Saturday, February 01, 2014

Educon Session on Privilege

This afternoon I was working on progress reports and found myself wondering how much each student's gender and ethnicity played into the grades I was entering. How much were those factors impacting my perception of their growth in reading or math or science? Were boys in my class earning lower grades in organizational skills or self-control than the girls because of gender? Were African-American and African students earning lower grades in reading because of their race? I hope not, but I'm certain those factors play a part no matter how hard I try not to let them.
This is fresh on my mind because of a session at Educon led by Audrey Watters and Jose Vilson. Both are educators I was familiar with and respected greatly before this conference. That has only increased after this session and the opportunity to speak with them some. I have to say how impressed I was with both Audrey and Jose for their ability to allow this to truly be a conversation. They introduced themselves and the topic and then let us run with it. (They later shared that they really hadn't planned anything. So what? They didn't dominate the conversation at all, in spite of, I'm sure, having plenty to say on the topic.)
The conversation roamed extensively and covered a lot of fascinating ground. By the end, my head was swimming. I'm left looking back at my tweets from that period to remember what I was thinking (I, like many others, take notes by tweeting at conferences).
One of my thoughts mirrors that of my thinking today as I worked on progress reports. As a white, heterosexual, middle-class woman, I worry about how I sound to those who have less privilege. I can only, truly know my own experience in life and that is limiting. That is true of all of us, but as one with significant privilege, I worry that it means my biases alienate others without my ever realizing. As a result, I'm grateful to those who point out to me when I am biased or showing some ism that I may have missed. It takes courage to do so, but it's tough for me to grow without that perspective and help. 
This led to some thinking about the collective responsibility we share here. Those with privilege are responsible for being thoughtful and for reflecting on their own biases and changing, or at a minimum attempting to do so. Those with less privilege bear some responsibility to help those with privilege see through their lenses. That seems unfair in many ways, but I can't figure out how else we make change happen. Everyone, regardless of privilege, has the responsibility to be thoughtful and respectful.
I've taught my entire career in a Title I school. The great majority of the students and families with whom I work lack privilege. I'd be hard pressed to name one area in which they have privilege. As a result, I find myself struggling to remember how much they know and have to offer me. It's easy for me to see myself as the expert about education and children and ignore all that I can learn from them (including about education and children). Luckily, I have at least one fabulous friend who reminds me of this regularly. 
During the session we discussed how teachers often feel marginalized in their profession as we are rarely excluded from decision making or serious discussions of any sort. But we do the same thing to families regularly. That really hurt to realize.
Mike Thayer hit on this same idea when he tweeted: 
those kids
As he noted, these questions are important. They're also seriously hard to answer. They're even, often, hard to discuss. That said, at Educon we spend an hour and a half discussing them. And doing so with strong emotions and great respect. 

Others have written about this session far better than I could ever do.
Audrey Watters shared a brief reflection and a collection of tweets.
Rafranz Davis wrote about the entire conference, but with a thoughtful paragraph about this session in particular.
Sabrina Stevens shared a collection (from some time back) of resources on this topic. Impressive.

Cross-posted from

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