Are We Really Living Our Equity Values In Our Schools?

“Racism is a system we all live within. As a result, many common ideas that we perceive as “normal” or “traditional” are actually racist ideas.”

Henry Turner and Kathy Lopes from Changing the Narrative: How to Foster an Antiracist Culture in Your School

There are two brief texts that I have been reading and re-reading over the last week. One is a new article from hthunboxed titled Swimming Against the Current: Resisting White Dominant Culture in Improvement Work by Amanda J Meyer. The second, from 1997, is a chapter from Race, Ethnicity, and Multiculturalism Policy and Practice titled Changing the Discourse in Schools by Eugene Eubanks, Ralph Parish, and Dianne Smith

One of the questions Meyers asks in her piece is “What if, instead of focusing on the equity practices we think we should be adding to our improvement repertoire, we also considered what forces may be pulling us away from living our equity values in everyday practice?”

This connects well to the second text “Changing the Discourse in schools.” The authors note “the current dominant discourse in schools (how people talk about, think about and plan the work of schools and the questions that get asked regarding reform or change) is a hegemonic cultural discourse. The consequence of this discourse is to maintain existing schooling practices and results. We call this hegemonic discourse, Discourse I.”

The needed alternative is Discourse II which the authors describe as follows:

“In a Discourse II school, ambiguity and change are part of a purposeful structure. The direction for change is clear. It is intended to produce schools where every student develops intellectually to high levels and the performance gap related to race, class and gender narrows until school effects are no longer correlated with those factors.”

Both pieces have resources connected to them that school groups working for substantive change in their antiracism and equity efforts could utilize. Meyer provides a table which provides a clear delineation between harmful patterns that are often perpetuated in improvement by characteristics of white dominant culture and “moves to resist and imagine” these characteristics. 

The resource connected to the chapter on Discourse I and Discourse II is a T-Chart created by the San Francisco Coalition of Essential Small Schools which has concrete examples on one side of Discourse I “dialogue supports and maintains the status quo without appearing unresponsive to outside demands for improvement.” Directly across are examples of Discourse II “the language that tends to be about uncomfortable, unequal, ineffective, prejudicial conditions and relationships in schools (and therefore) opens up space for ambiguity and change to be part of a purposeful structure.” It would be a powerful exercise for school teams to use the T-Chart to describe how Discourse I sounds in their context and to flip the script to Discourse II.

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