Learning Out Loud: Equity as a Way of Being
Learning Out Loud | Insights 01 July 2021
Equity doesn’t have a destination. It really is the road that allows people to just travel towards their destiny. And wherever that destiny takes them, if they can look back and connect it to the road that you help pave, that’s equity.
Chief Visionary Officer, #HipHopEd
On June 23rd, 2021, Kelly Young, Education Reimagined’s President, hosted the third Learning Out Loud with Education Reimagined conversation, featuring guests, Timothy Jones, Chief Visionary Officer of #HipHopEd, and Izzy Fitzgerald, learner at the San Diego Met High School. View the recording of the conversation below along with the conversation summary and full, lightly edited transcript.
Conversation Summary (with timestamps)
[01:44] Education Reimagined’s Commitment to Equity and Social Justice.
[03:16] Overview of how Education Reimagined distinguishes Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity within the context of learner-centered education.
[06:05] What Education Reimagined means when we say “learner-centered” and the possibilities that open up within community-based ecosystems of learning.
[08:16] Timothy and Izzy explore what equity looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
[17:07] Izzy reflects on what is true about the culture at San Diego Met High School that gives her the freedom to bring her whole self.
[24:53] Timothy illuminates what it looks like navigating an unjust world in a way that honors who kids are, their voice, and doesn’t hide the inequities they are challenged by today and will be challenged by tomorrow.
[30:11] Timothy explores why we can’t assume young people will know what to do when given the freedom to express themselves, and why flexible support must be provided.
[36:33] Timothy and Izzy share personal stories about what equity does and can look like in practice within learner-centered spaces.
[49:35] Timothy talks about what equity looks like within the context of a learner-centered ecosystem and what needs to be acknowledged before we even begin the conversation about structures.
Full Conversation Transcript
[01:43] Kelly: Welcome everybody. It’s exciting to be having our third conversation and this one being about equity and equity as a way of being. And so I thought I would just start with Education Reimagined’s commitment, which is that we are firmly committed to the creation of a racially just and equitable world, where every child is loved, honored, and supported such that their boundless potential is unleashed.
And so today we’re really going to be digging into this conversation about equity and what does it look like when it’s present? What does it look like to be in pursuit of it? And we’re going to be talking with Izzy Fitzgerald and Timothy Jones. Izzy is a learner from the San Diego Met where her passion for student advocacy has led her to form her own initiative, Allies United.
So we’ll dig into that a little bit. And then Timothy Jones, who we’re grateful to have here, is the Chief Visionary Officer of #HipHopEd and the curator and moderator for the weekly Cyber Cipher Twitter chat. And, he’s also the Hip Hop Ambassador and Curriculum Resource Contributor for #ScienceGenius.
Before I dig into the conversation with Timothy and Izzy, I’m just going to set a little bit of context. I thought I would share we’ve recently updated our lexicon. And so for those of you who know us well, we’ve actually distinguished terms and what they mean, and we’ve spent a lot of time distinguishing what the words learner-centered and the five elements mean.
And we’ve recently added three distinctions around diversity, inclusion, and equity, so that those are also grounding all of our work. And, Paul are those on our website now? So, we’ll have a link to those for those who want to dig into those. But I wanted to just start with a couple of sentences about what we mean by each of these.
We distinguish diversity, because these words can all get collapsed, but we distinguish diversity as a group characteristic, referring to the presence of differences among the people in that group. In the learner-centered movement, we are committed to ensuring that young learners who are most marginalized or undervalued—in particular, Black, Brown, and Indigenous youth—have the same opportunity to participate in learner-centered environments as any other young learner.
Furthermore, diversity itself is valued as an asset within learner-centered environments and the aim is to respond to and support the uniqueness of each child with unique pathways for learning. Our current student system sees that as a deficit and something to be handled and minimized.
So inclusion is it’s the practice of ensuring that every group member, especially those who have been historically and are presently marginalized or excluded, be able to be their whole selves; be valued, embraced, and supported; and be able to fully contribute their gifts. Each member more of an inclusive group can be present as their whole selves with their uniqueness acknowledged and included.
For those who know learner-centered, this is the space that young people get to walk into is being able to be their whole selves and being valued for the differences that they bring.
And thirdly, equity. So we distinguish equity as an ideal group state. So one that we’re in pursuit of, but it’s a constant pursuit, an ideal group state where every group member is supported in attaining all relevant outcomes, compensating for unfair advantages and disadvantages, including those caused by the cumulative impact of historically persistent inequities.
