Our current system does not have high expectations for all children. Just before VSTE’s annual conference this year I read this article from the New York Times, Louisiana School Made Headlines for Sending Black Kids to Elite Colleges. Here’s the Reality. This school was sending students to ivy league colleges and was getting lauded by news organizations, talk show hosts, and more. But it turns out they weren’t holding high expectations for their students. They were exploiting them.
In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.
Far too often our educational system fails students of color, students learning English, poor students, students in the LGBTQ+ community, students who have faced multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences, and more.
We have to have the courage to recognize how the systemic issues in our society impact the way we see the students we serve. We are not horrible people because we have internalized so many of the messages in our society. We are human. We are also educators, however, and we have to move beyond our biases in order to truly serve all students.
We also have to have the courage to engage in difficult conversations. I am a strong believer in the importance of diverse literature for children. I have worked for years to have a classroom library with a wide range of authors, illustrators, and characters that reflect many. I have struggled with having book that have LGBTQ+ characters, however. I have had fear of angering families and/or administrators. It took many years before I began buying those books for my classroom library. I had to have some difficult conversations with myself. Some internal arguing about living what I believe. When I finally got courageous enough to do that, I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I simply put the books in the library with all the others. I was still afraid. In the past few years I’ve book talked and read aloud books with LGBTQ+ characters. I have the courage now to have the difficult conversations with others if someone challenges these books being available to my students.
I am saddened by the idea that I need courage to do this. That it takes courage for me to ensure that all of my students are seen and welcomed into our classroom. That just makes it that much more important, though.
As educators we need the courage to challenge. To challenge ourselves to identify our biases and notice where we are falling short. To challenge our colleagues. To challenge families and students. To challenge our administrators. To challenge the system.
If what we are doing every day does not require courage, if it isn’t pushing us outside of our comfort zone, if it isn’t requiring confrontation and uncomfortable conversations, then it also isn’t serving all kids.