Equity and Access: How to Bring All Voices at the Table
Ymasumac Marañón Davis is an educational consultant, intuitive life coach and author. This blog is the second in a series around access. All thoughts are her own.
Recently, a local school asked me to assess their climate in preparation for implementing new professional development methods that would have profound impact on the pedagogy they employ.
I walked the campus, spent time with teachers, observed lessons and students, and most importantly, listened to the language being used. What were the word choices of the adults? What beliefs did it convey about learning and, more importantly, the students they were serving?
It was apparent love was present and there was little hostility between teachers and students. That is, until the lesson on social media came up, and then the tone shifted. Teachers were condescending toward students for how they used social media. The adults chided the students for not knowing how to communicate anymore and for being attached to their devices. Conversation stopped and communication turned one-way as teachers became the dominant voice in the classroom and students sat silently, taking in the obviously biased view of them as incompetent in communication.
Technology is the perfect amplifier. One that has uncovered many voices. The voices of our deepest fears and thoughts have now been exposed. These sentiments have always existed, just under the surface. Technology is changing this and bringing up opportunities for difficult conversations. Stepping up to this opportunity will create profound shifts in our society; doing this globally is a challenge.
Education is no exception to this shift in culture. Schools are shapers of culture, and in an ever advancing civilization, this shift is both profound and deeply challenging. Schools not only react to the cultural shifts happening around them, but actively drive the culture forward.
In an attempt to embrace the profound shifts happening in society, educators far and wide have made technology one of the central pillars in learning. This also inadvertently brings in all the issues with which society is trying to grapple by amplifying these voices in the classroom. This, in turn, brings up the issue of access and voice. Who gets access to technology and whose voices are heard? The discussion on access is broad and long with many players and entry points. In this article, my focus will be on providing access through a lens of equity. How do we address access with equity in mind?
Addressing access requires a two-pronged approach focused on technical and cultural change. Both of these require a new mindset where we question our preconceived notions, adapt our perceptions, and reexamine our biases.
Questions we need to ask ourselves: When we work with students who are low income, do we see their lack of resources as a deficit and their families unable to provide for them? When we work with diverse ethnicities, how do subconscious biases show up in our expectation of student learning and behavior? How do our perceptions of different student groups get in the way of serving our students equitably? Are our assumptions of their use of devices congruent with our biases?
Do we draw unfair conclusions about students of a particular socioeconomic status or ethnicity or family structure — and do these conclusions impede our ability to act fairly and effectively to increase access?
For those of us in education, checking our perceptions is key; we hold the lives of children in our hands. Often, in working with districts, I am told that the population they serve is low income, and therefore there is no way they can afford to buy their students devices or get high-speed internet connectivity. Again, perceptions drive behavior and decision making.
I come from a strong communal immigrant background on my father’s side of the family. I remember that when one of my cousins needed something for school my aunt would call my father, who would then call my uncle, and so on until all the adults had been consulted and it was agreed who would contribute what. Whatever it was that my cousin needed, it was purchased by everyone. Surely, my family was below the poverty line, but it didn’t matter. Education was a priority, and when any of us needed something, the family (and community) would come together. While my family was perceived as unable to pay for educational materials, they found a way, because they understood the urgency and the need for these materials. Had the school invited my family to the decision making table about materials students needed and why they needed them, they would find that low income families are more than willing to step up to the opportunity to participate and support schools in the decision making process. We continue to miss these opportunities in education because of our perceptions and biases.
Often, in education, we solve problems through the dominant culture of our schools. In the United States, this is predominantly a white, middle-class lens. But when applied to situations where communities solve problems differently, that lens may give a distorted picture. What looks like a below-the-poverty-line income in one family actually is not when all family members ally forces, as mine did. Every community is unique and it’s important to make sure we check our perceptions at the door and include community members in the decision-making process.
We cannot afford to miss these opportunities for empowering student voices and their families in schools. We must learn to have brave conversations about race, gender, income disparities and the false perceptions we carry about each other. Where else should we have these conversations but in our schools where learning is core to its existence?
Creating equity in access isn’t monetary; at its core, it’s a belief.