Striving for equity requires the presence of diversity and inclusion and goes beyond diversity and inclusion by dealing with and addressing the unwanted disadvantages that are negatively impacting real lives right now.
So I thought that could help us locate ourselves. And, I think most people on this call know what we mean by learner-centered, but to state at a very high level, what we mean by learner-centered, it is that every child is unique, capable, curious, and wondrous.
That learning is a natural phenomenon that starts with young people’s interests, curiosities, passions, and aspirations. And, that the ultimate goal of a learner-centered system is that every child discovers who they are, what their gifts are, and how to contribute those meaningfully to the world.
So inside of that world of learner-centered, we now see a vision for an ecosystem. We hadn’t realized prior to COVID that in the background of our conversation of transforming education was transforming schools and districts, and so we’ve really made this shift as an organization to embracing an ecosystem approach, where we’re really honoring the assets that the community members, the different programs from youth development to all kinds of services, to our community assets, being all places of learning.
And then also including all of the virtual assets for learning, rather than seeing school is the place for learning, right? That you have a home base. And I think Izzy is going to give us a great insight into some of her experiences, but you have a home base, so it’s rich in community and relationship, but you’re no longer confined to what a single building has to offer.
And you’re supported in navigating a much larger landscape of learning experiences. So that is just laying down the groundwork. I want to engage in a conversation with Izzy and Timothy to share, you know, what we’re going to be digging into is what does equity look like?
What does it feel like? What does it sound like? And I would love to just start there with Izzy or Timothy, whoever would like to go first. When you experience a system that is working towards equity, knowing we will never fully arrive. Well, I shouldn’t say we will never, but we’re not there yet.
What does equity look like, feel like, sound like?
[08:39] Timothy: Go ahead, Izzy. I defer to you.
[08:43] Izzy: Okay. For me, when I think about equity, I think it’s a really hard question to answer because for me, in my opinion, I don’t think you could fully have 100% equity every single day, because there’s always going to be a new learner and that symbolism is going to be different to every single learner.
So for equity, in my opinion, it’s kind of like a blanket over an ecosystem that you can’t see, but you know it’s there and you can feel it, and like you leave your house and you don’t feel like it’s just the same kind of air. It’s a breath of fresh air. When you get to be in an ecosystem where everything’s now easier almost, especially for minorities.
To give a literal example, I have this book sitting on my lap and it’s for my political science college class. I’ve struggled with dyslexia my whole entire life. I wasn’t identified with dyslexia until like third grade because my old school didn’t want to diagnose me. That’s a whole different story.
But within that, going to these college classes and being in school and handed a book this thick and the text being that small, it’s very difficult for me to be like, how am I supposed to ACE this class? How am I supposed to know that I’m going to get a good grade in this class if I can barely read, and I can barely really sit down and have the attention span to actually read.
And within that, equity would feel like, oh, I have this book, but on top of it, I have an audio book to read with it. And I am able to connect with my teacher and get a longer time span within what chapters I have to read and being able to have that type of communication with my teacher.
I’ve also had one experience within school where it was during Black History Month. And we were reading, we were learning about racism within America. And we were reading Frederick Douglass’s diary. And I remember we were reading the book and I was like, I can’t just sit down and read this, especially because we didn’t have the printed version. It was remote learning because of COVID. So I had to read online and reading online is almost 10 times worse than reading on a book for me.
And within that, they gave us an audio book and the audio book was of a white man. And he was saying the N word many times. In that situation, I feel like equity would have shown it being a Black man, right, in that book or a person of color or a Black woman reading that book because it would have identified with me way more and that type of situation it would have been more culturally correct.
So really having all of those outlets and those outlooks within school and continuing to have that with minorities and showing them that you’re reading an audio book and it’s within a certain culture, so the person reading that book is within that culture because they can also identify with that is a huge example with inequity in school.
So I hand that off to Timothy.
[12:16] Timothy: Well thank you for that. You know, for me I would say, I believe equity is extremely, extremely difficult to obtain in a traditional classroom that has a standardized destination because then that becomes the outcome and the young people really don’t have voice in determining what the outcome is.
So then at best, we’re still trying to provide supports needed to get to an outcome that they didn’t have voice in deciding. And so for me, equity feels like what I’ve encountered throughout my career, more common in out-of-school spaces. It’s that space where that young person is coming and even if there are some prescribed outcomes, the reason why they’re coming is always acknowledged.
