There has been an important conversation going on in the education reform community about diversity. As I read through the varying perspectives on race in education reform, I think now is the time to discuss concrete steps toward true race equity.
Before I offer my thoughts, let me be transparent that I am a white, well-educated man who benefits from a variety of privileges unavailable to many of my colleagues. I have access to spaces and individuals they may not. Power, money and influence continue to be held primarily by white men and these men see me as someone like them, an experience my colleagues who are not men or not white do not share. This dynamic exists in education reform as it does in all other areas of our society.
Here are 5 things we can do to change this dynamic in education reform and beyond:
- Be truly honest about who is most affected by the problems we, as a movement, seek to solve. The data are clear. Millions of American children do not have access to college- or career-preparatory education. These underserved children belong to communities across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographical lines, and they are disproportionately children of color from low-income communities.
- Admit to ourselves and others that we did not get here by accident. The fact that a disproportionate number of children who lack access to quality education are children of color is the direct result of centuries of public policies – economic policies, governance policies, education policies, among others – that have intentionally oppressed and exploited people of color. Many of these policies have been reformed or repealed. Still, many policies continue to oppress and exploit communities of color while the damage done by previous oppressive policies persists.
- Recognize that there’s a lot to fix and that no one has a monopoly on good ideas. It is in our collective interest to pursue more equitable policies in all areas. Neither liberals nor conservatives have a monopoly on good ideas for making policies more equitable, and neither liberals nor conservatives have a monopoly on obstructing the passage of more equitable policies.
- Hold ourselves accountable for real collaboration. Those of us – liberals, conservatives, and otherwise – who understand that it is in our collective interest to pursue more equitable policies in all areas need to collaborate to do so. I hope my conservative colleagues continue to collaborate even and especially when conversations become uncomfortable for racial or political reasons, and I hope my liberal colleagues continue to collaborate – and speak up – even and especially when conversations seem to lack sensitivity to issues of racial inequity. This kind collaboration has led to the creation and expansion of high-quality educational opportunities for children of all backgrounds, especially children of color, in the past. It’s the same kind of collaboration our children still need today.
- Find authentic, consistent ways to elevate our colleagues’ voices and experiences. As a group of advocates, we are not exempt from the economic and other disparities that we see across the country. Those of us who have relative privilege – such as white men like me – must proactively seek to elevate voices of color, engage in partnerships with leaders of color, recruit and help professionally develop leaders of color and advocate that funders invest in leaders of color.