I recently reread James Baldwin’s 1963 “Talk to Teachers,” which inspired me when I was a high school teacher of History and African American Studies, and still resonates powerfully today. I am writing to update you on the work of the National Equity Project, as well as to inspire you (with Baldwin’s help) to support our work with a contribution this season.
Baldwin began his talk by recognizing that “we are living through a very dangerous time… a revolutionary situation, no matter how unpopular that word has become in this country.” The revolutionary potential of our moment is expressed in part by the Occupy movement, which has spread in a few short months from Wall Street to over 600 communities in the US and over 2,000 worldwide. Beyond the millions of direct participants, public approval has been widespread and far exceeds any single issue or established party: people want deep changes.
The Occupy movement echoes a desire to rediscover and remake our communities. Schools have been a site of this concern across the decades of education reform. School can be a place where we build a better world, not least by fostering students’ abilities to ask the right questions and to seek better answers.
As Baldwin reminds us:
“The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions…”
We bring this transformative vision of education to our work with partners across the country. Every day my staff encounter and nurture leadership for revolutionary change among principals, teachers, district staff, parents, and community partners. Everywhere we go, we meet educators who want to not only bring excluded students into the current system’s modes of success, but to change that system to better empower students to create their own futures.
I’m excited to share with you two stories of deep change and transformation.
Over the past three years, we have supported San Rafael City Schools to fulfill the goals of their district equity policy. As Superintendent Mike Watenpaugh described it, the district has long consisted “of two worlds – one white affluent, and one socioeconomically disadvantaged students of color – and never the twain shall meet.”
This divide was evident in widespread racial segregation and tracking of Latino students, greatly reducing access to rigorous courses. Through a multi-year equity initiative that we have supported every step of the way, district leaders have integrated classes, dramatically raised Latino and overall achievement, and changed the culture of the district.
I’d also like to share our work with the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program of San Mateo County. 25 veteran teachers who mentor hundreds of new teachers wanted to develop a more productive focus on equity, to help new teachers make a real difference in their classrooms. One middle school Algebra teacher describes how she and her coach created a more responsive, interactive classroom and raised student engagement and ownership in their work. In the end, her low-performing, low-income students of color achieved at the same level as her other students. She concluded that the National Equity Project work on equity “renewed my motivation for being in the classroom.”
We must deeply examine what we’re doing to foster equity in our schools. In today’s frantic state of budget cuts, constant crisis and catch-up, we can’t just go along with status quo approaches that ultimately make little impact on the experience and learning of our most vulnerable students. Our schools are the places where young people begin to create their future.
James Baldwin has a wonderful quotation about the need to step back, to really examine the ways we have been working, and renew our commitment and vision toward real change:
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Please consider a charitable gift in support of the National Equity Project this year. 100% of your tax-deductible contribution will support our work with hundreds of Bay Area teachers. We are proud to be a national leader for improving education and a 2010 “Top Nonprofit” honored by a panel of local experts through Philanthropedia.
Have a happy and safe holiday season, and thank you in advance for your generous support!
With warm regards,
LaShawn Routé Chatmon,