Like some people are there because, oh, I need access to a computer because I have to do my work on a color printer. Alright, that’s your desired outcome. Other people are coming because my parents moved to the other side of DC and so my friends, we all congregate at this center. So that for me is the priority outcome because I want to be with my friends.
Now, while I’m there, I may do the activities, but that’s the outcome that’s making me show up. And also equity, to me, it looks like when you’re able to see relationships so deep that it almost feels seamless in the sense of it’s beyond just the identifiers that caused us to be minority, majority. It’s oh, that’s Tim.
Not Black Tim, not male Tim, not Tim from a single parent home, not Tim who’s impoverished. That’s just Tim. And how Tim may feel today may be based off of what happened yesterday. Maybe he and his team lost at the last second, whatever it is, but I I’m working to know Tim. So then when I am putting together my program, when you’re saying what equity feels like, equity feels like Tim getting what Tim needs; not based off of a prescription of an identity that he didn’t even get to choose. And so that for me is what that looks like.
And to piggyback off of what Izzy was saying, it rooted in the relationship when we were talking before I was reminded of having a young man in my program who was slightly autistic and what he needed and what his mother needed and what she was in tears about was, wow, this is a space where he’s just treated as Justin.
His IEP is not in his registration packet. The kids will joke and laugh at him just like all teenagers do. And they don’t even know what autism is. That’s just Justin. And Justin is being Justin. Sometime that’s quirky. And so for her and for him, they needed that space. The staff knew. And so then what it was my job was to make sure that he got the supports that he needed without those supports being advertised.
You know? So you figure it out. So maybe he gets there a little beforehand and people just think that his bus arrived early and that’s how he gets his extra time. So when we’re working and finishing it’s not, oh, for everybody else it’s 6:00, but Justin, you would get until 6:15, and then everybody’s wondering why.
So it’s being able to be conscious of the individual’s reality and let that be the driver versus you feeling like you’ve reached this utopia state of equity.
[16:39] Kelly: That’s great, Timothy and Izzy, both of you for that. So Izzy, I’m curious what are some of the conditions, because I know that you’re at the Met in San Diego, do you feel like you can bring your whole self and what helps you have that confidence?
[17:07] Izzy: Yeah, I keep saying this in all these types of conversations. I’ve always been a rule breaker. I’ve always been quite rebellious in what I do or what I wear, how I express myself. And I noticed within the first day of going to the Met, I kind of hid that back because when I went to the Met, I didn’t know anyone. I went there all by myself.
No other of my friends from my other school was going with me. They thought I was completely insane for going to a school that different. And I was like, that was the way I was the rule breaker in that situation, but when I arrived at the Met, I was like, okay, let’s take 500 steps back and try to be a little bit normalized or more palatable. And within that, I noticed that I entered the school and no one was the same way that I was. I was almost a rule breaker for trying to be normal or more palatable to society and the system.
And I was like, oh crap, what? Wait a minute. Like, why did you do that to yourself? Why did you put yourself through that emotional change to feel like you needed to be friends with people? And I feel like the Met really promoted being who you were. I’ve gotten to learn who I was throughout that system.
I feel like throughout my old school, I really pushed myself to be who everyone wanted to me to be and what the school wanted me to be. But when going to the Met, they showed me that it was okay to figure it out and while figuring it out, do what I wanted to do to, get where I wanted to get. And so the next day, you saw me walking in with the craziest pants and the craziest shirt, and suddenly my hair was in the craziest hairstyle and I was wearing the wildest makeup and they were okay with that.
They embraced me, they loved me, they appreciated me. And most of all, they respected me. And I think that’s so important within learner-centered education is having that mutual respect instead of a power-dominated respect. Within school, I think a lot of public educational systems it’s really difficult for a lot of people to grasp that teachers should have the same respect from students as students should have the same respect of teachers. And it’s really difficult to think about that because it’s kind of like a power dynamic that school has put into place. It’s the power dynamic of school teaching students to be employees instead of being bosses.
It’s a power dynamic of schools showing people that they should only follow the rules and not break them. And I think within learner-centered education, it’s really taught a lot of people, even the shy people within my school, that if you have a problem, say something, and it’s okay to speak about it.
My school has taught you to be a boss in your own form and whatever that means. And I think that is so important to figuring out who you are within the system. And I think it’s, I don’t know, just like a better industry within, you know, instead of figuring out what you want or who you are 20 to 40 years later, you’re figuring out in high school, which is what I feel like you’re supposed to be doing because you’re in school for almost 18 to 21 years of your life.
