Oft the Afterthought: Diversity and Inclusion in Schools

In the past week, I have been fortunate to be in touch with many different people in the world of education from a wide variety of schools.  I am excited to be a part of the conversations in the Colorado Independent Schools Inclusivity Network, a collection of educations from independent schools who are committed to making their schools more inclusive communities.  I spent a lot of time in Seattle, visiting folks at a number of public and private high schools and having conversations with those at the University of Washington about their diversity initiatives.  I have been discussing ways that I can be a part of making schools more inclusive in Washington State, Colorado, and Illinois.

All of these conversations have really got me thinking about the place that diversity has in schools today.  Having taught in and been involved with schools for a number of years, it is clear to me and I am sure anyone who is even peripherally related to schools that DATA is the central focus of most conversations.  How can we help students meet our Adequate Yearly Progress goals?  Now, I am one of those in the world of education that think a focus on data can actually be great because it forces schools to ensure that all students are learning.  Does it always turn out to be positive?  No.  Are many kids over-tested?  Yes (my students in Chicago took over 20 standardized tests per year)!  Does that mean we shouldn’t focus on data to ensure that our students are learning?  Not at all.

A serious concern I have, though, is that in the push for data, schools are often ignoring incredibly important conversations.  In their thirst for data, schools are adding extra reading classes or math classes and cutting the arts.  Further, in the intense focus on student achievement through data collection, many schools are losing focus of how they can serve their students holistically.  It is simple common sense that students who feel safe and welcome in their school environment are going to perform better and learn more!  Yet so often in my professional conversations, I feel like I am working to convince educators or acquaintances that schools should care as much about building inclusive and justice-seeking school environments as they do about data-driven instruction.

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A Celebration of People

This morning I just could not figure out what I should write about.  Normally when that happens, I wait a day or two and something comes to me, but I am going to Seattle for an amazing HOBYWA Fundraiser and Talent Show!!  So . . . I need to write today, and I was just plain stumped.  Should I write about racist sports teams (which have really been getting on my nerves lately)?  Just not feeling it.  Should I write about my own struggles with religious prejudice?  I really don’t want to focus on the negative today.

Then I was talking to my friend Meredith, and she simply said, “Write about celebrating people.”  GENIUS!!

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Columbus Day – A Celebration of Genocide

We’ve all heard the story.  We’ve all heard the rhymes.

In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two,
Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue.

Perhaps, though, we should consider what ought to be the next couplet.

By Fifteen Hundred and Zero Five,
Columbus had committed Genocide.

So often, we have heard Columbus Day described as a harmless holiday that simply celebrates the man who “discovered” the Americas.  The holiday, though, is anything but harmless.  The dominant white culture that maintains Columbus Day has a vested interest in maintaining the narrative of Columbus as a brave explorer who was committed to furthering the European understanding of the world.  Perhaps, though, we ought to look to the man’s own words and to accounts of his journeys to better understand who he was and what he wanted in exploration (Taken from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States):

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Let’s Make It Better Now

Growing up, I was incredibly insecure in my sexuality.  While mostly attracted to women, I was confused by my occasional attraction to men and my tendency to act in ways I was told were “effeminate.”  My response, project heterosexuality powerfully.  “You’re so GAY” and “You’re such a fag” commonly flew out of my mouth.  God forbid that the other kids know my confusion . . . that would risk torture.  What’s worse is that my powerful projection of heterosexuality likely only made it harder for those who were also questioning and confused.  It took me a long time to settle into a comfortable understanding of my sexuality.  I am happy and fortunate to say, though, that today I am comfortable and content with my understanding of my sexual orientation.  Sadly there are many who never settle into that happy and content space.

In the United States today, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.  The leading cause of death among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth?  Suicide.  Further, “84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation” (GLSEN National School Climate Survey).  In recent weeks, a great deal of attention has gone toward LGBTQ (Q standing for Queer and Questioning) suicides and bullying, which is important in its focus that it draws to the issue.

Recent LGBTQ Youth Who Have Ended Their Lives
in the Face of Bullying

– Asher Brown, Houston, TX – 13 Years Old
– Seth Walsh, Tehachapi, CA – 13 Years Old
– Billy Lucas, Greensburg, IN – 15 Years Old
– Tyler Clementi, New York, NY – 18 Years Old
– Raymond Chase, Providence, RI – 19 Years Old
– Undoubted Others Who Have Not Received National Attention

Ellen DeGeneres has used her powerful platform to call for a wider movement to end bullying and to create a safer space for our LGBTQ youth.

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