As the school year begins, I’d like to pose a question: What would be a good topic for an article about education in Sonoma Valley in 2019-2020? One possibility could be “The Year of Results.” Yes, I believe that all the parents, the teachers, the community and, above all, the students are ready to begin to see results.
It’s a question of both logic and justice. When we speak of educational justice, do we really know what that means, and what it entails? Are we aware that educational justice is a right? Are we aware that as a society it is our obligation to guarantee every student an education that is excellent, inclusive, and equitable? Yes, that’s right, this includes the minority groups of people of color, people in poverty, and people with different orientations and preferences.
When we talk about inclusive education, do we understand that we are talking about social justice, human rights, and ethics? That’s the educational social justice that for so many years has been featured in the narrative about education in this small town, but only for the purpose of fund-raising.
The commitment for all children to receive an excellent, inclusive, and equitable education has remained in limbo, an illusion. The reality is that in order to get this education for their children, which is their right, many families have had to turn to the courts, or send their children to private schools, or to schools out of the Sonoma Valley Unified District.
And those families who, for poverty and lack of resources, stay in the District, watch their children get lost for lack of the help they need. This is not social justice, this is not inclusive education.
Educational justice is based on acceptance of the need for, and working to achieve, a just community. As César Chávez said, “We need to help parents and students appreciate and preserve the cultural and ethnic diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.” We must demand an education in which not only the students but all the teaching staff, the administrators, the parents and the school board recognize the need for a structural change.
When we are not just, we are unjust, and then we are talking about oppressors and oppressed. You and I are oppressors when we do not take responsibility for the suffering of others, when we commit injustices, when we tell a family that their son or daughter doesn’t have the ability, or we deny them resources. When we don’t offer resources and support, when I label, when I put up barriers or don’t eliminate them, when I don’t allow all children to participate, when I segregate, when I make people invisible, when I am prejudiced. But above all, I am an oppressor daily when I accept injustice as something normal.
Fifteen years into the current educational system, the community began to notice that something wasn’t right, that the end-of-year results weren’t falling into place. The schools located in primarily poor neighborhoods, or with a high percentage of Latinos, kept showing results way below “normal.” Why? This question was the “trampoline” that led some parents and their allies to question the way the educational system was guiding the education of our students. The spell was broken about five years ago with the departure of the long-term superintendent, followed by a nondescript interim period, and then the arrival of our current superintendent, Socorro Shiels.
Since her arrival, district staff and employees – from the Special Education department, from Human Resources, principals, teachers, and parents and board members – have come and gone. It all seems so fast and chaotic that we don’t even have a chance to react. Changes are neither good nor bad. They are opportunities. Logic tells us that this is the moment to learn from the past. To reflect on what is in practice, on what it is that we want, and what is needed.
Let’s reflect on the barriers and on the supports; on the urgency and on the opportunities. Let’s reflect on justice and injustice, because only then, only when we do, will we be able to achieve an education that is excellent, inclusive, and equitable for all of the students.
Because as the great Eduardo Galeano [Uruguayan writer, philosopher and social advocate] says, “We shouldn’t have to speak of ‘inclusive education,” we should be speaking of Education in caps; because when I add the adjective ‘inclusive’ to the word ‘education,’ it means that previously I have been segregating and now I have to include.”
It’s only logical that we have to be able to make every one of our students shine; that we can illuminate them and let them illuminate us.
It’s time to get results! It is urgent, for those children whose time will not come again.