Monday, November 16, 2015

Despair or Determination? Post Mizzou and Paris

       The past few weeks have been one of those times when educators could give in to despair. That may hold especially true in independent schools. Far from the stereotype of snooty enclaves catering strictly to those of privilege, we've been striving for many years to address issues of equity and justice. We're not always successful, but many of our schools have become much more inclusive communities which emphasize respecting the dignity of each person. Some have become havens for those who may feel disenfranchised in other schools. We also don't rest on our laurels. For instance, recently there have been robust Twitter conversations around this topic on the #naisdeepdive thread. Here at St. John's Episcopal, one of our professional learning groups has been grappling with this issue and how our school can improve.
       Then we see the sort of incidents that have rocked college campuses from coast to coast, with those at Mizzou grabbing most of the headlines. As is usually the case, we don't know the pure facts about any of the cases. But we have seen them play out in a barrage of accusations and threats and undiluted rage. What we do not see happening--and we can only hope is--are the necessary honest, possibly painful sustained conversations that may wound but also foster healing. When we react in such fashion, how do we learn and grow? While not surprising, it is disappointing and ironic to see things playing out this way in academic institutions.
       The issues are legitimate and real. To deny that is ignorance. Our culture remains full of -phobias and -isms of all sorts, whether overt or subtle or institutionalized. And it's not just American culture. We see it thoughout the world, whether in the racist chants of ultras at European football matches or in the barbarism of groups such as ISIS, most recently in Paris last Friday.
       It saddens and scares me. I mean that in a large sense, but also on a very personal level that really hit me after the Paris attacks. My sixteen-year-old son's close friend was taking him out for a birthday dinner. His friend is a devout Muslim. As they headed off, I found myself worrying that someone would do or say something to them.
        At such times, it's easy to throw up one's arms and scream, "Really? In 2015?" To see our work in this area as futile, due to some dark flaw in human nature, some need to reduce our humanity to binary terms which become an us and a them. When that happens, we'll never understand each other. It's why I disagree when we hold out the notion that we should, for instance, be color blind when it comes to race. I believe we need to recognize and seek to comprehend the way certain characteristics shape who we are and our perspectives. Then maybe we can come together in ways that lie at the idealistic heart of most independent school educators.
       Rather than despair, we have to become even more determined. We can't respond just in extreme times; instead, we must commit ourselves to teaching basic humanity every day, in ways large and small. We have to wave the flag even higher, confident in our belief that education can bring true enlightenment.

No comments: