img_1297

Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color continue to experience inequities in access to high-quality education–and these disparities have been exacerbated by COVID-19.

According to this recent, well-researched article by McKinsey & Company, the average Black or Hispanic student remains roughly two years behind the average white student, and low-income students continue to be underrepresented among top performers. This situation ultimately leads to lower high school completion rates, barriers to college entrance, limited future job options, lower paying or less stable jobs, less flexibility to change jobs or miss work due to illness, and less money for food, health care, and other important living needs.

“Education equity” means offering individualized support to students that addresses barriers like poverty, malnutrition, illnesses, exposure to abuse or violence, and limited transportation. Persons, such as myself and my family, who have enjoyed significant education equity and privileges can and must work toward extending these privileges to students who don’t possess them.

Here’s some overall solutions to education equity that I’m learning to fight for:

  • Address disproportionate COVID-19-related impacts on BIPOC students–most of which were needed before the pandemic and will be needed long after the pandemic subsides:
    • mandate distance learning for all school districts
    • provide health care and mental health care benefits to families who lack them
    • fund food and housing for families who lack these resources
    • provide access to broadband for all public school students
    • provide access to a growing body of available tutors, funded through the efforts of both non-profit and profit organizations, to ensure BIPOC students get the hands-on learning they need
    • during school closures, provide access to special needs educational professionals for students needing hands-on services
  • Enact public policies and legislation that financially support public schools committed to identifying and setting high, worthwhile, and attainable goals that help BIPOC students close the achievement gap.
  • Organize and elicit problem-solving and solutions-focused dialogue and collaboration among community organizations and leaders, parents, and schools, ensuring that, as this article states, “the success of the school becomes the success of the community.”
  • Increase diversity and cultural competence in the teaching and school counselor workforce, by recruiting and retaining teachers and counselors of color who look like their students and can identify with the uniqueness of their cultural heritage–and through training that equips all teachers and counselors to meaningfully and sensitively discuss race with their students and avoid microaggressions such as criticizing students’ hair styles.
  • Eliminate “zero tolerance” types of disciplinary processes that increase the odds of BIPOC children not being in the classroom or the school itself.
  • Increase the breadth and depth of scholarships, from both non-profit and for-profit organizations, available to BIPOC students.
  • Fund and require multilingual education opportunities for all public schools.
  • Fund and require additional curriculum that educates all public school students on the unique histories of Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color.
  • Fund and require all states and public school districts to consistently and regularly evaluate disproportionate impacts of standardized testing on BIPOC students.
  • Require all school districts to enact a specific, consistent, and transparent process regarding “advanced” and “special needs” categorization of children, with an emphasis on eliminating inequitable categorization  of BIPOC children.
  • Fund school health services to ensure adequate support for children whose parents or guardians do not have adequate healthcare coverage.
  • Fund and expand pro bono legal services in each school district to support BIPOC students who encounter legal issues.
  • Increase funding for construction of additional public schools for districts where classroom overcrowding (which disproportionately impacts BIPOC requiring extra support) is an issue.
  • Enact and enforce anti-bullying measures in public schools, with a focus on addressing racist bullying and ensuring that BIPOC children aren’t unfairly accused of bullying.

More specifically, I’m embracing and recommending five action steps to drive the aforementioned solutions.

  1. Research and Learning (Including Data Gathering): Make an ongoing effort to educate yourself on the facts, history, complexities, and nuances of education equity. Keep links, notes, and data handy so that you can be informed when you interact with others or on social media. This tracker can help you with those efforts. (Tip: Stay organized and save time while reading online articles, by using the web clipping features of tools such as Evernote and OneNote.)
  2. Equitable Relationships with Members of Historically Underrepresented Groups (HUGs): There’s no substitute for getting to know and spending time with people who are different from you, especially those with less education equity than you or members of your family enjoy. It’s crucial that these relationships are built on equal footing, without the person with more privilege positioning themselves as the financial “helper” or, worse, “savior.” The person with more privilege should also do most of the listening and a lot less of the talking.
  3. Speaking Against Injustices: When you hear or see education injustice taking place, whether it’s right in front of you, explained to you by others, or observed through media, take a stand and speak out against it in a compassionate, skillful manner. These engagements can often be awkward, uncomfortable, or downright scary. Sometimes speaking out costs you a relationship or changes how people perceive you.
  4. Communication With Elected Officials and Signing Petitions: Regularly comment on posts from elected officials or others in positions of power, and create and share posts that address the actions of these individuals regarding education equity. Sign well-organized petitions that can influence policy changes by such elected or appointed individuals. And do so, again, with compassion, skill, and non-violence.
  5. Contributions of Time, Money, and Resources: Being an effective activist who helps to influence meaningful, sustainable change toward others’ education equity will cost you something. Contribute as much as you’re able to, depending on your individual circumstances and interests. This includes supporting non-profits that are doing effective work on issues that matter to you.

Regarding non-profits, here’s four organizations doing great work to drive policy changes toward education equity and justice:

  • Mindful Schools: Mindful Schools’ approach is to support the professional development and well-being of educators as the first step to fostering healthy and sustainable mindful learning environments.
  • The Center for Racial Justice in Education: This organization’s mission is to train and empower educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice in our schools and communities.
  • Learning Policy Institute: The institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child.
  • The Education Trust: This organization that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families. Ed Trust supports efforts that expand excellence and equity in education from preschool through college, increase college access and completion particularly for historically underserved students, engage diverse communities dedicated to education equity, and increase political and public will to act on equity issues.

Self-Care and Mindfulness

Advocating for education equity and justice for people of color is a long game, a marathon that requires a lot of strategy, self-care, and support from others. A key part of my own self-care and ongoing personal growth is practicing the “Five Mindful Trainings,” derived from Buddhist teachings and compiled by Vietnamese Zen monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh and summarized here by me:

  1. Reverence for Life: Eliminate all forms of violence against one’s self, other human beings, animals, and nature.
  2. True Happiness: Practice gratitude and generosity and avoid stealing from or exploiting others.
  3. True Love: Cherish and celebrate others and practice sexual virtue in romantic relationships.
  4. Deep Listening and Loving Speech: Practice active listening and kind, helpful speech in order to facilitate equitable and peaceful relationships.
  5. Nourishment & Healing: Eat and drink in a manner that avoids bringing toxins or diseases into the body, and consume media of all forms in moderation.
John M. DeMarco is a writer, executive coach, and activist based in Nashville, Tennessee.