I am a 2014 Teach For America corps member. In the fall I will be teaching Special education in Atlanta, Georgia. Last weekend I had the privilege to attend the Metro-Atlanta: Justice Journey. The journey was held by Teach For America’s Atlanta region as a way to provide corps members vital connections with staff, community members, and to also engage in much needed dialogues about the mission and work of Teach For America.
To provide a brief background on Teach For America: Teach For America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach in low income areas for at least two years in the United States” (Teachforamerica.org).
To sum up this experience I will have to say it was very eye opening! As a future educator and policy maker I can admit that I have a lot to learn and hard work ahead of me. Our education system, in my opinion, is not near where it should be. Through deep discussions and dialogues from this weekend I can conclude one thing; our education system was never fair from the start, especially for minority and lower income students. This may be a very strong statement, but I am unapologetic because it is nothing shy of the truth.
One of the discussions my colleagues and I had this weekend was on the history of public education in America. One of the key things that stuck out to me from this discussion was the fact that continuously throughout history, schools; mainly public schools were intended to mold students, especially minority and/or poor students, into who society or America thought they should be.
For example, in 1851 the state of Massachusetts passed its first compulsory education law. The purpose of the law was to ensure that the children of poor immigrants became civilized and learn obedience, in order to be good workers. In order to fulfill this purpose the state decided to send the children to school.
Another example is the Indian boarding school movement. This movement, which happened after the Civil War era, was created based on the belief that Indian children would become “just like other citizens” or in other words, White America, if they attended boarding schools away from their families. They used the principle “Kill the Indian, save the man”. Finally, I’m sure we are all aware of the many trails and tribulations African-Americans faced in the American school systems. If not, maybe “Separate but equal” schools for African Americans will ring a bell.
Based on the examples above, dialogues not mentioned, and many books, I am confident to say that our education system has not been fair to all students and even today it continues to be unfair. Our school systems have always focused on how to transform students into what society feels is “obedient and civilized”. A question that constantly crossed my mind during this discussion and throughout the weekend, is when will our students get the opportunity to decide what they want from the American school system?
A major part of the justice journey focused on African-Americans and where we are in the world of academics. As a part of the journey I had the pleasure of attending the Educational Excellence for African Americans: Black Male Summit at Morehouse College. This summit was in collaboration with the White House and Ebony magazine. The purpose was to come together and discuss the quality of education black youth receive in America and some issues they face.
One of the key things mentioned by the panel (who were all key figures of the Atlanta School District) was the discussion on the need of help from the community in order to help enhance our youth’s educational experiences. I agree. I also believe that there has to be a balance. Yes, parents and the community play a pivotal role in student’s education but so do resources and policies that are in favor of, rather than hinder our student’s success. In order for there to be change there has to be more than teachers and parents working to solve the issue of educational inequity in this country.
To conclude, the weekend was great. And I was deeply moved by one particular quote by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which sums up the majority of my experience:
We all may have come in on different ships but we are all in the same boat now”
As a future educator and advocate of educational equity, this experience has really humbled me. I understand now that our students don’t need saviors, or to be saved. They need people who are willing to fight to make sure they can excel academically in every school setting. They need people who will understand them and not label them as a statistic. They need people who will teach them but also learn with and from them. I will only be a part of the solution, not the solution.
University of Florida, Class of 2014
Bachelors in Early Childhood and Special Education
2014 Teach For America Corps Member (Atlanta, Georgia)
If you are also interested in sharing an educational experience that you have had, whether you are a teacher, principal, or community member who is passionate about education, I want to hear from you. We all have a voice, a voice that is sometimes not heard. So submit your experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured here. Once again, thank you to Brittney Williams for her willingness to share with us, and we wish her the best of luck and success as she enters her term as a TFA corps member in Atlanta, Georgia. We look forward to her future successes and the work she will contribute to the cause of educational equity.