Equity Journey Month Three - November


Month 3: What does History have to do with it?

"The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do."

-James A. Baldwin-

The Frame of a Racial Equity Lens - National Equity Project 

The racial equity lens allows us to uncover the structures, policies, and behaviors that sustain unequal outcomes for children. The "Western, mechanical" worldview cited by organizational consultant and community activist Margaret Wheatley elevates the individual over the system, which can lead to distorted perspectives on iequity. We hear frequent refrains premised on this notion of individualism: If only that student would work harder; she just doesn't care! Why don't those families invest enough in their children's education to come to Back-to-School Night? Such comments decontextualize the behavior of individuals from the larger system of oppression and feed a "blame-the-victim" mentality.

In naming systemic oppression, we seek to challenge individualistic thinking and interrogate the complex interaction of people, practices, institutions, and ideology that perpetuate inequity. Oppression in the United States maps all too predictably to socio-economic, cultural, and racial factors. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that the income gap between rich and poor Americans grew to its largest margin ever. The top-earning 20% of the country granered nearly 50% of the income while the bottom 20%, those below the poverty line, went home with 3.4% (www.census.gov).

At the same time, the United States is home to 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners, and those incarcerated are disproportionately African American and Latino. These statistics reveal historical patterns of inequity that, despite the gains of the civil rights era, have persisted and even deepened over the last three decades. As leaders for equity, we must understand our schools and organizations as part of the systemic fabric of inequality. Failing to acknowledge this reality, we will unwittingly reproduce oppressive dynamics that blame children for the deep-rooted opportunity gaps that hinder their growth.

Did you know? The landmark ruling in Mendez v. Westminster, in 1946, prohibited segregation in California's public schools. This case was a major precursor to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, which ruled that separating children in public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional.

This school year, Joliet Public Schools District 86 student demographics are as follows: 67% Hispanic, 21% Black, 8% White, and 4% two or more races. The staff demographics within the district are as follows: 75% White, 15% Hispanic, 9% Black, and 1% Asian. This data suggests that educators are teaching students from various cultural backgrounds, often times backgrounds different from their own. Studying history allows us to better understand ourselves, our students, and our community.

Resources for Learning:

Educator's Corner - Activities that may be useful:

  1. Individually or within building teams, consider reading A Letter to the Students of Colour Who Were in My History Classes from Facing History & Ourselves. What can you learn from this teacher's experience?
  2. Individually or within building teams, review the History of Racism and Resistance Timeline and The History of LGBTQ+. How could this history be impacting our students today?

If one part of our human ecosystem is unwell, we are all negatively affected. Likewise, if all parts of our community are healthy and cared for, we all thrive. Listening, sharing our stories, making space for healing (our own and others), and deepening relationships across our differences foster conditions for genuine belonging. 

National Equity Project