Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Do We Best Ensure Equity In A Democracy? By Assuring Opportunities for Diverse Perspectives To Be Heard

When I left my undergraduate studies, I was on a mission to teach in a school that celebrated diversity and that upheld the personal best of all students. I found such a school in Louisville, Kentucky, and set out to do a Masters in teaching. Lucky for me, I was invited to teach there - the J. Graham Brown School . The shared values of the school are worth reposting here:

  • An informal and nonthreatening environment of diversity will create an atmosphere of mutual respect in which students, parents and staff will work together.
  • Each individual will be encouraged and allowed to freely yet responsibly express him or herself, confident that he or she will be accepted as capable and unique.
  • Difference and diversity will act as bridges rather than barriers to communication.
  • A healthy honest self-concept will promote in students a desire to learn more about self and the environment. 
  • Self-discipline will be nurtured as an essential part of the learning process.
  • The adult community will maintain high expectations and respect for the achievement of each student's personal best.
  • Creativity, innovation, and flexibility will be regarded as necessary elements of education by the entire community.
  • Every individual will have a responsibility to contribute back to the greater natural and social community from his or her Brown School experience.
Our faculty and students spent a lot of time deconstructing the language of these shared values - nonthreatening, respect, freely, difference, healthy, self-discipline, expectations, and flexibility were the most debated words. We fought daily, if not hourly, but we did so in a community that understood we wanted the best from one another. 

In light of the national debates occurring as a result of the ncident in Ferguson, Missouri, I am reflecting on the miraculous community I experienced at the center of downtown Louisville. My 10+ years in that school taught me the importance of mixing up communities and listening to one another to assure that everyone is heard and best decisions are upheld. The young people at Brown continue to get an irreplaceable education on how to work with one another, what's to be done with the complicated nature of navigating through multiple perspectives, and the importance of having social responsibility to make a world a better place.

I am sad that this isn't a national norm. Why? Because too many people form judgement of others without ever having an opportunity to work with individuals who are unlike them on a day to day basis. It's easy to compromise with others who look, act, feel, and think exactly as you do. It is more difficult when interacting with others who have has totally different life experiences.

I am not in St. Louis and can't begin to comprehend what aura must hover in the hearts and souls of people who live there. The nature of the incident is heavy and will unlikely disappear anytime soon. I am seeing a divided country and trying to comprehend the two extremes battling each other right now (wondering how many are determined they are on the right side of the issue without actually knowing all there is to be known). 

Underneath the situation is a history and culture of the United States that has yet to be unravelled - it arrives from colonial, imperialistic pasts that have globally divided populations against one another. The social inequities and inequalities can be witnessed in any nation each and everyday. I feel, however, that more is accomplished when working with each other, not against. I learned this from being a teacher. Unfortunately, bringing diverse perspectives into a conversation with one another is not habitual in a nation of zip code apartheid. Instead, socio-economic gaps continue to reestablish and recreate homogeneous communities where it is rare to learn about difference. 

This is the shame. It is more of the same.

My thoughts are for everyone hurting right now as a result of these events. It isn't the first time and it will not be the last. 

Eventually, though, listening and respecting one another will have to take place. This is what the Brown taught me. It is the right way to do what is right for all.

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