By Devin Graham
When I sat down to write this blog, I started to recall my memories from my grade school education. Given what is going on in the world, I was actually eager to remember times in school where I felt marginalized for my race. I thought that identifying a time when that happened would give me the motivation and clarity to recommend how teachers can create a safe and inclusive environment for their students.
I then realized that I couldn’t recall a concrete example from my school years, college and professional life aside. Of course, there were times that weren’t amazing, times when I was doubted by my peers from assumptions that they made about me, but they were barely memorable. For the most part, I excelled in academics, I was able to express myself through the arts and student council, and I had friends from a variety of backgrounds. When I started to get bored in classes because they were moving too slowly for me, my teachers advocated for me to be a part of the gifted program at my school. I remember how valuable what I learned in those classes was. We were given the room to explore topics in a way that was interesting to us and to disagree with topics freely, which encouraged us to not only listen to different opinions but to form our own, based on facts.
I realize that’s how education should be for every student. I innocently thought that was how it was for all students. Not until I was older did I learn about how schools are funded and how unequally resources are divided. As educators, I’m sure that you know exactly what I mean, and have likely experienced it. Maybe you’ve gotten so savvy at working the system that you forgot that you were in one. It was jarring to hear that despite knowing about the great inequities that exist in our school systems, students are expected to meet the same standards for progression afterwards. How is that even possible? Or fair?
Funding for education is a systemic issue, as is racism. It permeates the entire system and is a constant blocker for progress, inclusion, and equity. The impact is disproportionate and longstanding.
Teachers and educators sit at an interesting inflection point when it comes to chipping away at this imbalance. Yes, the curriculum needs to be taught, but the method matters. If students are to be the next generation to actually solve systemic social issues, instead of learning how to simply exist in the wake of their reality, the application of the curriculum needs to go further and the “human element” needs to be highlighted. This is especially necessary in the age of social media, where students are constantly being fed information from people they identify with in the form of activists, celebrities, content creators, meme curators, politicians, and many, many more. Although some of these sources are viable, a lot of them create noise that can be hard for students to filter through on their own.
The role of a true educator is to cut through the noise and present the facts. To do so we need to give students the social and emotional tools to think more deeply about how and where they can make a difference in the world once they are in it. That is why your teaching philosophy and modality is so important. Think about the responsibility that you have to promote and foster equality. Your work is critical to ensuring that systemic issues are eradicated for future generations.
Devin Graham is the newest Board Member of CREATE. She graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.A. Business Administration. She joined JPMorgan Chase & Co. and served as the MBA Campus Recruiting Lead for the Asset & Wealth Management business. In 2018, Devin joined Google in People Operations and has a leadership role in the NYC Chapter of the Black Googler Network. She is also on the board of the NYC Anti-Violence Project. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and loves music, art, and finding new ways to build community.