I first encountered Paul Gorski at an event held by the University of Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley Consortium for Excellence and Equity (DVCEE). He joined the group that day to discuss his Equity Literacy framework, its principles, and the core abilities it cultivates in educators. I had anticipated a session that would help me deepen my knowledge of creating equitable learning environments, but what I hadn’t expected was to be directly confronted with inequity. I soon learned that confrontation is the first basic principle of the Equity Literacy framework:
The Direct Confrontation Principle: There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity. There is no path to racial equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism. “Equity” approaches that fail to directly confront inequity play a significant role in sustaining inequity.”
Paul took us through a Privilege Walk exercise, and, as I expected, I had taken many steps forward symbolizing my own particular level of privilege in society. In fact, most of the room had taken just as many steps forward or more. What surprised me was coming face-to-face with the few barriers I have experienced – I was the first in my family to attend college, there was a time in my life when I was on food stamps, I was bullied as a kid for being overweight. More barriers than some, far fewer than others. What I found transformative in that confrontation was, first, re-living the feelings of not belonging because of my own barriers and, second, confronting the question of
If I feel that way, what is the lived experience of someone who has to overcome exponentially more barriers than me?
And how can I possibly know what it’s like to deal with those barriers? The answer, of course, is that I couldn’t possibly know. What changed in me that day was that I became keenly aware that only I know my own lived experience, and, in turn, I can’t necessarily understand the barriers that others face, but I can learn to identify barriers and work to change how our educational systems and structures impact others – the first Ability fostered through the Equity Literacy framework:
First ability from the Equity Literacy Framework:
Ability to recognize even the subtlest biases, inequities, and oppressive ideologies
Equity literate educators:
- notice subtle bias in learning materials and classroom interactions;
- are curious about ways school policies and practices disadvantage some students in unintentional (or intentional) ways; and
- reject deficit ideology, or the view that outcome disparities (in test scores or graduation rates, for example) are caused by the cultures or mindsets of students of color, students experiencing poverty, or other students from marginalized communities.”
In short, learning about the Equity Literacy framework has transformed my mindset and how I approach my work. Creating equitable educational systems is not something to be checked off a list.
Equity is not an event.
Our outcomes for students will not change until we confront the underlying structures that create inequities.
I hope you can join us for Paul’s three session series beginning March 16th.
To learn more about Paul Gorski’s work, watch his November 2020 interview with Educational Leadership (EL)