COVID-19 blasted a spotlight on the inequities that exist within our education system.
School administrators and educators have been working tirelessly to figure out how to provide online curriculums to help students complete the year, while, at the same time, they are also trying to find a way to provide breakfast and lunch to students who would otherwise go hungry if it were not for free or reduced breakfast and lunch at school.
Hourly-wage working parents are devastated, trying to figure out how to take time off of work to provide care for their kids, while also trying to figure out the right environmental balance for their kids to take advantage of the online learning that the schools offer. In many cases, these parents do not even have WIFI and often rely upon the libraries that are now, sadly, closed.
These inequities existed way before COVID-19, as evidenced by the Ohio Department of Education’s discovery of a 15-year achievement gap that states that “Ohio’s education system is not effectively meeting the needs of students, such as African-American, Hispanic, English learners (EL), economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities.”
To solve this issue, the ODE states that the “path to equity begins with a deep understanding of the history of discrimination and bias and how it has come to impact current society.” The ODE is asking schools to look at the whole child and seek to understand their specific needs.
The only way to clearly understand where these needs exists for each child is for each school, each educator, each person to take time for a bit of introspection to understand the rights or benefits that they have been given either at birth or from someone, or that were earned over time, due to ACCESS to various opportunities.
Not everyone has been born into or given the same rights or benefits, nor have they been able to earn these benefits, in most cases, due to the lack of ACCESS to the same opportunities.
These rights or benefits are called privilege, and they afford us a certain amount of status and power. Some of us aren’t aware of the privileges we hold and the positive opportunities they have the potential to bring to us and to others. Sadly, in some cases, folks have felt alienation, separation, offense, and resentment when the word “privilege” is brought up.
Let’s localize this a bit:
Why do certain public schools get more money to educate a child than others?
Why doesn’t everyone have FREE WIFI to take advantage of online learning?
Why isn’t every classroom equipped with the right amount of resources to assist children who have special learning needs?
Why aren’t ALL educators required to undergo intensive social and emotional learning, unconscious bias, and trauma-sensitive practices learning, that have been proven to equip educators with the tools to effectively meet the needs of the whole child?
Why do we continuously administer standardized tests that are inherently known to be biased against certain groups of people?
Why are African-American students nearly four times as likely to be suspended from school as Caucasians, oftentimes for the same offense?
The list goes on.
With the onset of COVID-19, let’s all do our best to recognize and embrace the privileges that we hold, seek to understand others who do not have the same privileges, and become what I call “empathy archeologists,” and find ways to gift our privilege forward in a respectable, kind, dignified, and compassionate manner.
Here are steps for you to consider:
Recognize your privilege. Take this quick assessment if you are unclear as to the privileges that you hold.
Check your sphere of influence. This does not need to be a detailed assessment. This is just a high-level review, especially in light of COVID-19. The point of this exercise is to see others and recognize that some of us may have different starting points and privileges that we hold. Start by checking your colleagues, those you lead, your students, their parents, your neighbors, your immediate and extended family, especially the elderly, your interest or service groups, your church, synagogue, or spiritual place of worship, and other areas of your life.
Learn of their needs. Call, text, or video chat those in your sphere of influence and discover ways that you can learn and meet people, right where they are. Ask what they need. This will take intention and effort - to learn and meet people where they are, who may not be the same as you.
Gift your privilege forward - with respect, dignity, and compassion. Now that you’ve learned from someone, do you see ways that you can gift your privilege forward? No? Not to worry. This takes time. Don’t rush this. The only way you know what type of gift to give to someone is to learn and empathize with their pain points.
Being an empathy archeologist is essential if a person or family is quarantined or in social isolation due to COVID-19. We can all consider offering to drop food/drinks at the door of those who are quarantined, offer to help with yard work, run errands, or send books and games.
The bottom line is that when we ALL RISE and learn about our own privilege and what it affords us, when we seek to understand and become empathy archaeologists, we are able to see when a person is underprivileged - we can see the seemingly insurmountable number of closed doors and limited opportunities that they have to endure. And to someone who is underprivileged, it can feel exceedingly difficult to overcome.
I pray that we all do our very best to shift our privilege to become empathy archeologists, and be the change that we all should be.
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