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Google Child (January 2014 #4)

i Feb 14th No Comments by

What does it take to educate equitably, as Lisa Delpit puts it, “other people’s children” when it means making visible and diminishing the privilege (and edge) of our own children?

This past weekend, my colleague Micia and I facilitated a professional development session with one of our middle schools.  The purpose of this mid-year retreat was for the staff to engage in reflective and collaborative practices that would allow them to more honestly and urgently take up the inequities facing their students.  For this school, for this year, they identified their least-reached students as their English Language Learners.  The guiding Essential Question for the day was, “What do our ELL students need us to know, do and be in order to most equitably educate them?”

Less than a decade ago, this middle school was the worst performing school in the entire school district.  After three years of consistent leadership and very focused transformation efforts, the school is now considered a good school… a good option for all diverse families of San Francisco.  Fortunately, the school has not eased up and strives to be an excellent and equitable school.

Historically in San Francisco, school improvement opens up new possibilities and new situations that bring both benefits and challenges.  In particular, one situational shift for improving schools is that they become more attractive to families who have been privileged enough to choose alternatives school wasn’t so good.  There is the potential for greatness from a richly diverse student population – especially when a school can build from the strengths of its various cultures and educate students to collaborate and excel within and because of their diversity.  Unexamined however, radical shifts in a community’s demographics also can lead to unintended, unanticipated and undesired results.

The school we worked with on Saturday currently faces these challenges.  As a school that has made tremendous progress in serving its predominantly brown, black and poor students, closing the racial achievement gap has become a major part of its identity… and program.  And because their success is now inviting white families and upper middle class families back to their community, they are feeling the pressure of dominant culture seeking to minimize the efforts that serve other students over their own, and to prioritize decisions and design that will better serve their own children.  Experience suggests that focusing on what our most privileged children need in isolation – or even committing equal resources to these new and welcomed students – will come at the expense of the students now being better-served than in the past.

For many, the challenge of equity is that it requires us to prioritize. The problem of equity and limited resources is that priorities define not only who should get more, but also who should get less. 

Back to the retreat: we challenged teachers to consider their own experiences, beliefs, values and priorities based on their own experiences (or as we say, based on the skin they are in).  We suggest that we need to understand from where we are coming to better influence where and how we hope to change.  We facilitated a piece of work in which we asked teachers to read a series of student profiles (short descriptors for how a student might see herself or how shy might believe she is seen).  Each teacher was to identify the one profile that best represented themselves when they were students.  After grouping by their self-identified profile, they discussed the strengths and challenges for their archetype and recommended to the larger group ways to best educate the student of this profile.  One of the fourteen profiles was written specifically for this school:

“I am a Google child.  Really. My Dad works for Google and he drops me off at school on his way to catching the Google Bus.  My parents questioned whether or not to send me to public school and decided this one was good enough and could save us a lot of money for other things.  We have to make sure the school is constantly giving me the education I deserve – but overall it is worth it and that is why we stay.”

During the session, no adults were able to identify with five of the student profiles and a handful created their own. This simply served as a reminder that these underrepresented students are part of the school and led to the challenge to consider how their voices and needs would be considered. The Google child profile was one of the unselected profiles.

At the end, we debriefed the process. Two members of the community – a white woman and a white man (both who previously had identified courageously their own connections to privilege in relation to their own students) had very strong reactions to reading the Google child profile.  They found it to be judgmental and negative.  The language of the feedback soon came to equate this Google child with white children (sometimes replacing the word “Google” with the word “white” – even though race was never mentioned in the profile.

What does it mean when we automatically associate success (i.e Google child) with whiteness?  How is it actually about white, dominant culture?  But also, how might this be another reproductive way of conveying low expectations for those who do not represent or are not represented by dominant culture?

Even though some of the other thirteen profiles clearly had similarly risky language attached to them (other profiles included an English learner, a queer student, a teacher’s pet, and a student contemplating dropping out), there was not a consistent sense of resistance to how the students were represented – and throughout the day, there was quite a bit of ease talking about these “other” students.  But when dominant culture people felt as though their privilege was being made visible, the rules seemed to change.  This reaction feels like an important issue on which this school – and all of us – should keep some focus.  Some questions that continue to sit with me:

 

  • While on the one hand, it seems natural that a parent would want only the best for her child, on the other hand one also has to question the role of those families who only participate in a community when it is good.  How should we negotiate this tension in PUBLIC education? 

  • What does it take to educate equitably, as Lisa Delpit puts it, “other people’s children” when it means making visible and diminishing the privilege (and edge) of our own children? 

 

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