And then you leave. And a lot of people don’t know where they are, where they’re supposed to go after. And I think learner-centered education promotes figuring that out while you’re in school because this is the time to shine and figure out who you are.
[20:58] Kelly: And so, I love what you just said because my next question, it was going to be, what difference does it make to be able to wear whatever you want?
Because for a lot of people, they’re probably thinking, well, that’s not the real world. If you want to be able to get a job in a particular place, it does matter what you’re wearing. So, I’m just going to ask it anyway, because you’ve given a couple of insights into it, but how does that make you better prepared for life being able to wear… I’m just using it as a metaphor.
Because it’s not the only thing that you’re bringing is your different dress and makeup and all of that.
[21:40] Izzy: Yeah, I think it’s a way of identity and self-expression for me. I’ve seen a lot of people love the work that they get into, but they don’t feel like they’re allowed to express themselves in a way that’s really important to them and I’ve seen how difficult that can be for people kind of hiding who they are from the people they spend a lot of time with because within a job you’re spending a lot of time with your coworkers and your bosses and the people around you and feeling like you couldn’t express yourself in any kind of way.
It’s super difficult and it’s hard to hear and it’s hard to do. And I think within jobs and just in society, being allowed to express yourself and still gain respect even if you have a funky hair color or if you talk differently, I think it’s super important to implement that within schools to slowly implement that into society and the way that we work. And for me, being able to dress the way I wanted to dress, it actually helped me land a job.
And that’s kind of crazy to hear. I landed a job at 14 because I dressed kind of cool at that time. Sometimes I dress cool, sometimes I don’t anymore now because I’m home all the time. But seeing that and hearing that experience and story, it’s really helpful for a lot of students.
I feel like within your life and within jobs, self-expression is such a true form of self identity. And if you feel like you have to become more palatable to society and the jobs that are going to pay you enough to just live and pay rent and buy food, I feel like that should be a change and starting within school is an important thing because schooling implements life, I think, in my opinion, And it takes a lot of time to figure that out.
And so, I don’t know, it’s kind of like a rollercoaster. It’s kind of like a circle almost. Like you’re figuring out who you are, self identity, then within self identity, it’s self-expression and within self-expression, after that, that’s when you should be figuring out what jobs and what locations in my life are going to allow me to express myself the way I want to express myself.
Instead, I feel like society treats it being like job, self-identity, put your self-expression into a box and you can’t leave that.
[24:16] Kelly: That’s great. And, you know, for all of us who have had the the honor of doing the things that we care about, it’s where fulfillment and happiness come from, right?
Is being able to be self-expressed and to actually bring our whole selves to something. So I love what you just shared Izzy. And Timothy, what does this make you think about in terms of what the educators and the people in an ecosystem, the adults, like the other kids?
[24:53] Timothy: Couple of things that will come into mind while Izzy was speaking is that we have to be mindful. We have to be cognizant of the realities and the realities are dress in certain communities brings on profiling and stereotyping that could literally have life or death implications. And so depending on where that child is, where that ecosystem is, that child expressing themselves with that hoodie on could cause them their life.
I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I’m speaking in fact. So that child didn’t get the same freedom to put on lipstick, wear jeans, this, that, and the other. By no means am I saying Izzy shouldn’t have had it. It becomes problematic when that’s not the norm. And so often times, we also have to look at it from a standpoint of psychosocial development.
Are there certain overt gestures of expression through style and clothing because they haven’t been allowed to be seen or heard in other facets. So then, what they are proclaiming to be their identity and style really is an act of rebellion. And there is some level of rebellion that is consistent in adolescents and young adulthood, but as part of the equation, it can’t be the total.
And so for me, I will say that, alright, I know I’m more hip hop now than I’ve ever been in my life, but I also got to a place where I identify it on my own terms. So I don’t have to look like what people would say is hip hop. And so sometimes we force through the silencing of certain communities in their rebellion, then I am going to be loud.
So it’s the silent scream, and that silent scream may show up in hair color. And I’m not saying this to say that it’s wrong, I’m not giving a moral judgment. I’m just speaking from a youth development lens and then factoring in the reality. So it’s like, okay, Kelly, for the most part, you and I are from DC. A young person in upper Northwest wearing an outfit maybe looked at different than if they are east of the river in Southeast with that exact same outfit because in upper Northwest, oh, everybody knows who Izzy is because I know her parents. So that’s just Izzy being Izzy. But if we’re in the hood, oh, if they are too out of the box, do they belong here?
