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The Ordinary and the Unacceptable

As part of our ongoing blog series about leading and learning in the time of COVID, we were planning to share a post this week recasting schools as communities of care and responsibility. Yet as communities across this country are physically and spiritually on fire, we feel compelled to ask ourselves, as an equity-seeking organization...What is our responsibility - individually and collectively - in this critical moment?


Today isn’t an ordinary day, and it isn’t an ordinary time. And yet, many of us and our colleagues in education find ourselves sitting in ordinary corners of our homes, reading emails, recording video lessons, hopping on and off of video conference calls, making meals, maybe helping a child with remote learning or caring for elders. We put on masks to be out of the house, we clean our groceries and remind everyone in our COVID circle to wash their hands.


Day by day, as our COVID habits become increasingly ordinary, an extraordinary, sickening and historically persistent phenomenon has re-emerged in plain view of all Americans. Elected officials were forced to face the data that emerged indicating that people of color were being infected and dying at disproportionately high rates. Tribal communities clashed with state governments about who can decide whether their land is theirs to restrict access to or not. It also became clear that the working and living conditions of those living in poverty in our country, as well as inside our jails and immigration detention centers, were all ideal environments for COVID transmission.


Then, at a time when it would seem that our most basic human instincts would call us together to fight a common threat, violent acts of white supremacy emerged with a chilling nonchalance and at a staggering cadence.


We condemn the murder of George Floyd and stand in solidarity with those who are calling for justice and accountability for his death. We stand in solidarity with our Black family, friends, and neighbors whose pain is too deep, too long, and too often denied. We say George Floyd’s name, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and mourn the names we do not know. We say Black Lives Matter.


We condemn all forms of racial violence and the public systems inflicting that violence. We also recognize the inequitable conditions of public education as part of white supremacy’s suffocating effects. We know we aren’t the first to see these things, nor do we think that our partners don’t already see, and still it felt important to us as part of our sensemaking to name that patterns of oppression are repeated and reinforced in the daily experience of American school children. Children notice whose history is told, whose ways of knowing and communicating are recognized, and as they see whose bodies are disciplined, who teaches in and who leads their schools, and whose identities matter. And these patterns repeat in the ways education systems operate: whose voices are heard, whose expertise is valued, who has power, and whose order is maintained through policy decisions and distribution of resources.


We believe in what adrienne maree brown offers about fractals in Emergent Strategy. That if we seek changes at a large scale we can, or maybe even must, begin by creating the vision we wish to see in the scales closest to us. To that end, we are sitting in sustained discomfort, staying conscious and alert to the pain of individuals and communities. We are reflecting on when we have been both perpetrators and victims. We are reflecting on the power dynamics present in classrooms for children, and at the front door of the school building for many families, and on our own team.


And, although we like to think of ourselves as system transformation engineers and great tool builders, we commit to resisting the temptation to find, develop or otherwise promote program innovations or tools in a rush to feel that we found a great way to help. Instead we commit to the following. We seek, and will continue seeking equity by:

  • Observing what is happening, taking time and care to bear witness

  • Listening to hear about what others are experiencing

  • Naming root causes for white supremacist and racist structures, as we do in our organizational Declaration of Intent

  • Amplifying voices of pain, frustration, responsiveness, insight and partnership from people of color, and particularly voices of Black and Indigenous people

  • Examining ourselves, our assumptions, the intentions and impacts of our decisions and actions

  • Inviting dialogue, critique, emotion and honesty in all of our interactions and relationships

  • Following the leadership of learners, families, educators, and community organizers of color

  • Questioning in a way that both calls out and calls in our peers when we observe misalignment between intentions, behaviors and impacts

  • Loving and believing in our learners, our colleagues, and our communities

  • Calibrating and recalibrating, committing and recommitting to each of the above actions such that we challenge and change our habits and foster the fractal of the equitable future we seek

Finally, we will observe that there are young people suffering real trauma from the effects of this moment in history. And there are young people who are using their voices to lead in this moment. And all young people are watching to see what the adults will do. Schools can repeat history; ignore their pain, mute their voices, and redirect their attention back to their lessons. Or schools can be extraordinary spaces of healing.


We commit and recommit to challenge and change our habits to be part of that healing. We’re calling ourselves in. We invite colleagues and friends who also find themselves sitting between the ordinary and the horror of this moment to commit to the healing as well. We invite dialogue, critique and any other responses to this letter.


With love, and hope for healing and meaningful change,


Doannie, Gene, Gretchen, Lauren, Linda, Paul, Sarah


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© 2020 Center for Innovation in Education

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