THE HUB - Feature Article

  • Changing Mindsets about Acceptance, Inclusion

    Posted by Melvin Edwards on 4/17/2018

    Linda Brown’s death on March 25 was marked quietly, with brief mentions on newscasts and social media. And though she lived the majority of her seven-plus decades out of the spotlight, the impact of her life as an agent of change was enormous.

    As a third-grader, Brown became the face of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” schools as unconstitutional. As an adult a quarter century later, Brown battled the same Topeka, Kansas, school system on the same desegregation issue.

    Brown’s fight, like so many that came after her, essentially boiled down to two words: acceptance and inclusion. It is beyond tragic that nearly 65 years after the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, we remain largely societally blind and deaf to these two ideals. For all of the advancements we have made both in our schools and in our communities, we continue to be hindered by the lack of respect for and support of diversity.

    Schools, of course, are reflections of the societies in which they exist. They are not immune from the outside influences that dominate the lives of children. So when national, statewide, and local conversations and actions contain hate-filled rhetoric, we should not be surprised that students mimic those same thought and behavior patterns. When one considers that students spend about 19 percent of their week in our schools and 81 percent in homes and communities, we should also not be surprised that similar conversations find their way into our classrooms and hallways.

    As a society, we should expect that our school system will do everything it can with the time we have – about 6½ hours each day – to instill in our students those ideals of acceptance and inclusion, even when they are lacking outside our schoolhouse doors. That work is crucial to our efforts to eliminate achievement, discipline, and opportunity gaps.

    A key part of that work comes with our staff on issues such as implicit bias and equitable practices. The professional development we continue to provide is aimed at enabling staff members to first understand where they are in terms of cultural competency and awareness and then to understand they have more in common with each other than they realize. That awareness is crucial to helping students understand the same thing.

    We continue to train staff members on restorative practices so that they can help students who violate our Code of Student Conduct understand the ramifications of their actions and strengthen relationships both inside and outside of the schoolhouse. While we must condemn actions that betray the standards that have been set, we must never condemn children.

    Our Equity Advisory Committee, which has been meeting since 2005, continues to do so monthly. The group examines data and discusses other issues related to providing every child with the support he or she needs to be successful.

    Our students take part in advisory lessons each fall that focus on building character, community, and a positive school culture. We are looking to expand those efforts next school year so that we can better assist students in interacting with each other in school.

    There is no single ingredient in the successful recipe to shift mindsets when it comes to acceptance and inclusion. There also is no one party – be it a school system, an organization, a governmental agency, a community or faith-based group, or an individual – that can tackle this issue alone.

    Just as “all means all” when it comes to the education of our children, all must mean all when it comes to those involved in helping our county eradicate discriminatory behaviors and attitudes.

    The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@aacps.org.

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