What’s going on? What are they doing? I’m calling the police, and then don’t let it be four or five Izzy’s because now it’s a gang. And so these are all of the realities that we have to deal with. When you’re talking about putting learner-centered education, equity is not just a blanket straight line that the same equation would fit in every place and space.
And so, I just wanted to bring that out. And then also, the last thing I’ll say is that I’ve told young people all the time, like if you want to dress a certain way, then you better be an expert at what it is that you do, so that when you’re doing what you do, they don’t get stuck on just seeing the cover because the cover is fly.
But if I get stuck there, then I’m not hearing and receiving what it is that you bring to the table. And so if you want to take this on, just know that your path is going to be harder for you. Because I can say for me, when I got out of Howard and was becoming an accountant, I wouldn’t have been able to show up with my hair the way it is now.
I wouldn’t have even gotten in the door, but now I put myself in a position where like, yo, either you want me the way I’m coming or you don’t want me, but there’s a price that comes along with that. And so I just think we have to be honest with that and then build them up. So then they can carry it like that.
So it’s like, you want to have that swag? There’s a weight for that chip that’s on your shoulder. Let’s make it do what it do.
[29:48] Kelly: I think what you just demonstrated Timothy is exactly what it looks like navigating an unjust world in a way that really honors who kids are, their voice, and also doesn’t hide the ball of what we’re navigating.
[30:11] Timothy: We have to understand that our children have been robbed so much that they don’t even know how to handle the freedom of expression that we are really talking about. And that’s because it’s been generational.
Oh, you know, you better make sure you clean cut. You better make sure your name doesn’t take up too many boxes on the SAT form. Because everything is about doing what you need to do to fit in, so that you can change your condition. So, I understand, broadly, I should be able to do this and I should be able to do that. Yes. But that is almost fantasy to some people’s realities.
And so, I just think in some instances there has to be supports to teach. Like I remember having a conversation with a young lady at a Big Picture school in Camden, New Jersey. And she talked about how difficult it was going from traditional school, where you were constantly told what to do, everything you did was graded.
And then she ends up in Camden, New Jersey at a Big Picture high school and it’s like, hey, develop your learning. What are you interested in learning? What? The things that I’ve been interested in have never been presented as quantifiable or qualifiable knowledge. So now you’re telling me what is it that I want to learn? Nobody’s ever valued what I’ve been interested in. I don’t know how to even explain this to my parents. And it was mind blowing hearing her say it was challenging. Whereas other people are like, oh man, to be able to do what you want to do, that’s exhilarating. But she was like, yo, I had to unlearn like almost 10 years of being brainwashed.
So then her advisor had to give her the support, so that she could catch up to then own, oh, my own thoughts, my own hobbies, my own gifts are actually things that are worthy of study and presentation. So I just wanted to highlight that.
[32:21] Kelly: Yeah. You just named so many of the structures that are important for equity to exist and being able to scaffold, especially in undoing and unlearning.
If you’re in a system that hasn’t valued who you are, what your interests are, right. I have seen, I don’t know if there’s some people from Minnesota here, but you know, there are many places that do that well, including the Met, Big Picture Learning, but when we were at Avalon School, and I remember seeing kids with their heads on the table, like just, it was the second week of school and I was asking my student guide.
I was like, what’s that about? And he said, well, he’s new here. And And to the untrained eye, right, it could just look like, wow, this is a terrible place because they’re letting a kid have their head down during school and not do anything. But to the trained eye, when you had conversations with their advisor, with the other adults and even the other kids, you knew that he didn’t know, he didn’t trust that somebody really wanted to know what his interests were.
And then he was actually going to be able to pursue them. And he probably even, under that, didn’t know what his interests were, so was a little scared to say, I don’t know my interests. And then my young person guide said, you know, he’s new here and my friend who was in the same position last year as he was, you know, around three months in really started trusting.
So there was stuff happening, right? And so in three months he did latch on, he did start expressing interests. He tried and failed things. And so there is an actual known pedagogy, right? It’s not it’s a blueprint or cookie cutter, but it is what youth development people are trained to do is to know the developmental stages and to be able to recognize this, which to me is one of the really exciting things about an ecosystem is that Timothy, in working with kids outside of the system, are seen as an enrichment as opposed to central to the trajectory of a young person.
And what’s possible in an ecosystem is that we get allies from all quarters of people who are trained in youth development and want to be supporting young people in this way. So thank you. That was a really rich exploration of that.
Timothy: More than welcome.
