Tuesday Reading List: Authentic Leadership, Discrimination, and Rural Schools

Earlier this week, Brittany Packnett, a co-founder of We the Protestors and Campaign Zero, interviewed Layla Avila and Sharhonda Bossier, the two staff leaders of Education Leaders of Color:

Brittany: Why do you think people of color have a unique role to play?

Sharhonda: I think that people who share the backgrounds and experiences of the communities we serve are uniquely positioned to be champions for our kids and to help bridge divides. I grew up in Watts and attended a high school that had a 60 percent graduation rate. I know what it’s like to know when the best option in your community isn’t setting you up for success. Through my work, I’ve also seen what’s possible in communities like the one in which I grew up ...

Layla: Many of us grew up and live in the communities at the center of efforts to improve education. So this work is at our core and keeps us grounded. That doesn’t mean only people color of can do this work. But our experiences give us insights into the needs of our students, their social and emotional needs, and the trauma they may be bringing to school.

Leaders who share the experiences of the communities they hope to serve are more likely to understand the root problems, and therefore will be positioned to find stronger solutions. While this seems intuitive, educators in both traditional and innovative spaces struggle with this concept. Predictably, the haters of education progress want to stop this kind of authentic representation, because it will challenge their orthodoxy.

Speaking of ingrained beliefs, Alan Noble of The Atlantic looks at religious higher education institutions that prevent same-sex relationships on campus:

Certain private religious institutions are legally allowed to maintain these policies, which might mean they refuse to hire faculty in same-sex relationships or deny housing for married same-sex students. Many of these schools accept tuition in the form of federal and state grants and loans. That’s led critics, including the Human Rights Campaign, Campus Pride, and some LGBT students, to see these exemptions as discrimination hidden behind religion—and even worse, government-subsidized discrimination. Students whose expression of sexual or gender identity conflicts with their campus’s conduct code face a difficult and often painful situation. They may reconsider their place at the university, their faith, their relationships, and their future. Fears of expulsion and shame may prevent these students from talking openly to school officials, which leaves them vulnerable to abuse and lacking adequate community support.

The author of the piece wants to find a middle ground, but I disagree. When private institutions can discriminate based on sexual orientation, we open the floodgates to myriad other kinds of discrimination. "Religious freedom" should not be used as a cudgel to enforce discrimination.

In other news, John Deasey, the former superintendent of the Los Angeles public schools, writes an open letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates wherein he explains his new venture, to help find alternatives to youth incarceration:

... my last promise is to use the next phase of my career to champion juvenile redemption, and to help promote alternatives to juvenile incarceration. Since my graduation from college, I have witnessed every conceivable policy and practice for dealing with youth discipline. What remains crystal clear in my opinion and experience is that nearly all forms are devoid of the essential experience of redemption. I will use my strength and privilege to establish alternatives to mass juvenile incarceration that are designed instead to be fully redemptive; to eliminate recidivism. There are, of course, consequences to breaking the law, and yet, there are few, if any, ‘programs’ that fundamentally lead to non-recidivism.

Deasey wrestles with the role of white leadership in racial justice, reparations, education, and justice in this letter, all topics that should resonate for regular readers here, so be sure to check it out.

Finally, Alan Richard at the Hechinger Report looks at a rural school district that has been the beneficiary of the Obama administration's education policies:

President Obama’s signature education policies such as Race to the Top and the expanded School Improvement Grant program to turn around low-performing schools didn’t always reach places like Dillon and Southern communities like it, however, where schools face the triple problems of poverty, a legacy of racial segregation and distance from jobs and resources that could help uplift the community. “The challenges in rural communities are very real—funding, teacher recruitment and retention, access to technology, poverty, ever-changing expectations, and professional development and support,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. told The Hechinger Report. “These issues, though national, are often felt first, deepest and longest in rural schools" ... Not only is the middle school new, but the high school graduation rate has soared from 57 percent to 91 percent in four years. Still, just half of Dillon’s new graduates enroll in two- or four-year college, compared with 70 percent statewide.

It seems appropriate to do at least some modest celebrating, even though this is just one place, and there's a long way to go. Richard examines what worked and didn't in the district, and he also asks whether there's more that the federal government can do for rural schools. Many of us who work on issues of concentrated urban poverty are clueless when it comes to rural schooling, so I encourage everyone to give this a deep read. Have a great day!