Recognizing Injustice, Pushing for Equity
As I have watched the events of the past few days unfold, my outrage continues to grow. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the inhumane treatment of far too many Black Americans are direct results of centuries of systemic racism. As people mobilize and speak out across the country in grief and anger, I hope we can muster more than solidarity.
I am neither shocked nor surprised, except by those who think these issues are new. That said, I hope that with this heightened awareness, we will begin to do the hard work of dismantling injustices fortified over centuries.
I expect that many of you who work in public education feel the same way. Why? Because what white people are seeing play out on their screens—the unjust, unlawful killings and persecution of Black people—is a prism of the reality far too many families and their children experience in everyday life.
Linked Learning was developed as a direct response to the systemic racism at work in our state’s high schools. Too many young people of color were leaving the system under-educated and underemployed because somewhere along the line someone deemed or signaled that they were unworthy. Most young people faced an “or”: You were college material, or not. You were capable, or not. Mostly, it was white adults making these calls, and many Black and brown students were tracked away from higher education and credentials that lead to the high-paying, meaningful careers people need for social and economic mobility.
Linked Learning has shown that that effective educational experiences—and the equity they make possible—exist in the “and.” Combining college and career preparation puts students in position to pursue the full range of postsecondary options. That’s the power of plus. Every day I hear people try to dissect this promise and track some students—typically those already marginalized in our society—toward a career without a chance at college. That takes us backward, not forward. Through Linked Learning, which insists on the power of plus for all students, we have witnessed the unlimited potential of Black students.
But I am not naive. The power of plus is only possible when adults across systems take a hard look at the systems and structures in place that have created barriers to student growth and progress.
It’s only possible when we share high expectations for students and when we dedicate ourselves to dismantling everything that perpetuates inequity and holds young people back.
It’s only possible when we provide the highest quality educational experiences for young people, steeped in the world around them. And when we connect the dots across systems, creating bridges where once there were chasms.
It all begins when we listen to young people. I mean really listen to young people. In times like these I realize that young people often know us better than we know ourselves. Students have always been civil rights leaders and they have used schools as a platform for organizing and movement building. We hope and dream that the self-agency and motivation young people experience through Linked Learning will empower them to vote, hold leaders accountable, and keep fighting for what they know is right for themselves and their communities: racial justice, equity, and hopefully one day healing.
Public education is the bedrock of our democracy, plain and simple, no matter how imperfect it may be. And in times of crisis—or in this case, a national reckoning—it becomes clear all over again.
Coupled with the pandemic, this moment gives us an opportunity. Not just to redesign or rebuild the many inequitable systems that have failed far too many. Instead, we must create an education system that is built on relevance, equity, and hope.
Fortunate is the student with few barriers to a personalized education, with a connection to work, and with the resources to light their road forward. Fortunate is the young person who finds support in every step of their educational journey so they become equal partners in shaping our nation’s civic, cultural, and economic life. And fortunate are we all when that happens. We can’t attain a world where all young people have the same unlimited horizon until Black students are provided equitable opportunities to learn and grow.
We can’t simply give young people a future. We must prepare them to take it, make it their own, and make it brighter and better than we have ever imagined.
Anne B. Stanton