By Shekema Silveri
For many nights, I struggled to write this piece. I struggled to conceptualize this often-discussed but relatively undefined issue of educational equity. I struggled until I watched this country writhe in pain following the unexplainable horrors of recent police brutality cases and church shootings across America. It was then that I considered that the purpose of education is to create a better—more tolerant and compassionate—populace.
While I know education begins at home and have heard endlessly all the rest of the ad hominem attacks on parenting, I think we educators need to pause and personally reflect on the ways in which we perpetuate the systems of inequity that facilitate these circumstances. What follows is a list of three things all educators can do to facilitate the process of realizing educational equity within our classrooms and schools.
- Access—Give students access to technology and access to the Internet they need to effectively and efficiently utilize the technology. This includes allowing students in non-1:1 schools to bring their own devices into the classroom. Yes, it can be done without causing distractions. Trust me on this one. I know. Check out this CNN piece on cell phone use in my former classroom at Mt. Zion High School in Jonesboro, Ga.
Giving access also includes finding creative ways to fund opportunities for students to experience the power of technology inside their homes. School districts across the country are now offering technology rental programs for families who are unable to afford their own computers. Other schools are providing free Wi-Fi hubs for students inside low-income housing community centers.
Giving students the access they need empowers them to explore worlds and funds of knowledge far beyond those we could ever offer them in our classrooms alone. Each of us, no matter how well we teach or how much we think we know, is limited in some way. Given that, we owe it to our students and to ourselves to explore the vastness of the alternate online universe.
- Truth—Give students the truth about themselves, and give them the truth about our nation’s history. In the wake of the recent massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., it is perspicuous that ignorance is as uncontainable and lethal as cancer; it will only spread and metastasize if left untreated. Notwithstanding, like cancer, ignorance can also be treated; fortunately for us, education is the most effective cure.
Students of all marginalized groups deserve the truth about who they are and what their people have contributed to the wealth and culture of this nation. They must be trusted with the truth about our struggles, our triumphs, our frailty, and our beauty. We are in this together whether we like it or not. There can be no other way.
We must teach our students that equity means ensuring that everyone has enough. We may not start at the same place, but we all should have the same resources and availability of opportunities to enable us to finish wherever we so choose. Equity is about empowerment for self-determination. That is what this struggle, and what this list, is all about.
- Love—Give your students the same love you would give your own children, and give all students the same love you would give to children who look, act, and speak just like you. All students are lovable—even if they themselves do not yet know it. All students are worthy of the best resources, the best facilities, and the best teachers. Period. We should ask ourselves questions like this: If these were my children, would I say it? If these were my children, would I do it? If these were my children, would I want them to have access to it? If these were my children, would I fight for them? If your classroom praxis does not reflect any one of these questions—it takes dissonance in just one to create or uphold inequity—then surely you have additional work to do.
At the end of the day, educational equity is never about throwing more money at a cancer that people still carry around in their hearts. Ignorance, the cause of inequities, must be rooted out and cleansed through the power of love for one another and love for this great nation that all of our ancestors built. It is ours to care for, and it exists for the sole purpose of helping us to better care for one another. That is why until we can begin to tell the truth and help heal the pain of centuries-old wounds, nothing I write here and nothing you teach in your classrooms will matter. That’s the truth and we all know it. Let us focus on the children and let the healing begin.
Shekema Silveri is the founder and executive director of the IFE Academy of Teaching & Technology, a K–12 public charter school serving students throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area and the state of Georgia. Scheduled to open in fall 2016, IFE Academy endeavors to “inspire future educators and EdTech entrepreneurs” by changing an entire community with academic excellence at the center. Silver is currently serving a two-year term as NCTE’s secondary section representative-at-large and is also Georgia’s 2011 Milken National Educator and a 2012 Lowell Milken Center Fellow. Her work has been featured on CNN and in the New York Times Room for Debate Series, and the Huffington Post. For more information on Silveri or IFE Academy, visit www.myifeacademy.org.