By the time I graduated college, I was well-versed in all sorts of teacher talk about equity and social justice.
I had gotten into books like Pedagogy of the Oppressed and The Dreamkeepers, and they were basically my law and gospel. I thought the wisdom they imparted alone would be all I needed to close the achievement gap by myself.
I was going to be the equity guru, and teachers across the Bluegrass would come to respect my amazingly gapless test scores.
When I landed my first teaching position, I went in on my equity high horse. I would talk your ears off about culturally relevant teaching, and about how groundbreaking and effective it could be for traditionally disadvantaged students. (I still believe that part, for what it’s worth.)
I wrote articles, I had Twitter fights, and I joined committees. I gave presentations in front of big audiences, and I had conversations behind closed doors. And none of it, absolutely none of it, were good enough to make the difference that my students need.
Because a lot of that stuff is just talk.
As it turns out, being committed to equity is a whole lot harder than just talking. We should have conversations, yes, but at some point, you have to put wheels on those words.
At some point, you have to do something.
North by Northside blogger Jeff Skrenes says it best: “Invoking the word ‘equity’ is a lot like talking about Heaven. Everyone likes to describe it, but nobody seems to do what it takes to get there.”
The more I’ve gotten involved in education, the more I realize that most people are talkers.
It’s easy to tell others what they should be doing to promote equity, maintain a culturally relevant disposition, and support diverse students. It’s a whole lot harder to actually do those things, and with consistency.
Take Randi Weingarten, president of one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions, who penned an op-ed in The Huffington Post that touched on racial inequities:
“We won’t settle for a public education system or economic system that only works for the wealthy few. Or a criminal justice system that offers anything less than justice for all. It’s our collective responsibility to confront racism — before it robs more people of opportunities.”
There is power and truth in these sentiments, but they come from the same Randi Weingarten who suggested that the charter school movement is racially-motivated, and that supporting school choice is akin to supporting school segregation.
This is also the same Randi Weingarten who once ran the teachers’ union in New York City, where traditional public schools are among the most segregated in the nation. If she wants to talk about segregation, it seems like that would have been a better place to start.
The truth is that there are a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing out there who would love for these sweet sound-bites to keep falling on deaf ears, because that just means they don’t have to change their ways.
The fact that Weingarten can compel us to confront racism while unilaterally opposing charter schools — which have significantly improved minority student performance in her hometown — is just proof of that.
Let that be a lesson. If you’re going to advocate for equity, there needs to be more than just talk.
Photo by the Alliance for Excellent Education, CC-Licensed.