Reflection of the Sept 27th Social Justice Committee meeting

I think we barely scratched the surface. But we did scratch.

Dr. Taylor, who says she was called Laura or ‘LT’ while at Urbana, followed her publicized agenda very thoroughly. I totally failed on naming the musical selections – I might have recognized one of them. One of the ladies at our table couldn’t stop dancing to most of them. 🙂

On “The Purpose of the Committee”, I am pretty sure Laura said that this will NOT be a committee. I had to grin at that. She talked briefly about some of her visions for this group, about how we are going to try engaging in “Courageous Conversations” (hat tip to Karen) and how we have to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. I very much appreciate her passion and vision for this.

We were divided into about 8 tables averaging about 4 or 5 each and Laura did not take long to give us our first group task; discuss the ground rules. For instance, our table talked about things like respecting each other, employing active listening, don’t take things personally, don’t dominate the conversation, have a thick skin and just be honest. Each table had an opportunity to relate to the whole some of these ground rules, which were complied by Angi Franklin (the designated notetaker). I am anxious to see that list posted on the website.

Although Laura never really attempted to define “Social Justice”, she did have us collaboratively come up with thoughts about the term “Ideology”. Several folks shared common ideas about belief systems; I wrote down “A framework for belief or world views”. She used this as a springboard to launch into the Big QuestionⓇ – Who defines what is ‘normal’? She passed out her “Circle of Ideology” (will link when I find it) and we spent a bit of time talking about this circle both as a larger group and in our smaller groups. Laura tried to make it clear that it was not her intent to judge the current system, but rather to observe. For instance, she started with the example of those that are “able bodied” versus those in wheelchairs or with hearing aids – think of how different our water fountains, entrances and signs would be if most of us were not able to walk and/or blind. According to the Ideology circle, the folks who sent the ‘norms’ are typically english-speaking, between 20 and 70 (which I thought was too large of a range), heterosexual, male, Caucasian and “rich, poor, educated” (which took a bit of explaining). As we were going through this, I started to think “well, the majority defines what is normal, right?” but then I saw not only is that not 100% accurate, it is also not the point even if it were. I think the point became that just because a ‘norm’ is defined as one way, it will inherently not be normal for some folks. And I think the point of Laura’s take on “Social Justice” is recognizing and acknowledging that ‘norms’ are not normal for everyone.

As we were getting close to the end, we held table discussions about “things we do that keep people from being involved”. In other words, what ‘normal’ things do we practice that automatically are inorganic to some folks? The example Laura gave was that of modern day graduation ceremonies, based on age-old traditions when rich white folks were the only ones going to school and graduating. Actually, I would probably go a lot further back in time. Some of the words used to describe such ceremonies (by participants) were “stuffy” and “boring” (my personal favorite). “Orderly”. At our table, the issue of clothing became a major topic – differences in brands may cloister those who cannot afford the big price tags, and reversely may lead to more violence thus exacerbating isolation. An example from another table really made my ears perk up. “Sometimes PTA can keep people from being involved.” Laura prompts “Who goes to PTAs?”. “Women. Caucasians”. Interesting, that.

I think one of the ladies are our table said “when kids feel engaged, they have more ownership over their own destiny.” If they are disengaged, they lose that sense of control and ownership. Would it not behoove ourselves to encourage and cultivate such engagement?

As we were wrapping up, the last thing was to fill out a survey form. One of the questions was something like “What can we do better?” Laura made a point to emphasize that they are going to “take this show on the road” and hit up Rose & Taylor on a Sunday and also hope to go out to Shadow Wood. So when I answered that survey question, I emphasized how the Social Justice Team really needs to not only go out to where people are, but they need to also ask what “they” (those the team is going out to) need and want. The Social Justice Committee cannot come up with solutions in a closed environment – they have to go out and find the questions first. I also observed “Look at who is not in this room; why are they not here?”

Overall I thought it went very well. I am excited about where this can go. Laura expressed that she was really hoping for more people, but the fact that she got about 40 or so is pretty good. “We start by starting.”

I fully hope that those of you who were there (don’t make me call you out 🙂 ) will speak up and share your own thoughts. Mine are but a small window, my own lens. I would really like to hear from those who did not appreciate the meeting tonight, or thought it could have gone a bit differently. I almost wish I could interview everyone.

Personal action items:

  • Connect with William Jones and 1) ask what he wasn’t able to make it and 2) if he is serious about doing this at Rose & Taylor. I believe Laura is ready to bring it.
  • follow-up with Ileana and folks at Shadow Wood about getting the Social Justice folks out there.

5 Responses to “Reflection of the Sept 27th Social Justice Committee meeting”

  1. Kim Bryan Says:

    I shared my thoughts with Dr. Taylor in an email, posted below…

    Dr. Taylor,

    I attended the meeting of the Social Justice Committee yesterday and I wanted to offer some thoughts. I am excited about this committee and what you are trying to accomplish for students and the community. However, I wanted to comment on a few issues that I noticed.

