Hear the conversation about equity of education from these experts based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This podcast is part of the ADR Black-Jewish Dialogues and is the September back-school episode.
Ardena Garth Hicks: Education Activist
Ardena is a Hamilton County native and practicing attorney who is the 2020 Legal Aid Society Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. She is a member of the Hamilton County Partnership Network Board of Directors, appointed by TN Education Commissioner Candace McQueen. The Partnership’s charge is to “review the progress of the five schools in the Partnership Network- which have been deemed priority schools by the state…and make recommendations to the Hamilton County Board of Education and Network leadership to support students’ growth and development.”
She is President of Chattanooga Endeavors, Inc., a non-profit organization which advocates for the interests of citizens repatriating from incarceration. Ardena previously was Special Prosecutor for Child Abuse cases with the Hamilton County District Attorney’s office. She served as Hamilton County’s first elected District Public Defender from 1990 to 2014 (3 successive 8-year terms), having been appointed to the newly-created position by Gov. Ned McWherter in 1989. Ardena graduated as a Ooltewah HS valedictorian, earned her bachelor’s degree at Middle TN State U. and earned her Juris Doctor (JD) degree from the U. of Kansas.
Dr. Jill Keegan Levine: Education Administrator
Jill is the Chief of Innovation and Choice for Tennessee’s Hamilton County Schools, a district of over 45,000 students. Prior to this role, she served as the Chief of the Opportunity Zone, a learning community focused on turnaround of the twelve highest needs schools in the district, as well as serving previously as the Chief Academic Officer of the school district.
After graduating from Wellesley College with a double major in Music and History, Jill began her career teaching 3rd grade and directing musical theater productions in the New Orleans Public Schools. She was the principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet, a Chattanooga Pre-K through 8th grade school, for 14 years. She led the transformation of two low performing schools into award winning, innovative, exciting and challenging places of learning. In 2012, Jill was recognized as the National Magnet Schools Principals of the Year. From 2013-2015, she served in the Obama administration as the first full time Principal Ambassador Fellow at the US Department of Education. In that capacity, she worked closely with Secretary Arne Duncan to increase the department’s focus on the importance of school leadership.
As the debate rages on the extent of equity and social justice for all, two perspectives are emerging. On the one hand, the traditional school of thought represents people who believe that things are going well and that the system operates well based on their conception of equity and social justice for all. These traditionalists assert that our system is fair and that it works as it is supposed to do. They further claim that the system’s operation aligns with the founding fathers’ statements in the 1776 Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that their Creator endows them with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The National Association for Gifted Children (2020a) defines gifted children as those “who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude…or competence…in one or more domains.” Gifted programs exist to provide enrichment to the core curriculum and support these children in reaching their potential. Unfortunately, racial and ethnic minority students are regularly underrepresented in these programs, with the largest disparity being black students. It is both immoral and illegal not to educate a child on the low end of the special education spectrum. Why, then, do we not have the same moral imperative to help all intellectually gifted students reach their potential?
When I originally envisioned the cover design of my new book, VisuaLeadership: Leveraging the Power of Visual Thinking in Leadership and in Life, the image of the eye on the front cover was going to be blue. Not because I have blue eyes (mine are hazel) but, simply, because blue is my favorite color. And because it would align with the name and the brand of my leadership consulting company, BigBlueGumball.
However, just before officially committing to the blue eye, in the spirit of thinking outside the box I came up with the idea of, instead, using a rainbow-colored eye. This multicolored eye, I felt, better represented the concepts of diversity, inclusion, and belonging, as well as more colorfully foreshadowing the book’s emphasis on innovation and creativity.
Faculty and Leadership Positions, COVID-19, and Structural Disparities
Where Are the Allies?
The structural disparities linger within higher education and are influenced by long-standing patriarchal practices and ideologies. These inequalities can lead to a lack of diversity and inclusion of single-parent households and women. The problem has become salient given the current pandemic of COVID-19., which disproportionately affects women and single-parent households. Inflexible thinking and leadership practices in higher education have led to barriers to full inclusion of women in higher education positions that are exacerbated when women must choose between their career and their families. Current higher education leadership practices often disallow or acknowledge the right of women to exist in this space. Institutions are reluctant, and indeed refusing, to allow accommodations for staff, faculty, and students (allowing work from home, reducing attendance requirements, required on-campus hours). Administrations that are rife with patriarchal ideologies, with little or no understanding of the consequences of these archaic policies, seem to continue with business as usual.
‘Make It Count’ Event Commemorates Centennial of Women’s Right to Vote, Highlights Equity and Education
This year of 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of a remarkable shift in the women’s suffrage movement—the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which ensured a woman’s constitutional right to vote.
