Healing our educational system is a means of healing our country
Reflections on a week of learning and action about educational inequity in the U.S.
During the first week of Advent, I was blessed to participate in GBCS’s online called seminar, “Towards Educational Equity: Investing in the Beloved Community.” This seminar included two days of panel discussions, and two days of preparing for and participating in meetings with representatives to advocate for educational equity.
Each of the four panel discussions were rich learning experiences. Passion and expertise was evident in each of the panelists, and the research, data, and hard numbers presented were extremely powerful.
Zahava Stadler from Education Trust laid out in the “Funding an Equitable Education” webinar that inequitable education funding based on property taxes means that the highest poverty districts in our country receive almost $1,000 less per student than the lowest poverty districts. Even more starkly, there is an $1,800 gap per student between districts with the most students of color versus the least, even independent of income differences.
In this webinar, I also gained a greater understanding of how education is funded from federal, state and local levels from panelist Victoria Jackson of Budget and Policy Priorities, and learned about IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and how it continues to be severely underfunded as described by Annie Acosta of The Arc.
In the “Anti-Racist School Culture and Curriculum” webinar, one number that stood out to me was presented by Dr. Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, professor at West Virginia University, who said that in the social studies curriculum that was provided to her as a public school teacher, 176 white men were highlighted, and only 8 black women. This helped to paint a picture of the ways our school curriculums often tokenize people of color but don’t provide a complex picture of both global and American history and culture. Dr. Khalilah Harris of Center for American Progress noted the importance of embedding anti-racism not only in curriculum but in ongoing teacher training and evaluation.
“Preventing Criminalization and Harm in Schools” was filled with staggering data. Sherri Doughty of the Government Accountability Office noted that students with disabilities make up 12% of the student population, but account for 27% of students arrested and 24% of students expelled from schools. Krithika Santhanam of the Advancement Project outlined that 1.6 million students in the United States attend schools with police but no counselors, 3 million students attend schools with police but no nurses, and 6 million attend school with police but no school psychologists. Both panelists mentioned specific studies on policing in schools and the harmful effects of exclusionary discipline, and also offered potential examples of ways discipline in schools could become more restorative.
Lastly, the “School in the Time of COVID-19” webinar highlighted the digital divide and impacts of remote learning on students. Michelle Burris of the Century Foundation noted that 15-16 million students in America lack either a functional computer or internet to effectively learn at home, and about 400,000 teachers actually lack internet at their homes as well. Elaine Weiss of the Economic Policy Institute outlined strategies for baking in better funding structures for situations such as the COVID-19 crisis and recession. Rev. Dr. Marion Crayton of the US Department of Education outlined the ways differently-abled students have been impacted and suggested strategies schools and communities might implement for these students.
I was struck by the way that each webinar topic had so many intersections with all of the others. As panelist Dr. Khalilah Harris noted, we cannot advocate for issues in isolation, but must name these intersections. In addition, we must think about the way that education intersects with every other aspect of public life in America. Healing our education system is an extremely important part of healing our country.
As an immediate way of putting this learning into action, GBCS organizing staff taught about best practices in connecting with Members of Congress and telling our personal stories as a way to create change. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with my own Senator’s office for the first time. This process was much less intimidating than I had anticipated, and I felt the true power that we hold as constituents. Our representatives truly want to know what matters to us, and want to have positive interactions with constituents. Mother Teresa once said that God doesn’t call us to success, but to faithfulness. Our advocacy comes from a desire to be faithful to God and God’s heart for all of humanity as we can see expressed in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
I would encourage folks to head to the UMC Justice YouTube channel to watch these webinars. What a gift to have them to return to, to share, and to continue to learn from, as we work together towards an equitable education for all.