Since Brown v. Board of Education, there has been legal precedent for equitable educational opportunities regardless of demographics, perspectives, or experiences. School integration requires multiple visible outcomes within any community or system. No longer is it enough to dream or say “equitable practices and outcomes for all,” they must become actualized now.
We all have biases! Some biases are used to deny the existence of many individuals. Yes, the actual humanity of an individual is denied because of the act of categorization. Sometimes this categorization happens because of previous experiences, perspectives, and comments constructed by our brains. We have to acknowledge this process and interrogate our categorization by reflecting on our thoughts and interrupting biases that deny others. Please understand that this is a natural process of the brain to organize thoughts, experiences, observations, and ideas. There are some individuals who act according to their biases to provide opportunity for those they feel comfortable collaborating with or providing resources. Then there are other individuals who use their biases to limit opportunity and access to those they do not understand. This way of thinking does not provide an even playing field for every individual. This denies equitable opportunity, access, and engagement.
Every day, we have to work toward minimizing limiting biases so they do not become barriers to any individual or system. Biases can be a benefit or a hindrance to different individuals at the same time. For instance, the halo effect can provide an opportunity for one individual and limit another individual. Then the individual, who was limited, is seen through the horn effect. Humans are the designers, implementers, engineers, and managers of any system or practice, so we have to reflect and be more self-aware of our words and actions, as well as how our words and actions affect any system or practice. Sometimes, when we do not understand something, we dismiss it based on categorization of various thoughts, previous experiences, and different characteristics. In life, our words and actions should align, otherwise there is misalignment and confusion. There must be visible connections to our words and actions; this is essential for overall growth and opportunity. When individuals can see how things, individuals, and ideas work together, they can envision their role and responsibility. Moreover, a sense of belonging is stimulated because of the connection to the experience. For example, I was asked to serve on a committee – the vision and mission were so clear. I felt like I was already on the committee because the organization’s vision and mission were visible to me. The organization’s vision and mission connected to my personal aspirations and values. Through visible connections, students, families, and colleagues have an opportunity to learn and apply ideas, products, and demonstrations of knowledge to various situations and experiences. School officials have a responsibility to ensure the structure of the educational institution provides access, opportunity, inclusivity, individuality, dignity, and exposure of knowledge for every student, family, and colleague, not for most.
Recently, I listened to a podcast, Uncommon Knowledge – Not Buying It: Glenn Loury, Ian Rowe, and Robert Woodson Debunk Myths about the Black Experience in America. In the podcast there were some powerful truths being shared with the listeners; however, there were also some truths that were inferred or omitted. Something that was inferred from this podcast is the idea that there is an “and/both” that exists in life. The idea of and/both is what someone believes is accurate and this same idea can be inaccurate for someone else. Furthermore, an idea can be true and false at the same time. For instance, does hard work pay off for everyone? In some cases, hard work was the attribute that provided the opportunity for the individual. In other cases, individuals had another attribute that provided their opportunity. Another example, there are students who require practice with making better choices in school concerning self-regulation. However, individuals within the school community should not provoke students who are working on self-regulation. We need to build students’ confidence and elevate their strengths. This does not mean we cannot provide actionable feedback and strategies to assist with cultivating effective self-regulation. Some individuals will say this is a student who deserves to be punished while they are cultivating more effective self-regulation strategies because if you break a rule you should be punished. Then other individuals may say this child needs a trusted adult to support them and assist them to see the value in regulating their behavior with a check-in and check-out process. There is a balance of and/both in this situation. Students need to be held accountable and provided dignity and respect. Accountability should fit the individual, which is where dignity and respect should shine brightly in this situation. Human interactions and exchanges are complex. Let’s be honest. There are good people who make ineffective or unproductive choices. This does not mean they are “bad” individuals. They simply made a mistake. When grace or favor is given to us, we celebrate it, but when someone wants grace or favor we have them jump through hoops to demonstrate they are worthy. Especially if we do not like them or feel they should not benefit from the unmerited favor.
As I listened to the podcast, I started to think about types of bias. One that emerged for me to share is survivorship bias, where individuals make it past some arbitrary criteria or timeline and we ignore other individuals who did not meet the criteria or timeline. For instance, we have a data source that states 85% feel or experience this. Some individuals say YES! We achieved it! We are great! However, what about the 15% that feel or experience something different? With the individuals who do not consider the 15%, they have erased the 15% without any conversation about how we can provide access to every individual. We need to look holistically at the entire community or system, not only the areas we deem successful.
Edward Deming said it best: “Every system is perfectly designed to get the result that it does.” Systems and practices are designed by humans; without reflection and refinement, the system will continue to produce what it was designed to produce. The podcast talks about disparities of all demographics and socioeconomic, but there are devastating opportunity and attitude gaps for individuals with differences or intersectional identities. Within the educational institution, we must consider there are and/both perspectives on why “schooling” is not working effectively for every student, family, and colleague and why there is not enough being done. We are not striving for perfection in continuous improvement. We must strive to achieve the most authentic and responsive systems and practices. As we reflect, can we say we have done our best for each other? As you reflect, consider your connection to schools, communities, organizations, or systems. What can you do to enhance these areas?
We need to acknowledge there are systemic barriers and institutional inequities in our communities, especially the school systems. This does not mean we do not honor those who serve our communities and schools, but we have to acknowledge experiences and perspectives of individuals. Students, families, and colleagues depend on various systems and practices to be able to thrive in their gifts and talents. Individuals do not need anyone to save them, but individuals need daily access, opportunity, inclusivity, dignity, and exposure. These components build self-awareness and empowerment for personal development and learning. We have to make the fundamental right of education robust and accessible for every individual with inclusivity and dignity at the core.
Call to Action:
Please share this blog post and make a comment because we have to start dialoguing about some of these concepts. In the comment feature, we will have a slow conversation about themes in this blog post. During the month of September 2022, fellow designer, Frances Knight Thompson and I will offer two synchronous (September 5th and 19th) and two asynchronous (September 12th and 26th) opportunities for dialogue. There will be limited seating. Stay tuned for more information soon.