#IAmForChange Because That Is What Education Is All About: An Essay on Honest Conversations About Education

Honest Conversations About Education

by E.W., a local parent

Lately, much of our national discourse has been focused on throwing around labels: this story is “fake news”, that story is funded by a super-PAC, and the other is politically motivated beyond reproach. Words like “Marxist”, “terrorist”, and “radical” have been weaponized without much thought about the actual meaning behind those words.

Within this vein of the 24-hour-news-cycle of soundbites, perhaps what we’ve sadly forgotten about the most is working together to learn from our mistakes, see common humanity between one another, and embracing a careful, nuanced understanding of ourselves and the events unfolding around us. Enough embrace of 140 character limits on truth and learning.  We need to be dedicated to being honest and thoughtful.

After all, this is the true spirit of school, and the best education has to offer: allowing learners to become inquiry-based learners who seek out questions and utilize the research process in order to answer those questions.  We need honest conversations, not ones draped in inflammatory language or politically-charged motivations.

Perhaps one of the best places to look when thinking about reckoning with hard truths and making sure people can come to honest terms with how their past has affected their present and future is in Holocaust studies. One cannot travel to Germany without locals and tour guides urging visitors to visit Holocaust memorials and concentration camps. They want visitors to see and feel these monuments so the world can truly practice what Holocaust education truly embodies: “Never Again.” Similarly, one cannot visit South Africa without being confronted with the awful legacy of Apartheid.  But again, locals and government leaders want visitors to see and feel those monuments so the world won’t repeat the fear and stigmatization which that system sought to produce. Sadly, the United States has no such museum for slavery.

4 Lessons on Organizing From the Anti-Apartheid Movement | Teen Vogue
The Anti-Apartheid Movement. Credit: Teen Vogue

When the NA for Change organization requests to be at the table for an honest conversation about how we can respect every student in our district, it’s not just about respect.   

It’s about learning how to have honest conversations about our history, what it has produced, and about how we can become better as a people.  It’s about remembering how this country had honest conversations about guaranteeing that all students would go to the same school despite their skin color in the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision.  It’s about how we’ve passed historic civil rights legislation in this country like the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But we can do better, and we must, because our student population has spoken up and it’s clear that racism and discrimination are still alive and well here, as they are in many other parts of the world. We must do more to cultivate and embrace critical thinking, embracing nuance, and an inquiry-based learning approach, and not put as much emphasis on a poor snapshot of student learning: standardized testing.

When students don’t feel safe or heard at school, their learning suffers, as does their achievement.  But it’s not just them who suffer–it’s everyone. We are lucky enough to have an incredibly rich and diverse student population of students and families from throughout the world.  If embraced, this rich network of diversity could strengthen all of our worldviews and put us in a better position for success in a competitive 21st-century job market. But again, this would require honest conversations–not glossed-over and revisionist history which delegitimizes many points of view and only seeks to cover up information which could have the potential to make us better.

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