As a young man growing up in Detroit, I attended public schools where I was a member of the majority. As a member of the majority, the voices of students and our parents were elevated. However, by high school my family moved to the suburbs, and I attended Oak Park High School, a majority Jewish school. A school where I immediately became a member of the minority, and my voice and the voice of my family were all but silenced!
The following are a few strategies and terms to help teachers, students and families keep all voices elevated.
For my teaching colleagues, my best advice to you as you participate in the work of equity is to first consider your immediate gut feelings to the following terms and definitions:
- Injustice - systemically being excluded, punished, or prevented from opportunities your competitors have.
- Advantage - having distinct resources and/or opportunities over your competitors.
- Justice - removing institutional or systemic obstacles or advantages so all competitors have equitable access and opportunity.
Practically speaking your mindset drives what policies and programs you will choose to defend or destroy. Therefore, my best advice to all who do this work is to first check your mindset as you proceed.
To my families of students desiring equity at school I ask you to consider answering these three mindset questions:
- Do I believe my child's school is biased against my child’s ethnicity and culture?
- Do I believe my child's school is blind to the benefits of my child's culture?
- Do I believe I should help the school build a more culturally sensitive school culture?
Like teachers’ parents have mindsets that may drive how they will support or sink school policies and programs.
Parents and students, I leave you with what I learned while being a member of the minority in Oak Park: If you want your voice to be elevated, it must be heard.
In an effort to lift all voices so they can be heard, Teaching Matters has created the Elevating Voices program. In Elevating Voices, the student experience in literacy instruction is reimagined. These new instructional units will continue to allow teachers to foster in their students critical thinking and provide space for conversations with peers, teachers, and parents based on experiences - cultural and linguistic - of their own and others. Let all your parents, students and teachers know you want all voices to be elevated by contacting Teaching Matters.
Written by Coach Carlos Johnson