotten, the less fortunate, the brave, the hopeful, for all. Recently that reality for us has been challenged, or has it? Was it truly a mantle that we embodied or was it simply “Inspiration by Lamination?”, a “tagline” reserved for some but not for most? If the last few years have shown us anything, it showed us that the mirror reflection that we held up of ourselves is nothing more than a distortion of who we are at our core, as opposed to who we claim to be. In other words, “our slip is hanging.” We are exposed. The beacon of light is more like a flickering spark that dims more and more each passing moment. Leaving the smoke of divisions, hate, blame, bipartisanships, inequalities, entitlements, and even inhumanity.
But does it have to be this way? Our promises do not have to be empty. Surely, a nation as great as ours can make this promise of liberty, justice and [equity] a reality for all! For this to be accomplished though, we must all bear the shame of the empty promises. We must all bear the shame that we are still having Firsts in our country (O’Kane, C., 2020):
President Barack Obama first Black President, Vice President Kamala Harris first black vice-president [woman of color]; 21-year-old Chris Nikic became the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon; Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna became the first two women to ever jointly win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Wilton Gregory was named by Pope Francis the archbishop of Washington, making him the first African American to hold the position; Jonny Kim, who served overseas as a Navy SEAL and graduated from Harvard Medical School, became NASA’s first Korean-American astronaut at just 35 years old; Ritchie Torres, a Democratic congressional candidate from New York, was elected as the first openly gay Black man in Congress; Katie Sowers, an offensive assistant coach with the 49ers, became the first female and openly gay person to coach at the Super Bowl; Matt James was named “the Bachelor,” becoming the first Black male lead in the franchise’s 18-year history; Actor Niles Fitch made Disney history with his new role in “Secret Society of Second-Born Royals,” becoming Disney’s first, live-action Black prince; Hallmark Channel released its first Christmas movie with an LGBTQ storyline; In April, a new statue of women’s rights champions Susan B. Antony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth was unveiled in New York City’s Central Park —the first statue of real-life women ever erected in the park, and the park’s first new monument since 1965; Lieutenant Madeline Swegle made history as the U.S. Navy’s first Black female tactical fighter pilot, receiving her Wings of Gold in August; …
We must all bear the shame that our nation has long held and continue to have institutional inequities and isms in policies, procedures, and practices in our places of employment and pay rates, health care, housing, entertainment, sports, politics, banking, media, justice system, etc. For this to happen, we must all bear the shame of inequities, especially those in our education system. We must bear the shame of the long held Education Gap: The Root to Inequity in our society.
According to Kristen Weir (2016):
“For decades, black students in the United States have lagged behind their white peers in academic achievement. In 2014, the high school graduation rate for white students was 87 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For black students, the rate was 73 percent. Test scores show a similar racial gap. To be sure, many factors contribute to the achievement gap, including home and neighborhood environments and school factors unrelated to teachers’ performance. But one dynamic is becoming impossible to ignore: Notable differences in the way black students are treated by teachers and school administrators.”
Research conducted by a Stanford- led study shows that racial disparities in school discipline are linked to the achievement gaps between Black and White students nationwide. According to the results from the study, as racial discipline gap increases, so too does the racial achievement gap; likewise, as the racial discipline gap declines, so too does the racial achievement gap. Additionally, the researchers also observed a significant association between the Hispanic-White achievement and discipline gaps. Not surprising, researchers have discovered that other factors—such as poverty and levels of education—accounted for the relationship. Once they controlled for these differences at the community level, the relationship between the two gaps disappeared. “This suggests that the mechanisms connecting the achievement gap to the discipline gap, such as teacher biases and feeling isolated at school, may be most salient for Black students [and other students of color].” Are Achievement Gaps Related to Discipline Gaps? Evidence from National Data – YouTube
We must all bear the shame of inequalities in our special education system-identification, placement, and discipline. According to Daniel J. Losen and Gary Orfield (Equity and Opportunity, December 2002/January 2003 | Volume 60 | Number 4), data from the U.S. Department of Education and state education departments (Click here to access Ohio) show clear patterns of overrepresentation of minority children in special education nationwide. While these patterns may vary dramatically by state, disability category, and race, it is clear in most states, that African American students are between one-and-one-half and four times as likely as white students to be identified as mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed. Additionally, the data reveal that Native American students also tend to be overrepresented in cognitive disability categories, while Asian American students tend to be underrepresented throughout the United States; and Latino students are overrepresented in some districts and underrepresented in others. In addition, after schools’ place students in special education, they tend to provide different services depending on the students’ race. Although Federal law specifies that schools should strive for inclusion, providing services to special education students in the least restrictive environment possible, minority special education students are significantly less likely to reap the benefits of such inclusionary practices. For instance, African American and Latino students are about twice as likely as white students to be educated in a restrictive, substantially separate education setting.
