Open Letter: We support Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Efforts in Whatcom County Schools (July 2021)
We support the challenging and necessary work educators in Whatcom County public schools are pursuing to ensure that each of our students has access to an equitable K-12 educational experience that builds a future where we all belong. Education should include the examination of all subject matter through a variety of perspectives, including an anti-racist lens; as author Austin Channing Brown states, “The work of anti-racism is becoming a better human to other humans.”
A basic tenet of an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) framework is to reduce inequities and increase academic, social and cultural opportunities for all. Examining systems and issues with an anti-racist lens is a part of the work of EDI. Our country and its systems were set up in a way that empowered, economically advantaged, and advanced white people at the expense of people of color. These generational repercussions can be healed. However, truth and reconciliation are sequential: we must first recognize and teach these truths, before we can heal.
When educators utilize an EDI lens, the imbalances of power within the education system are acknowledged. In response, children are given a developmentally appropriate framework to address these imbalances, and are subsequently invited to take action toward creating a more just, kind and less divisive society.
In contrast to forums where racial discourse is often used to divide, EDI frameworks in the school system that create space for conversations around race are carefully designed to be inclusive, not divisive. This work is centered first and foremost around principles that should be priorities for our whole community: loving, seeing, and valuing students for their unique identities. Representation is powerful. When students see themselves reflected in the school staff and in the curriculum, it validates their lived experience and supports and improves mental health, relationships with peers and teachers, engagement in learning, and academic performance. No student should feel less capable, worthy, or recognized because of their race, cultural heritage, religion, or gender. This is the work that falls within EDI efforts in schools.
Our children deserve to know the diverse histories, stories and legacies of all the people that make up our community, our state and our nation. They deserve to have deep discussions that enable them to see one another’s humanity and learn how to work together to overcome inequities. When the curricula erase or omit varied perspectives and certain historical events, this de-values already marginalized students and underestimates the analytical thinking of those students whose identities are already centered. Normalizing conversations around race and identity in schools is a key step in reconciling systemic racism in our country, and moves us all toward an anti-racist future.
Sharing true, often overlooked and diverse histories, contributions, and perspectives is necessary to broaden the lens beyond our conventional white-centered narratives. This can empower our youth to use these truths to do better and be better moving forward. In fact, it can even provide an avenue for white students to direct their intellectual energy in a constructive way to affect change as they begin to recognize systemic issues and realize that learning about them is one of the first steps to dismantling them. In this way, EDI work benefits and empowers all students.
Decades of research shows the myriad of ways our educational system does not serve Black, Brown, Indigenous and other marginalized students. This is shown through data on (including, but not limited to) disciplinary referrals, individual grades, high school completion and attrition rates, standardized test scores, and further, economic opportunities in life beyond high school. In Bellingham Public Schools (in 2018-2019) 52% of white students met the math standards compared to 19% of Black/African American students. In the Meridian School District, 92.4% of white students graduated in four years in 2020, compared to 71.4% of students identifying as Hispanic/Latino of any race. In Washington State, 69.8% of Alaska Native/American Indian students graduated in four years in 2020, compared to 84.7% of their white counterparts. In Washington State during the 2019-20 school year, 86.8% of teachers were white.
When teachers re-envision their curriculum within an EDI framework to include multiple perspectives and honor various ways of thinking, the full humanity of our students is acknowledged. In this way, we truly acknowledge, as stated in a letter directed to Bellingham Schools critiquing their EDI work, that “all children add value to the community and all children should be treated with dignity and respect.” EDI is one of the key strategies of the “Bellingham Promise;” it complements the sentiment that “all children should be loved” and explores what love looks like in action as a public policy priority. We support this strategy, and other formal and informal EDI initiatives at any Whatcom County public school.
In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us form “coalitions of conscience” in the pursuit of a more equitable, just and kind world, where we work together to undo systems of racism and disregard the voices that tell us we are each other’s enemies.
This letter is co-authored by the Whatcom Coalition for Anti-Racist Education (Whatcom CARE | whatcomcare.org) and the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force (WHRTF | whrtf.org).
- If your teacher looks like you, you may do better in school: https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/09/29/552929074/if-your-teacher-looks-likes-you-you-may-do-better-in-school
- The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies https://nau.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/170/2018/08/NEA-Ethnic-Studies-ek.pdf
- Why White Students need Multicultural and Social Justice Education: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/white-students-multicultural-ed/
- See examples of such research below, under ‘Further Reading’.
- Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Report Card https://washingtonstatereportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/
- Open letter from Parents Expresses Local Education Concerns: https://www.thefourthcorner.com/open-letter-from-parents-expresses-local-education-concerns/
- The Bellingham Promise: https://bellinghamschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/TheBellinghamPromise.pdf
Battey, Dan; Leyva, Luis. (2016). A Framework for Understanding Whiteness in
Mathematics Education (EJ1124962). ERIC. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1124962.pdf
Cahape, Patricia, Ed.; Howley, Craig B., Ed. (1992). Indian Nations At Risk:
Listening to the People. Summaries of Papers Commissioned by the Indian
Nations At Risk Task Force of the U.S. Department of Education (ED339588).
Darling-Hammond, Linda. (1998, March 1). Unequal Opportunity: Race and
Education. Brookings Institution. Retrieved July 2, 2021 from https://www.brookings.edu/articles/unequal-opportunity-race-and-education.
From Where the Sun Rises: Addressing the Educational Achievement of Native
American Students in Washington State (Section 2). (2008, December 30). Clearinghouse on Native Teaching and Learning. Retrieved July 1, 2021 from https://education.wsu.edu/documents/2015/08/native-american-achievement-gap-report.pdf/#page21
George, Janel. (2021, January 12). A Lesson on Critical Race Theory. American Bar
Association. Retrieved July 2, 2021 from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/civil-rights-reimagining-policing/a-lesson-on-critical-race-theory/
Kozol, Jonathan. (1991). Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools.
The Mathematics of Inequality. (2017, October 25). Education Development
Center. Retrieved July 2, 2021 from
Sablich, Liz. (2016, June 6). 7 Findings that illustrate racial disparities in
education. Brown Center Chalkboard. Brookings Institution. Retrieved July
2, 2021 from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2016/06/06/7-findings-that-illustrate-racial-disparities-in-education/
You must be logged in to post a comment.