educational justice

If We’re Going to Be Home From Work, We Might as Well Make a Difference

Due to Covid-19, whether we want to or not, our work lives may have to be a whole lot closer to home. Those of us privileged enough to have work that can be done remotely will likely face long stints of working from home. 

There is a chance, albeit a stretch of finding the merest of silver linings, that this could bring about some good.

In our work, many of us fight for change.

Some fight for their patients in hospitals. Some fight for the rights of immigrants at the border. Some serve at their local food pantry. Some organize book drives. Some volunteer at soup kitchens. Some serve as mentors, troop leaders, big brothers or sisters. There is almost no end to the good deeds done by so many. 

In my community, these acts of goodwill and kindness are called Mitzvahs, and the person who does these Mitzvahs is a Mensch and there is no downplaying or underestimating the impact of these souls, these people who have taken it upon themselves to, in the face of oceans of injustice, cast their stones of change, making tiny ripples to change the world.

And yet, so often, those of us who work for justice and equity look outwards; we look to other communities to serve, overlooking the very injustices that live in our own neighborhoods.

There are likely many reasons for this.

Some might say it’s an act of self-protection, of preventing ourselves from seeing our own complicity in the injustices we like to think we are fighting against.

Others might say it’s a means of self-preservation; home is where we likely have to take care of our families, where we have to make dinner, support our spouses, ensure homework is done, laundry gets folded and refrigerators are stocked. For many of us adding yet another task is, understandably, one too many.

Arguably, if we really want to make change, if we really want to make tangible impacts on our world, then there is no more important place to focus our energies than right in our own backyards.

This is where commitment to hyper-local activism comes in. 

When I think about education in America, I’m often overcome with a sense of powerlessness and apathy. As an educator, I know that Black students are suspended at a rate three times greater than White students and that students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be suspended as non-disabled students.

Sometimes I can’t help but think, how can I possibly impact such a vast ocean of injustice

The answer? I can start local. I decided to give it a try by investigating what educational injustices exist in my small school district of just under 2,000 students in southern New Jersey.

I started digging into the data. It turns out that our town, a lovely progressive space outside of Philadelphia with a thriving cultural center, has disciplinary disparities greater than those in New Jersey, as well as national averages.

Whereas a White student has a roughly 4% chance of getting suspended from the local high school, a Black student has a 10% chance, a Latinx student has an 8% chance, and a student with a disability has a 20% chance.

This isn’t about casting blame, pointing fingers or accusation. We are Americans, and while it is not uniquely American to be saddled with implicit bias, it is inevitable.

It’s about our babies; all of our babies. It’s about living up to the morality of our words.

So we are taking action. Concerned parents have formed a Facebook group and partnered with local advocacy organizations. Parent representatives have reached out to—and received support from—local school board members and the superintendent to schedule meetings to identify disparities, solicit perspectives from students and families including the high school’s Black Student Union, listen to educators to get their perspectives, and then mobilize our local board of education to implement tangible, measurable and immediate change. 

Our goal is to have plan passed by May of this year. It’s another small stone, a tiny ripple in the sea.

But I think back on those passionate people who cast their stones, I think of the ripples we can all make, and I see the tidal wave of change that is coming.

Zachary Wright 
Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating ...

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