Last night I had a chat and dinner with other area educators (thanks, Sherita Love of ExpandED Equity Collaborative for hosting). We talked about the opportunity gap and perpetuated bias. Such a valuable conversation and because of it I am growing. I thank and value everyone who attended last night and shared their challenges, experiences, and knowledge. I keep trying to think of possible solutions to some of these issues. I was thinking the whole drive home and I had a horrible night of sleep because my mind kept going. So, this morning, here is what I have come up with:
The opportunity gap and bias will remain unless people with deep appreciation of the issues perpetuating the gap and bias are continually invested in closing the gap and affecting bias.
Subterfuge may be the only way to get people, unaware of the true plight the gap creates, to participate in efforts of closing the gap. Many still think the gap is a novelty. It is very real. And it’s hurting us all. When, for instance, qualified student teachers request placement in districts with little to no ethnic or racial diversity, they are doing a disservice to their personal growth and their potential as part of the solution to the opportunity gap. Shouldn’t they want to grow to support all students?
Growth is uncomfortable. That’s what makes it a process. Many of the privileged cannot say they have had true life challenges due to the opportunity gap. Society, however, suffers at the continuation of the opportunity gap. The potential of every person affected by the opportunity gap is altered artificially by a system they did not start. None of us started it, but those of us who benefit from it, it’s certainly ours to join in ending.
There is no one solution to close the opportunity gap. This is a complex social problem. In order to truly appreciate the effect caution the gap and the effects of the gap on people and society, witnessing is key. Articles and books can share the essence of experience, and the effects are often fleeting, but the true impact of personally witnessing the system of oppression is lasting.
I am constantly reminded of my first experience as an adult witnessing the oppression of a child due to someone’s implicit bias. My role was to volunteer in the classroom. A little boy with a name that started with “N” was so brilliant. I just loved watching him and listening to him. Kids are just so fascinating to watch as they make their meaning of the world. To me, his giftedness was obvious, but to his teacher, his skin color precipitated his abilities. Why? She had not had her implicit bias challenged earlier in her life. Now “N” was receiving the effects of her ignorance.
At only 6, he was being told he was being told no matter his aptitude, he would never be good enough. What a stark contrast to the white children being pushed into every special program, activity, or school by their parents regardless of their aptitude.
No child should be left behind their potential, but also no child should have to shoulder greatness. The successful student should not be paraded like a show pony to prove the opportunity gap doesn’t exist. These are children and showcasing them for the sake of marketing is just gross. I frequently think about the pictures on many suburban school district websites, including every “diverse” child they can in the shot. This shows a fake picture of the population and suggests the student body is more diverse than it really is. This false image of diversity lulls adults into an incorrect belief that we are beyond inequality; that is elsewhere, but not here. Yes, here. Especially here.
People get slightly ruffled when I say “white” area, school, etc. I know they are “predominately white” but I just don’t see anything being included but the physical bodies of people of different ethnicities, races, or religions. Where are we talking about their specific needs much less addressing them? Where are we teaching all of the children about equality and multiculturalism? Where are we truly including everyone? Are we even open and inviting so people feel welcome in our community?
This year during Black History Month, I encourage you to not only consume the arts and history created by the African American community, and cherished people now passed, but really engage with it. Truly go deep into the meaning and examine the pieces. You will see much farther into the solution of the opportunity gap by appreciating not only the diversity, but striving to see multiculturalism.