We at One Schoolhouse have watched events unfold in the week since the murder of George Floyd. We have experienced again the familiar cycle of sorrow, shame, outrage, disgust, and dismay sparked by far too many stories of police and vigilante violence against black men, women, and children, tragedies too often highlighted by a deafening silence from the seats of power. Mournful vigils and peaceful protests are mocked by the “business as usual” attitudes of the powerful who willfully continue to keep a blind eye turned on the systemic racism and economic inequity that divide our society like a chain-link fence.
In the spring and summer of 2020, there is no such thing as business or even life as usual. Our economy is in peril. COVID-19 rages, with systemic racism further highlighted by the disproportionate rates of suffering and death among communities of color. As educators and as humans we shudder at the human suffering caused by racist actors and in the daily tallies of death and illness from the novel coronavirus. We weep as George Floyd’s last terrible moments play again and again, and we can’t help but imagine friends, family members, or students as victims.
Schools in our time cannot stand apart from the history we see and feel being made around us. Independent schools, especially, have no claim to relevance or virtue if they shelter behind the fence that divides. The idealism and vision of a better world expressed in every school mission statement and every set of “pillars of belief” must become parts of every discussion in every class.
This summer we have been working with schools to help them prepare for another academic year of business very much not as usual. In one exercise, we have asked academic leaders to create a teaching standard representing their schools’ missions and values to inform every course and learning experience of their students. Tellingly, many educators have seen the need to embed in their curricula explicit learning elements related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. To live up to their missions, that’s the right thing to do.
Never before has education been more called upon to be truly relevant, to address directly the grievous challenges facing the nation and the world. Education must be our best hope. Our students today may be the generation that has to save the world, and we must give these students a toolkit that includes the skills and the dispositions to perceive, understand, and respond effectively to the threats we know about and to those yet to appear.
At One Schoolhouse, in solidarity with all who share our belief that hope, peace, love, and education are our most powerful weapons against injustice and fear, we work for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to take their places in every classroom as essential elements of a relevant, perhaps world- saving learning experience for all children. And, we pledge to do better ourselves.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)