Normal Was Not Working: Advocating for a New Normal in Education
By Dr. Jessica Faith Carter
Leadership ISD ’21
I have spent my entire career as an educator and often found myself wondering what it would take to dismantle an educational system purposely designed to keep children of color and children from low-income communities from obtaining knowledge, wealth, and power in society. As a current Leadership ISD Civic Voices of Aldine fellow, I’ve been pushed to think even more about the inequities in education in light of everything that has happened this year.
Crisis often breeds innovation
When schools shut down in the spring and the summer gave way to global protests and unrest over social injustice, I thought the dismantling of the broken system would soon follow. After all, crisis often breeds innovation. As the months of 2020 wore on, it seemed that many (not all) leaders in the public education space just want to “get back to normal.” Normal was not working for most children in this country before 2020, and it certainly won’t be good enough to make up for losses when the pandemic ends and the unrest subsides.
Although vaccines will soon be widely available and new leadership will hopefully address social injustice issues, those of us who want a new educational system that is truly meant to improve outcomes for all students still have time to act. No matter your role, there are ways to seize this moment in time to push for innovation that will increase equity in education.
A new educational system is possible
Teachers — You are the ultimate innovators, and I would like to encourage you to share your knowledge about what is working for you and your students. Those “teacher hacks” you’ve created to reach struggling students could be catalysts for even greater change.
Administrators — The news is full of stories about administrators asking for guidance from higher authorities on how to navigate this pandemic. At this point, guidance likely will never come, so why not leverage the collective power of the educators, parents, and advocates to problem-solve around the issues your community is facing.
Policymakers — Your constituents are looking to you for direction and guidance, which may be difficult to provide without a deeper understanding of the nuances and opportunities within the educational system. If you want to position yourself to drive change, learn what you don’t know about schools and communities.
Advocates — To drive innovation, you must forge synergistic partnerships with other stakeholders to organize around causes that can lead to meaningful and lasting changes within the educational system. These partnerships can allow for greater and more timely impact as complimentary coalitions than as individuals acting alone.
Parents — Although schools and district offices may not always feel like welcoming places for parents, you have every right to be involved in decisions made about your children’s future. Assert your position as a parent, organize among yourselves or in partnership with the community organizations, and leverage the power of strength in numbers to demand the changes you wish to see for your children.
Students — Technology and social media have afforded you access to more information and resources than any generation before you. Use that to learn and lend your voices to speaking up about how adult decision-makers can change their mindsets and practices to improve your outcomes.
Let’s not go back to normal
Public education does not have to go back to the normal we knew before 2020. In fact, it shouldn’t. Instead, we can be innovative in creating a new normal for our school system that is inclusive, equitable, and results in positive outcomes for all students.