[35:12] Kelly: Yeah. Just love it. So I want to open it up to more people and Izzy and Timothy continue to be part of this conversation, to either questions you have, but I’m curious what does it look like to be in pursuit of equity? And how do you know when it’s present? Or how do you know if it’s not fully present that you’re on the path of equity?
And I think if I could just state my own answer, it looks like you’re having conversations the way Izzy is having conversations. And the conversations that Timothy was just having. I think what is coming out of people’s mouths matters and that they would tell you that they feel free to express themselves and go through a journey, Timothy, that you were just describing of rebelling and not knowing that you’re rebelling till to actually get to real self-expression that isn’t just a rebellion for example, but I want to open it up. So what does it look like and how do you know when you’re on the journey in it?
[36:33] Timothy: And just a quick anecdote is something that I think is continual. And I’ve been blessed now where I had young people who I was working with when they were teenagers who are now in their thirties and early forties.
And it was one young man who was coming to the center. His parents were from Senegal and he was relatively new to the country. So this was kind of just his getaway and we would play video games and his parents were strict. So there was no video games in the house.
So for him, coming there, playing video games was fun and he enjoyed it. So he then goes on graduates from Boston College and he enrolls in Columbia Medical School. And one of the first things that they’re doing in the beginning as part of their orientation and working on hand eye coordination is they start playing video games.
And so then he calls me and he’s like, Tim, you know, learning how to play video games at Martha’s Table actually helped me in the beginning to feel comfortable starting medical school. Okay. There was not a proposal. There was not a report that I had written to raise money for my program to get XBOXes where I said, one of the outcomes will be that this will help a young person be ready for medical school.
So I’m using that to say that in some ways equity doesn’t have a destination. It really is the road that allows people to just travel towards their destiny. And wherever that destiny takes them, if they can look back and connect it to the road that you help pave, that’s equity.
[38:29] Izzy: Yeah. I just to reiterate that. As a student, I’ve always hated math class.
It’s just never done it for me. So, but within that, my math teacher, he connects his students within math by starting the day with a video game or a quick little video to show us. And I think that’s so important by showing how that math connects into real life. Because whenever we talk about math, you’re like, oh, this is always going to relate to real life.
Right? Like this is always going to relate and he’s always telling us it’s going to relate in the future, but what about right now? How is this going to relate to us right now? And our equity of learning and our future of learning. And so what my teacher always did is he always showed us that it’s relating to us right now in these real life situations, whether it’s playing an older video game or video game now, he would start the day with the video game.
He would start the day with a video and it would always relate to what we were learning in class right now, or what was going on in our lives, so it would often be within social media, too. And I think that’s so important within equity of learning because when we’re learning, we’re always told, oh, this will, this will make sense in the future.
Like it will relate to you in the future. Yeah. It’ll like this it’ll make sense as a future. And most of the times it doesn’t really make sense in the future either way. At least from my experience. So when you’re teaching within learner-centered education, and you’re actually showing the students that, hey, this actually makes sense right now.
Like this is helping you out right now. Like you’re going to win a game easier and quicker and better because of this math scenario or situation is so important within equity, in my opinion, because it’s a) showing every type of learner, it shows the analytical learner this, the equation, it shows the learner who has to see it to know it, it shows learner that has to hear it, to learn it within the noises of the video or the game or within speaking, and having that in the classroom is so important.
Especially within math or English or science because those topics are often general education topics, and they’re very important, but really being able to relate them to the now for students, I feel like gets a better learner out of them and it gets a an easier educational tactic. And I feel like honestly, for teachers and principals, it gives them an easier time within having to get the students to actually do their homework or do the tests or want to learn because it makes sense to them.
They understand it. They can calculate what’s going on because they are going through it in real time.
[41:25] Timothy: Izzy I could just quickly say, I will never forget I was taking calculus in college and I had failed it the first time. And the second time I took it, and when the teacher explained that the goal of mathematics is to teach you how to critically and logically think, it changed everything because it’s not about the rote memorization of the Pythagorean theorem or to remember these particular formula.
It was just so you think about it like a game. So it was like, okay, this level of math is putting you on this floor for you to figure out. So math becomes like numerical chess. And so I think when you’re able to present content with this transferable skill that is applicable to just everyday life, it made everything just make sense. And it didn’t take away from the rigor. He just changed how we viewed it. And so it became that much more tangible. So when you were just saying that, because you think about, it would be the same for pretty much all of the STEM, it’s like, oh, if I’m not going to be a scientist, why do I have to study this?
