Implicit bias is killing people. In Dallas, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Orlando, Cleveland, and so many other places.
We must understand why people disregard other people’s lives, and, importantly, we must address the underlying causes and work to bring about change.
Our public education system can play a central role in bringing forth necessary, fundamental, and widespread change. Thankfully, in this painful moment in our nation’s history, some schools have become beacons of hope.
One is the Arts & College Preparatory Academy (ACPA), a public charter school in Columbus, Ohio. (Full disclosure: My daughter graduated from ACPA last summer.)
Fifteen years ago, Patricia “GG” Howard, a teacher herself, grew increasingly distressed by the diminishing light in her once bright and creative daughter. Classmates were cruel to her because she was “different.” GG couldn’t get school administrators to change their thinking that cruel treatment was an adolescent rite of passage and that it wasn’t the school’s mission or responsibility to make students be nice to one another. “The law of the jungle” in school reflected the world students would face as adults.
GG thought it didn’t have to be this way. She believed that how we choose to treat each other matters and that our public education system has a responsibility to teach students to treat others with respect and dignity. She set about to create a school centered on inclusiveness – a safe place for marginalized kids and those wanting to challenge racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and any kind of “otherness.” The school’s simple mission? “Be Kind.”
Today, a wildly diverse student body – 50% multiracial/minorities, 50% low-income, nearly 40% LGBTQA* (including 15% transgender/gender fluid), with half from Columbus City Schools and half from thirty other districts – attends one of the highest performing schools in the state. Courses are taught through a social justice prism, and students bring their messages to the community through music, art, activism, and social justice theater.
ACPA posits that prejudging a person because they fit some group with supposed attributes is wrong. ACPA kids say not judging people or being judged is pretty liberating. ACPA also believes that those in power determine the narrative of history, and this in turn affects people’s implicit biases. ACPA’s curriculum elevates the experiences of all lives, and breaks the code of silence that power perpetuates by having intentional conversations about race, gender, sexual preference, income, religion and other differences. In ACPA, the sharing of personal experiences brings understanding and mitigates differences. Every opportunity to build bridges with varied social and cultural environments is tenaciously pursued.
ACPA is one of those many instances where the federal government provided key support for a vital and effective local initiative. A 2013 USDOE dissemination grant enabled ACPA to create “Voice” to share their practices with other school administrators, teachers and students interested in creating and maintaining a climate of mutual respect and safety. ACPA’s efforts directly align with and inform the USDOE initiative to promote safe, supportive, and fair learning environments through #ReThink Discipline. The initiative includes online school climate resources, and complements the Stronger Together School Diversity Act contained in President Obama’s FY 2017 budget to fund schools that want to foster socioeconomic diversity,
Now’s the time to channel our pain and seize the moment. Let’s turn the devastating events of last week and beyond – from Dallas and Orlando to cities nationwide – into a focus on our common humanity and make our nation kinder, and as a result, safer. Let’s make it clear that the purpose of education is not only to impart skills, but also to teach young people to see others through eyes of compassion, and to understand that being kind to one another is the highest goal.
* Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transsexual, Questioning or an Ally
“The stakes are clear. And these stakes are high: At the end of the day, what kind of society do we want to have? What kind of country do we want to be? It’s not enough to celebrate the ideals that we’re built on — liberty for all, and justice for all and equality for all. Those can’t just be words on paper. The work of every generation is to make those ideals mean something concrete in the lives of our children — all of our children.”
– President Barack Obama.
Remarks by the President at the
Launch of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, May 4, 2015