Setting new priorities for public education

Scholar Perspective

By |  Danielle Walker

Planting the Seeds of Liberation 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the very roots of the US educational system.  US education at its roots is traditional, rigid, and quite frankly designed for White students. Therefore, this system has become resistant and unwelcoming to change. As this paper presents, the pandemic forced the educational system to not only adapt to change, but also to embrace nimbleness and innovation and forced the US educational system to begin questioning its roots. As an emerging critical race scholar, I ask, can we now go further and pull up the roots of the educational system because they’re actually weeds? For those who garden, you know that nothing of substance can grow as long as invasive weeds remain. Many different educational reforms over the years have taken the approach of many novice gardeners, believing that if they simply cut the weeds or use a different type of weed killer, then they surely will not grow back. In this metaphor, the weeds are white supremacist ideology (Liu, et al, 2019), and the US educational system keeps utilizing, maybe intentionally so, different weed killers to only faux surprise when the weeds grow back. To clarify the metaphor, racism continues to grow back like weeds, stronger than ever, and this might be intentional. The pandemic has continually exposed the roots of racism in the educational system by showing the digital inequity occurring in primarily Black and Brown households, thus making learning at home a cozy extension of the educational inequity Black and Brown students were receiving in schools. But now these same students can receive the same inequity from the comfort of never leaving their bedroom.

The pandemic may present a rare and possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a reset button on the entire educational system. At the very least, the pandemic has educators seriously questioning the factors that allow these racist roots to grow deeper, factors like the validity of grades, standardized testing, and ultimately understanding about the purpose of school. I admit I am intoxicated by this idea – the idea of no more high-stakes testing in place of supporting students holistically as learners. As a scholar, all I dream about are emancipatory learning spaces for Black and Brown students where they can grow strong in the foundational roots of their ancestral lineage, to pave an even freer future. By pulling the White supremacist weeds of the educational system, we could make room to finally plant the seeds of liberation. However, I am quite concerned whether an exodus of weed-pulling could even occur—this opportunity could be lost. I am concerned that the lasting legacy of COVID-19 could exacerbate the achievement debt (Ladson-Billings, 2006) for generations to come. The lasting legacy of COVID-19 on these communities so far from the margins of white, privileged society, that might as well be considered in a galaxy far, far away, and COVID-19 has just added another “far.” As a scholar, I am terrified that the impact will be so vast that there may be no hope for redemption. Therefore, the injection of bold racial educational strategies must be prioritized now. But in order to begin pulling the weeds, educators are required to be brave and bold in starting anew with a pocket full of liberation seeds. As the brilliant Amanda Gold states,  “If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it” (2021).

References

Gorman, A. (2021). The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country. Viking Books for Young Readers. 

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in US schools. Educational researcher, 35(7), 3-12.

Liu, W. M., Liu, R. Z., Garrison, Y. L., Kim, J. Y. C., Chan, L., Ho, Y., & Yeung, C. W. (2019). Racial trauma, microaggressions, and becoming racially innocuous: The role of acculturation and White supremacist ideology. American Psychologist, 74(1), 143.

Brief Bio

Danielle Walker, activist, scholar, educator, full time white tears collector, Ferguson Forever