We must all bear the shame of literacy deficiency rates of our students, especially from our most vulnerable populations. According to NAEP Report Card 2019, nearly 294,000 fourth- and eighth-grade students across the nation participated in the 2019 reading assessment. The 2019 results are compared to 2017 and previous assessments back to the 1990s. Preliminary data shows that students at grades 4 and 8 in both mathematics and reading had higher scores overall and at all five selected percentiles, except for the 10th percentile in reading, compared to the first assessments in the early 1990s. When this data is compared to data collected a decade ago, scores at both grades in both subjects were lower or not significantly different for lower-performing students at the 10th and 25th percentiles. Although many student groups had lower average scores in 2019, fourth-grade English learners scored higher in 2019 in comparison to 2017. Across student groups, average fourth-grade reading scores in 2019 were lower for the following student groups: White and Black students; male students; students eligible and not eligible for the National School Lunch Program; public school students; public, non-charter school students; students in suburban and rural locations; students in the Northeast, Midwest, and South; students identified and not identified as having a disability; and students not identified as English learners.
In Ohio, assessment scores in literacy are notably lower than past years, especially for Black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. Some data highlights include:
using the Language and Literacy domain of the KRA-R, 47.6% of the participating students scored not on track, significantly more than in 2019 (39.7%), 2018 (39.1%) or 2017 (38.3%). A higher percentage of children taking the KRA-R scored in the lowest performance level, Emerging Readiness, than in any previous year (23.7% compared to 22.5% in 2019, 22.7% in 2018 and 22.4% in 2017). Fall 2020 third grade proficiency rates are approximately 8 percentage points lower than in 2019 (37.1% in fall 2020 compared to 45.1% in fall 2019). More than 87% of districts had a decrease in their percent of students scoring proficient or higher from 2019 to 2020. The average decrease in students scoring proficient or above was slightly more than 9%. This included decreases in students scoring in Advanced, Accelerated and Proficient performance levels; with an increase of students scoring in the Basic and Limited range.
We must bear the shame of not making the deficits in student literacy a national crisis, deserving of immediate action. We must bear the shame of these literacy deficits and change the trajectories of student performance, and we must do so with great urgency. If we are to advance equity & social justice in meaningful ways, we must all bear the shame for the gross inequities in our world and our role in it, (whether that role is voluntary-explicit bias or involuntary -implicit and/or unconscious). We can no longer sit on the sidelines of what is happening in our society, in our places of business, in our communities, and in our schools. We can no longer just abide in the safety of our own families and our own privilege and make excuses or turn a deaf ear. We can no longer play the blame game of blaming the victims for institutional and systemic practices that keep them victimized. We can no longer ignore decades of research and evidence-based findings that have long illuminated educational and procedural inequities in our policies, procedures, and practices. We can no longer sow the seeds of division. We can no longer say “this is above my pay grade.” We can no longer pace for privilege or pick the path of least resistance. We can no longer continue to support timed practices and symbols of exclusion & oppression in our society. We can no longer benefit from our privilege while others die from the lack thereof. We can no longer put band-aids on gunshot wounds. We can no longer let our flag stand for patriotism clothed in hate, division, inequities, blame, and inhumanity.
When we all bear the shame… especially in our education systems, we will work to advance equity in policies, procedures, and practices to increase student outcomes for ALL students, communities, and society. When we all bear the shame, we will engage in self-reflective practices to audit our own personal biases that may be impacting our ability to meet the needs of ALL students. When we all bear the shame, we will begin to design and implement practices that are researched-based and focus on a competence/asset disposition instead of our current deficit model of thinking. When we all bear the shame, student graduation rates for All students increase and discipline referrals, drop out & prison rates decrease. When we all bear the shame, ALL students’ ability to achieve gainful/meaningful employment and other positive postsecondary outcomes increase, as dependence on social systems for support decreases. When we all bear the shame, inequities in health care, education, pay, employment opportunities, housing, mental health, judicial system, etc. can all be reduced and eliminated. But for this to occur, we must take that mandatory first step towards equity in which we all must bear the shame.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
~ Emma Lazarus 1883