I have a secret. Sometimes I want to not care about things happening in our world today. It would be easier. I’d have more time for fun. I could be frivolous at will. Maybe I would live in the moment more easily than I do now. Certainly, it would be a relief to live in a bubble free from deep thoughts and anything unpleasant that didn’t directly affect me. Society’s problems would not disappear, but it wouldn’t matter because as a member of the white population in the United States I’m super privileged.
But this indifference to others is not me. I hope for a more peaceful world, and understand that I need to actively participate to create change in it. I care beyond what’s happening in my immediate world.
I care so much it makes me cry tears of rage and sorrow when yet another white male perpetrates a school shooting and kids are killed in the line of fire or while protecting their classmates. The papers call the murdered ones heroes, but that’s not the right word – martyrs would be better. We don’t have to continue our complicity and keep allowing our children to be murdered in mass shootings. We can change the laws by providing better access to (and quality of) mental health care and limiting gun rights in the name of public safety. The Florida legislature’s response (besides its usual thoughts and prayers) to all this of arming teachers – it will not help. Kids deserve and need to feel safe and protected at school. If their teachers are carrying, they are inherently unsafe. Guns do not belong in classrooms with students.
Another facet of education that I wish I didn’t care about is the world of high-stakes testing. My kids aren’t old enough for the FSA, and the incredible pressure that comes along with it. I feel anxious for their future selves because I know how terrible it feels to bomb a single test that determines whether you get to move on to the next grade (or get into a top tier law school). I am a mediocre test taker when only given one shot to prove myself. I may know the material backwards and forwards, but my anxiety causes me to freeze up, misread questions, and panic. And I’m an adult. Now think about how kids feel when faced with the FSA.
We fail our students when we submit them to testing that is designed in the name of education reform but is truly created to destroy the great equalizer that is public education. Tests are rigged so a certain percentage of students fail, which allows the government to label schools as failing. Parents rightfully become upset and begin looking for a way out through vouchers and for-profit charter schools that are publicly funded with our tax dollars (siphoning off money from public school systems) but with less (or no) public oversight. I have family and friends who send their kids to these programs because they view the public schools as broken. They aren’t wrong. They want what’s best for their children. We all do. But as a collective society, if some kids are slipping through the cracks it is our duty to look out for them and lift them back up.
The current inequity in our public schools is astounding, but it can be fixed. Rozella Haydée White’s new book, Love Big: The Power or Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World, contains a roadmap for seeking peace through moving toward justice. She “define[s] justice as equitable access to resources that provide people with the ability and agency to create a life of meaning. Working toward justice requires dismantling any system, ideology, or institution that promotes inequity….Justice becomes a reality when we recognize that we need one another. When we become justice seekers and peace bearers we recognize that our lives are inextricably linked. What one person does, thinks, or even believes affects another.”
As I read her words, it clicked that I have been actively working through this philosophy of peace and justice through my membership with FAST. Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly involved with its youth suspensions and arrests committee where we have researched and learned that if restorative justice practices (RP) are properly implemented in our schools, students and teachers succeed. Behavior issues are handled with student accountability and compassion, giving kids a toolbox to deal with the big emotions they feel on the daily. This in turn allows teachers to spend more time teaching the material and keeps kids in the classroom versus being removed, suspended, or arrested for disciplinary issues. Teacher retention rates in schools using RP methods are higher (but we still need to pay them what they are worth, an entirely different battle).
Changing the culture in public education is difficult, but I truly believe RP is the real game changer into creating an inclusive culture where all students feel heard and wanted as assets in their classrooms. Because I truly believe this transformation needs to happen, I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone and feel uncomfortable. With FAST, I flew to Louisville to learn about RP from a school district that is effectively implementing the initiative. Earlier this year, I spoke directly to school board members not only at meetings but also in front of a crowd of 2500+. This scared me because I’m uncomfortable speaking in public…not only the everyone’s eyes on me part but also my need to deliver my message perfectly using the correct words with the proper gestures and presence. I want to convince people this matters, and I know my discomfort is nothing compared to what kids face at school. So I woman up, lean in, and demand change to make the system more equitable.
I’m not an expert in any of this. I’m a parent who believes that public schools offer the best chance for all kids to become the people they are meant to be. I care, and I want others to take responsibility in creating change, too. Don’t you?