At Education Reimagined, we spend a lot of time talking about our commitment to making learner-centered education available to ALL kids. But, over the years, this commitment has taken on a new meaning as we’ve evolved our thinking. Three years ago, I would have told you learner-centered education was the answer to creating an equitable society. Two years ago, I would have said it was the answer to creating an equitable education system. And, now, I would say learner-centered education is essential and necessary to achieve racial equity in education and eventually society, but learner-centered education cannot be the only lens we look through if we want to achieve this societal shift.
My personal and team experiences over the past week have further refined and validated this belief. I began last week in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama visiting Bryan Stevenson’s (played by Michael B. Jordan in Just Mercy) Legacy Museum and Peace and Justice Memorial, as well as other important sites in the fight for civil rights in the 60’s. Immediately following this experience, I joined the Education Reimagined team at our three-day Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion retreat, which specifically focused on race and racism.
Through it all, I was more present than ever to how the legacy of slavery is impacting us through most of the systems American society is dependent upon, the biases and prejudices we have inherited, internalized, and perpetuated, and the hurt and shame we carry.
Being embedded in conversations about race and racism for an entire week has made present the overt commitment needed from the movement to do what it takes to ensure learner-centered education is made available to, and done well for, those most marginalized by our society and by our current education system. It’s not enough to say focusing our efforts on inventing a learner-centered education system will correct the inequitable nature of the current system. The barriers to racial equity exist at every level—personal, institutional, and systemic.
So, as we take on creating a new future for education, rather than tweaking the system we have today, we also have to ensure we do not embed implicitly or explicitly racist elements into these new systems, structures, practices, and behaviors. And, that starts with all of us recognizing the part we play in perpetuating the hard-coded inequities we see throughout our society.
Learner-centered education is a structure for unleashing the potential of young people—and the adults serving them—not only to contribute in the future but to contribute today. To ensure this potential is realized for children of color, we must collectively build our capacity to see how racism infects many of our current practices, views, and systems. And, put in the work needed to immunize the learner-centered system we are inventing. Without that lens, we will inadvertently (perhaps in the name of expediency) make the promise of learner-centered education for ALL young people, while in practice only making it available to some.