    First and foremost, when explaining who was in power to create dominant ideologies, you commented that you were not “ashamed” that you were able to provide your daughters with tutors. I believe this supports the dominant ideology that the US is a meritocracy. I have no doubt that you worked hard to earn your education and your position in the school district that provides you with the income necessary to give your daughters the advantages of having tutors. However, I think this overlooks the opportunities given to you that allowed you to accomplish those things. You explained some of your family history, commenting that you have a grandmother with a Master’s degree. It would be a safe bet to assume that your grandmother earned that degree at a period in time when other groups were prevented from attending college and earning degrees because of their skin color. Because your grandmother had that advantage at the expense of others, she was able to provide opportunities to her child, who was then able to provide opportunities to you, which you can now use to provide opportunities to your children.

    You are not alone is this circumstance. To explain my own situation, my grandparents were able to buy their first house using government programs for veterans that blatantly discriminated against people of color. They then used the equity from their first house to buy other houses that they owned as rental properties. When my mother was a single parent with four children, she was able to live in one of those houses rent free so that she could attend nursing school. This allowed her to obtain a comfortable income and gave me the opportunities provided by a middle class lifestyle. Furthermore, she has been able to help me financially over the years, which has allowed me to maintain those same opportunities for my children. So through the generations, our children are reaping the benefits that previous generations were granted at the expense of disadvantaged groups.

    This is how wealth is accumulated in certain segments of society. Wealth does not necessarily have to refer to inheritances and financial support, but also includes the opportunities that are provided by occupying certain locations in the hierarchical structure of society. Wealth accumulation by whites has been at the expense of others for all of our nation’s history. In this way, we can’t claim that we “earned” what we have based on our own hard work and determination. We did work hard, but we were in positions of opportunity that allowed us to accomplish those things. We were given these positions simply because of the status of our parents, not due to any of our own merit. For this, we should all be ashamed.

    In order to effectively have a conversation of social justice, we must look at both sides of the issue. We can not talk about the disadvantages of others without also talking about our own advantages. We must be able to recognize our own privilege and power, how we obtained it, and most importantly, what we are willing to give up. We can not give power and advantage to other groups with out being willing to relinquish some of our own. The school district must work within the financial constraints of its funding and budgets. We can not provide resources to disadvantaged groups in the schools without limiting the resources afforded to advantaged groups. We can not extend language services to support non-English speaking students without taking that money, time, and effort from some other area. We can not include more African-American students in gifted programs without limiting the number of white students in those programs. There is only so much to go around.

    Secondly, I think it is great that you want to reach out to underrepresented segments of the community. However, you should use caution in determining your goals of this community outreach. Our society is based on the belief that parents need to be involved in the schools and their children’s education to support acheivement. Our school systems are thus structured to encourage this involvement. However, other cultures do not hold this same view. Many cultures believe that educators know best how educate children and parents should not be involved. Trying to encourage parental involvement in these groups is then forcing our dominant ideology onto them. We must be careful not take to the approach that the failure of children in these groups to achieve is due to their lack of parental involvement. This only serves to define a lack of parental involvement as a deficit. Their failure to achieve is due to the disadvantaging structure of our school system, not their perceived shortcomings as parents, and we must be forthright about this. The emphasis should not be on “What can we do to help you help your child achieve,” but instead on “What can we do to help your child achieve.” We need their input to highlight the district’s deficits, not their perceived deficits. Furthermore, you didn’t mention trying to reach out to more teachers and staff in the district. I believe this is a group that plays a major role in educational outcomes of children. Ignoring this group ignores the role of administrative policy, teacher expectations, role expectations, and covert discrimination in educational outcomes. Examining the School Climate studies and the outcomes of the Consent Decree would serve us well to illustrate the structural forces in the district that affect achievement.

    Finally, I am disappointed the you will not examine data to educate and guide the committee. While I understand your idea that “We know its a problem, we don’t need to see the data,” I think that examining data puts the problems in greater perspective. It is one thing to point out that students with limited English proficiency graduate at much lower rates than other students, but it is completely different to state that the Champaign district only graduates 27.6% of those LEP students. It is one thing to point out that African-American students don’t read as well as white students, but it is different to state that 85.8% of white 4th graders in the district meet or exceed state standards in reading, while only 41.4% of African-American 4th graders do. It is one thing to point out that African-American students are disciplined more than white students, but it is different to state that African-American students comprise only 32% of the student body, but account for 75% of suspensions in the district. The statistics highlight the magnitude of these problems. Data can serve to guide and direct the committee to recognize areas of concern that may be overlooked otherwise (as can be shown by the School Climate studies), as well as prioritize the areas of greatest need.

    Thank you for your time and consideration on these matters. I look forward to attending future meetings and playing a role in bringing greater social justice to the students in Champaign.


    Kim Bryan

  2. Karen Says:

    Many thoughts, observations, etc., but, not a lot of time. A couple of questions come to mind…

    (1) What kind of system of government would be able to implement social justice?

    (2) How have (most) people fared under governments that tried to implement social justice?

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    Here are the “notes” as posted on the Unit 4 newly minted Social Justice Committee webpage.

  4. Review of the Oct 8th Board Retreat: the conundrum of public education « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] Justice Wheel“. This is the same wheel that was used for the Social Justice Committee (Sept 27th); in fact, Dr. Taylor even divided the room between those who already started that conversation so […]

  5. charlesdschultz Says:

    @Kim – did you ever hear back from Dr. Taylor?

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