Three articles for caring professionals who work for justice.

Six bright and multicolored post-its contain the words awaken, learn, evolve, transform, become. The last post-it is an arrow pointed to the right.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Dr. Cornel West has said on many occasions that “Justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private.”

If I could have a long, leisurely lunch with Dr. West, I might ask why he describes justice as a love we see, while tenderness is love that we feel. We see justice, we feel tenderness, and both are evidence of love.

Below are three articles to support leaders of caring organizations to live their values (and their love) out loud and in public.

It’s story time: So what’s your story? 

-Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams, School Leadership for Social Justice 

When I lead groups in data analysis, I begin by saying “Every data point contains the heartbeat of a human being.” Our data tell a story, and in education, this story includes tremendous oppression. As always, Dr. Horton-Williams presents facts with exceptional clarity: Student data of all kinds, from all parts of the nation, and from all grade levels reveal that systems meant to help children and youth learn and grow harm black and brown students.

The second half of the article are the step by step instructions for dealing with racism when it shows up in your data. Use the protocols individually, and consider using one of these clarity strategies to communicate the stories in your data effectively.

Problematizing PBIS: Resource Round-up

-Alex Shevrin Venet, Unconditional Learning

Positive Behavior Intervention and Support is an approach to supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement that is implemented on some level in every school in the United States. Because it is so common, it’s easy to implement uncritically, leading to harmful consequences for students.

What I like about this article is the clarity of critique brought to one of the most common ways of approaching student behavior in the United States. The word “problematize” is a powerful way to describe a process of identifying a harmful practice that everyone seems to accepts and making that practice unacceptable.

The article ends with Shevrin Venet describing the alternative to PBIS:

The alternative to PBIS is fully embracing the complicated mess that is humanity. The alternative to PBIS is building relationships rooted in the idea that students are full humans who deserve our respect and care, and the right to self-determination.

Alex Shevrin Venet

To be clear, while I believe that the problems in the article are real, they also seem optional to me. I would encourage teams engaging in those practices to stop. And, while I may not agree that PBIS must be oppressive, I do believe PBIS needs to grow. Accepted uncritically, PBIS has reinforced oppression in many school settings throughout the United States.

In my work with schools to implementing PBIS, our approach has been to place students and their families at the center of the conversation in ways that most schools rarely do. Yet, when the entire school community participates, we embrace and accept “complicated mess that is humanity” with justice and tenderness. 

Read the article, engage the issues, and bring your reflections to your team.

The violent history of white supremacy is rarely taught in schools. It should be.

-Corey Mitchell, EducationWeek.

Corey Mitchell’s article delivers on his headline. Mitchell describes specific incidents of white supremacy, how white supremacists in positions of power eliminate students’ access to history, and why side-stepping the discomfort of our past harms everyone.

Leaders working for justice already understand that the stories of marginalized and minoritized communities represented in most schools’ curricula are incomplete. I selected this article for the examples of educators and school boards taking action to move towards an inclusive, just, and equitable approach to teaching. 

Often, we talk about justice as something that we’ll work on when the rest of the work gets done. These articles remind me that our students can’t (and won’t) wait for justice. And, many caring professionals are making progress when and where they can. It’s time for all of us to do the same.

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