Can I show up as who I am and be valued for that? In most schools the answer to that question is ‘no’

Jeff Duncan Andrade

Across the world similar patterns are playing out. School’s often reproduce and normalize social inequality, teaching our children to accept that some lives are worth more than others. The message is that ‘failure’ is the product of inferiority, and the sub-text of this message for children who belong to a marginalized communities, is that this ‘inferiority’ is innate in their identity or inherent in their culture and community.

If you belong to a marginalized group your success is likely to be defined by how convincingly you can ‘transcend’ your ‘inferior’ origins or identity, how well you can adapt to the cultural norms as defined by the dominant social group, and how willing you are to accept the limited construct of ‘success’ that is being imposed upon you.

The further away you are from the dominant identity (race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, caste, gender, religion etc.), the more hurdles you will be forced to jump, the more masks you will be made to wear, the less you will see yourself reflected and valued in the education you receive – but if you don’t play the game then you are out.. and it’s ‘your fault’.. ‘You didn’t work hard enough, you weren’t capable, you didn’t take responsibility .. you deserved to fail. 

The implicit message is.. ‘don’t question why your school’s underfunded, or unprepared to address the additional challenges you might face due to poverty, discrimination and generational trauma, or why some of your teachers seem to have lower expectations for you. Just accept your place and play the game.’

This message is rarely stated explicitly but it is embedded in our policies, our codes of conduct, our resource allocation choices, our structural hierarchies, our curriculums, our recruitment choices, our teacher training and practices, our mindsets and behavior, the words and language we choose to use, our beliefs, values and ideologies.. all reflecting the biases of the societies in which we live, biases that communicate to our children that some lives are worth more than others.

‘Who benefit’s from the game being set up this way?’

Jenni Oki

These messages serve to reinforce the social hierarchies that structure our societies, the assumption that the groups that dominate at ‘the top’ deserve to be there, and the groups stuck at ‘the bottom’ deserve to be there too. The illusion of meritocracy clouds the unjust reality, and the biases of the system conditions us to believe that the unequal outcomes are a natural consequence of the superiority of some and the inferiority of others.

These patterns have become so normalized and ingrained that, even with the best intentions, we end up reproducing them in ways we might not even be conscious of. This is why we need to take the time to engage in a deep analysis of the systems that we entrust with the education of our children..

How are they biased structurally and culturally? What is their function in our societies? In who’s interest were they designed to serve? Why do these patterns continue to persist? How do they shape my own perceptions? .. Without answers to these questions we risk only treating the symptoms while reinforcing the underlying cause.

In this film (created for Teach For All) educators from across the world share their insights, analysis and personal experience to help us look beneath the surface and uncover the roots of inequity.

I think we have to look at our kid’s positions in society, and the way’s society has kept them in those positions. We have to articulate that, we have to name it. And too often we gloss over it

Ann Milne

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