Perhaps the past Century will not be known for the World Wars, for the atom bomb, for the rapid growth of scientific technology leading to IT, nor for even the Holocaust and a new awareness of crimes against humanity. In the long eye of history, perhaps the past Century will be known for fatherlessness. As such it will also be known for “Atyahiány”, Our Father’s absence, a most bitter and embittering fatherlessness: For Hitler was fatherless, Stalin was fatherless, Sceuicescu, the tyrant of Romania, was a bastard, Sadam Hussein of Iraq had no father, the ruler of Libya, Khadaffi was fatherless, Castro was a bastard.
Education, particularly higher education, has become ground zero for the clash of inclusive diversity and robust speech.Many administrators and professors proclaim their support of both.So do I.Yes, they can co-exist.But there will be clashes, inevitably.Which means decisions, tough decisions, will have to be made.
In the wake of the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd, those decisions became more complex and more contentious.College leaders throughout the country proclaimed their horror about that Minneapolis event and vowed that their campuses would not only continue to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, but would also assert leadership in anti-racism.
Such anti-racist proclamations are needed.But what does that mean when it comes to action?What should college leaders do if members of their campus communities use their robust speech to express anti-equity ideas, particularly ones that are deemed to be racist?
Hear from our distinguished ADR advisors on what to expect and what is needed in education today. Their experience in education, diversity, and social justice makes their perspectives invaluable.
1.The current political, social and cultural climate calls for — in fact, demands —
the inclusion of ethnic, studies programs across disciplines and departments from k-12 as well as throughout higher education. Th
e same holds true for social justice and equity initiatives. Fierce resistance from right-wing politicians, state legislatures and a few other conservative segments of society notwithstanding, such issues, without question, more important now than ever.”
~ Dr. Elwood Watson: Professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State U. His specialties include Post World War II U.S. History, African American History, Gender Studies, and Popular Culture.
2. “It is our responsibility to teach in a way that reaches every child, regardless of background.” This quote by Clarice Clash of Tucson should resonate with us all. Ms Clash said this in response to one her team members telling her that “students aren’t arriving with necessary prerequisites to teach grade-level ELA standards.” I agree with Ms Clash and believe that the education system must now find a way to shift to meet the needs of all students.
After speaking with several educators from different regions in our nation, I discovered that many are planning to start private institutions where they can better focus more on the needs of not only the students, but also the family. This is challenging but they strongly believe that it can be done, and they are committed to this end.” ~ Dr. Gail Hayes: Thought Leader and Race Relations Consultant who is a Bridge between races, genders, generations, and political parties because of her ability to paint pictures with words that promote understanding.
3. “The most disadvantaged students under the pandemic regime of out of class learning are those with disabilities and those who are limited English proficient. Much has been made of the digital divide and the number and percent of students who don’t have access to broadband and good high speed Internet connections. While it is appropriate to focus attention on IT issues and the digital divide during the public school closures, there are measures that can be taken to deliver education in addition to using the Internet for laptops and desktops. These include maximizing education over mobile devices and gamification, especially since that’s how a great many young people today receive and transmit information and spend time, and since almost all households today have cellphones; using good old educational TV, since almost all households in the US have TVs; using traditional homeschooling methods; using old-fashioned lessons by mail; and using radio, as used to be done in rural America and in Australia. Some solutions are ready-made and available off the shelf, such as mobile device maximized foreign language education applications. The current crisis provides an opportunity to rethink some old-fashioned aspects of education, and substitute gamification. This is the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity. It encourages users to engage in desired behaviors by showing a path to mastery and by taking advantage of the psychological predisposition to engage in play games.
A problem that hasn’t been solved, and which technology isn’t going to solve, is the fact that about a third of K-12 students aren’t even bothering to log on to their school sites to participate in distance learning. This figure far exceeds the gap caused by the digital divide. There will probably be bad long-term consequences for student achievement due to the lack of imagination by educators. A bigger, different question is what are people learning under the pandemic. Some demonstrators are learning the virtues of mob rule as a form of civic participation. Overall, we should all be learning that life is contingent and that nature bats last. Students of public administration may be learning that lack of national leadership is extremely harmful. Business students may be learning that everything they learned in Econ 101 can be tossed into a cocked hat.” ~ Marc Brenman: Served as Executive Director of Washington State Human Rights Commission and held positions with the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Dept. of Education.
4. “Across the nation, governors, state education commissioners, school boards, and, reluctantly, teachers and parents are discussing and planning how to open schools.
I think, regardless of method of delivery, I know how schools will open.
With rage. And fear.
There has always been some amount of frustration in the schools — not understanding concepts, unhappy home life, school bullying, mean teacher, mean students, poor teaching, poor teaching/learning conditions — on the part of both teachers and students. And the
Imaginethat literally overnight, everyone in your profession all over the world was told that your work would have to be done very differently, totally online, starting the next day. No-one had preparation, many of the recipients of your work did not have devices, and many were traumatized by the change.In addition, many of the professionals, who were to be working from home, also were trying to deal with their family’s needs.
Welcome to the world of education today, where teachers, support personnel and administrators are creatively trying in new ways to meet the needs of so many.