And I’m not going to be a… But it’s teaching you how to think. So then ergo, a pandemic comes, nobody was prepared for that, but okay, I know how to critically think. We always talk about those four C’s. How do I critically think? How do I collaborate? You know, how do I communicate? And, how am I creative?
We had to do all of that to even maintain what we’re doing right now. And so I think if we’re presenting education from that standpoint, it just makes it that much more palatable.
[43:18] Kelly: That’s great. It occurred to me that some schools that are proclaiming to be about equity in the current paradigm really end up being highly compliant and rules oriented.
And then you can sometimes hear the example that people need structure, right, to to be able to succeed. Especially kids with extreme trauma or are living in uncertain circumstances. I’d love for you to just say how would you respond to somebody who says that?
[43:59] Izzy: That’s such a hard question because I experienced… so my elementary and middle school, they were the group to claim equity and project-based and learner-centered education. And in the situation, that wasn’t it. I didn’t even learn about any other culture within America until like the ninth grade. So within that conversation, I think dealing with that question, it’s more about asking so why don’t you think that it’s equitable? What are you seeing that, you were saying that they are complicit to what’s inequitable in society, and then that’s where the conversation in my opinion would go from there because in every situation it’s different within learner-based education is very easy to also be inequitable and kind of not see it because you’re a learner-centered educator.
I think for that is because I think within learner-centered education, you have to also fit in with what the government gives you on what you have to teach and how the student is learning because there’s those state exams or tests or whatever they are. Luckily I didn’t have to do them this year, but within that, I think it’s very easy to see that within the curriculum and being like, well, we have to learn about racism in America, or we don’t have to, we want to learn about racism in America and we want to teach that and we want to teach that history. But they only give us these guidelines on what we can teach right within that, what they’re trying to pass right now and how they pass Juneteenth.
But they want to take away being able to actually learn about what Juneteenth is. It’s very difficult to kind of move around that, so you can teach it, but still stay in within the guidelines. And I think the guidelines are very inequitable. And it’s very hard as a teacher and as a principal to figure out how your students are still learning about their culture, their history, in an equitable way and a smart way where you’re kind of in the box, but you’re kind of like stepping out at the same time.
Like you’re halfway there. and I just like Within any school, that’s very difficult to maneuver. And as students, we understand that, we get that. We hear you guys and trying to figure that out as a learner and as a student is very difficult. I think not being able to learn about your culture and your heritage and the truths of what has went on within history it’s very hard to maneuver.
I think promoting within my school, I started an Allies United because I noticed that my teachers weren’t allowed to teach us about some certain things. So I started a club so we could talk about it and we wouldn’t get in trouble because it’s not a part of the curriculum.
You’re not receiving a grade for it, but you’re still learning about it. You’re still researching it. You’re still talking about it. And within that structural destination, I think that it’s a super great way to do that within school. Like you notice. Okay, well, I can’t talk about this and that’s very inequitable, so what I’m going to do is I’m going to start a club for my students so we can still learn about it and we’re not going to get in trouble for it.
Or sometimes schools can’t receive laptops or they can’t give out laptops, or sometimes schools can’t give out food. And sometimes students aren’t able to eat like food at home.
They don’t have enough food at home, or they don’t have wifi at home. So they’re given a laptop. They can’t really use it. The only way they can use it is go to Starbucks, but they don’t have a bus pass. So I can’t really go to Starbucks to go use my computer and blah, blah, blah. So figuring out a way as just a person to promote getting, you know, wifi for students or a bus pass.
Like my school would get monthly bus passes while we’re in school for free. Promoting that, just as a human and figuring out how to support your kids in a way where you’re not just supporting them as a teacher. You’re supporting them as a human, as almost like a second parent or a second friend, or a second sister, brother and son, just like a second relative within their life. I think really is promoting equitability within your own system until the government and until society can fix their own inequities within school or just life in general.
[49:05] Kelly: That’s great. And you said a couple of things that I’m now going to ask Timothy. So Scott mentioned, you know, what does it look like to have an equitable ecosystem? What is it like? The other thing that Izzy raised is that just because you’re learner-centered doesn’t mean you’re equitable, right?
So that’s the flip side of like to Kim’s question? But yes, Tim either one of those.
[49:35] Timothy: I think when you’re talking about the structure, I think even before we can look at the structure, it’s accepting the reality. And, maybe there’s a need to advocate the work to change it, but the educational outcomes, or the pursuit, or how education is viewed differs drastically in certain communities that if I’m in a more privileged community or I have more connections, my family is more well well off, then education to me is more about self-expression and I am able to be more cultured and just more versed. And so it just, the knowledge just adds to me, but there’s going to be opportunities and things that I’m going to be able to access because of other aspects that make me who I am versus if I am in a community where the only key that I’ve been told is education, education, education, that people won’t even look at my resume if I don’t have degree from X intern from X.
So then what is equitable even in a learner-centered is going to be different for me than my colleague who, mom is a lawyer and dad is VP at a bank and plays golf with such and such, and then they vacation with them. And then, you know, on the weekends they volunteer here. So they’re already, they’re connected.
You’re already part of the system. So then if you decide college isn’t for you, but you have other skills that people have already recognized because you’re part of an ecosystem that values the whole person. Okay, well then your path may just be this way. So then what’s equitable for you is one thing.
But if you’re in a situation where people won’t even look at you without your cap and gown virtually, physically on, then what you’re going to ask for is different. What those parents are going to ask for is different. And so you have to address that and then begin to look at what role does structure play in this, whether it’s standardized testing and the like. So I think when we’re saying equity, there’s just so many of these social factors that we have to be cognizant of. And it’s not fair because that learner, they’re just in the process of learning who they are. So to have to think that they all supposed to be able to verbalize, well, I know these outcomes have to open the door for me and this and this and that and the other.
And so I think we have to think about that way. And then when it comes to the structure, I feel like there’s a level of advocacy that we all have to continue to do while we’re doing this work, because I think there’s always going to be some semblance of structure but maybe it’s our job to prepare young people to navigate this structure and not let the structure control them and how they see themselves.
You know what I mean? If I rely on the structure to validate myself and the structure is culturally biased, then I take the test and the test tells me that I’m behind. So now I feel less than because the structure wasn’t designed to give a damn about me anyway. But if I’m part of something that’s building me up so that I see the structure for what it is, Hmm.
So now I attack it differently and it doesn’t have the same power that it once had. So now I’m impacting the perception of the structure without physically actually going at the structure. But then in time, if enough of us continue to be successful in spite of this structure, it then gives us the fuel and fodder to challenge the structure because they think that the structure is the springboard, but we’re saying no, we’ve invented a springboard, not only to success, but a springboard that helps us to get over your structure as well.
[54:04] Kelly: There was just so much in that you just said. And I just want to highlight one thing going back in your comment. So, you know, the way we think an ecosystem, somebody said that for the affluent families, an ecosystem is how they live. The parent is just navigating that ecosystem, right?
They’re signing up for dance. They’re doing whatever, they’re navigating a whole landscape of learning experiences for their children. And then we judge people based on school performance, and say that this little piece of actually a child’s life is going to determine their success or not, not looking at like this other 60% of a child’s life and how it’s being spent.
And if we were successful and you talked about social networks, relationships, there’s so much in all of that, right? That is is what gives access, right? To jobs and to futures. And that an equitable system would see that and actually be building that and working with young people to, to your point, to either navigate the injust structure, to have it have less power.
I just loved what you just said. All of it did to have less power so that its meaning taken on by the young person. But then there’s also helping young people develop that rich network of experiences and connections and social capital. I’m so anyway, I’m saying it way less eloquently than you just said, but I loved it all.
And so we’ve got two minutes left and I apologize, we didn’t have a full group conversation, but Alin, I was just wondering if… for those who don’t know, Alin is the Vice President of Practice and Field Advancement for Education Reimagined I just would love, do you want to close this? I know I’m putting you on the spot to just close this out.
What did you hear in all of this? And yeah, as kind of a last word.
[56:25] Alin: I just heard central to it was productive, collaborative struggle. And I use struggle in two ways: one that gets us closer together and ways to change the system, but also as a real thing.
And even in learner-centered environments, we are up against systems outside of us where we will have to struggle to get past them. And we do that in partnership and the collaboration with one another. So I heard collaborative struggle. A productive, collaborative struggle throughout this.
[57:02] Kelly: Yeah, beautiful. Timothy, last word. And then Izzy, I’m going to give you the final, final word.
[57:10] Timothy: Just thank you. Glad to be here. And just don’t be afraid to lead with yourself because it is the relationships. Don’t lead from the standpoint of your position, lead from the standpoint of your person.
[57:33] Izzy: For me, I would just say when you’re questioning what equity and learner-based education means within your school, ask your youth, ask your students what it means for them and figure it out from there. And thank you for having me.
[57:49] Kelly: Thank you everybody. Pleasure. Izzy. Timothy. Oh my gosh. The gold and thank you. It was a real pleasure. Thanks everyone.
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