Pit Stop: Where are We and Where are We Going?

Hey all! Welcome back to my pink room. Grab a seat, get comfortable, we might be here for a little while.

Today we are continuing on with another installment of our “Schooling and Roots” series. In this particular post, we hope to do two things: (1) Take a moment to reflect and contextualize what we have actually discovered thus far and (2) introduce a possible gap or contradiction between a schooling plan and schooling practice. Next time, I will share a personal story that I hope will highlight the sometimes hefty costs one can suffer at the expense of a gulf between empathic schooling in theory and in practice.

But before we jump into the good stuff let’s get a little bit of logistics out of the way. First, if you haven’t already definitely go check out the last post in this series, entitled “A School of our Own Making” to refresh your memory before reading on. Second, if you are completely new to my pink room:

  1. Welcome! Very happy to have you here
  2. If you enjoy our time together today, definitely click “follow” at the end of any of the main pages and you will find that my pink room has traveled right into your inbox
  3. We are currently exploring a multi-part series together and for context it may be best to start with the first post of this series “COVID and Our Roots” but you can also check out “A School of our Own Making” mentioned above to get a brief overview of the series thus far.

Okay enough with logistics, let’s jump in…

I want to first give a little reminder/ disclaimer. I am not an expert by any means when it comes to making sense of schooling decisions, culture or praxis in Pink Valley. I have spent nearly 9 months watching carefully and theorizing about what each decision ought to mean or not. At same time, everything that we uncover in these chats, I am discovering alongside you. So we might make some mistakes or wrong turns along the way but bear with me and feel free to always send me your thoughts, ideas or discoveries.

Last month we introduced the first documented iteration of pandemic schooling in Pink Valley. And we noted something kind of surprising, Pink Valley’s first pandemic schooling plan appeared on first glance to embody the kind institutional empathy we have now talked about at length. So why is this surprising? Well, maybe it’s not necessarily as surprising to you as it was to me. But regardless, I thought it best that we spend the bulk of our time together today to try and put into context what exactly it appears we have discovered.

We started this entire series with the premise that the decisions we make at both an institutional and personal level during COVID actually can tell us something about what we deem as most valuable within our lives and the institutions in which we operate. If true, then during COVID, we have been presented with a kind of unique opportunity to uncover or expose the roots or better said the practices, beliefs, and values deemed “essential” in an institution. We can do this by paying close attention to the decisions folks have made and will make in regards to that same institution. We then zoomed in on one institution in particular, Pink Valley K-12 Public Schools. From there, we have suggested that the way that the Pink Valley School District will chose “to do” pandemic schooling can gives us enormous insight on the values or assumptions that undergird schooling in Pink Valley.

Before continuing, let’s take another moment to consider what I kind have otherwise left under the rug in our investigation thus far. When I say Pink Valley’s values what do I actually mean? Whose values? Whose assumptions? There are likely three possible approaches to this question when trying to determine who we are really talking about when we say “Pink Valley”. That is parents, teachers or administrators. In our discussion, for the most part we have been engaging this conversation almost strictly from the perspective of the district administration. The decisions they can make, the decisions they didn’t make, the decisions they never consider making and decisions they possibly will make. And this is indeed a strategic decision I have decided to make because I believe it is ultimately administrators who have the responsibility to do the work to shape and direct a specific institutional culture.

However, I do not believe or wish to imply that these values which we hope to expose can be solely located in the minds or even the administration culture. I will say, that it is perhaps the easiest to see the assumptions or values that might be interwoven in an institution by watching the dance administrators will feel that they must play in order to take a path most ” desired” within the context of their specific districts. Yet, I actually believe that institutional truths and idealogical understandings or frames of reference actually can exist without being specifically or explicitly held by any particular group. In our case this means, when I say “Pink Valley‘s values” I am not making reference in particular to the opinions or beliefs of parents, teachers or administrators. I am instead trying to expose in someways what can feel like a shape shifting and slightly esoteric set of idealogical understandings that when revealed can make sense of what is “common sense” in Pink Valley schooling.

So that then brings us back to this first iteration of Pink Valley pandemic schooling. This is where it gets kind of interesting. Last month, I claimed that this initial schooling plan appeared to orient itself specifically towards its most marginalized students, i.e Black dis/abled poor students. So given the logic we just laid out above, this would also mean we should be able to conclude that Pink Valley District deems the protection of its most marginalized students to be core in its schooling praxis.

If you have been following along this conclusion should feel strange to you or perhaps out of place especially given my personal anecdotes of my own schooling experience and also my brother’s. But notice this discomfort actually goes one step further. If it were true that Pink Valley has been invested in a vision of schooling that actively protects its most vulnerable then we shouldn’t or couldn’t locate the vast disparity in educational success let’s say on average between our Black dis/abled poor students and white “abled” wealthy students in the structure of schooling itself.

What does this mean? Well, at first glance it means that at least in the context of Pink Valley schooling, contrary to the scholarship of many critical theorists focused on education, we should think the problems that dominant the ‘equity’ conversation are actually irrelevant to schooling praxis but rather more about the teachers or the students themselves. That is the historical and present disparaging experiences and outcomes between our Black dis/abled poor students and white “abled” wealthy students either is on account of specific “bad” teachers or “bad” students.

If you are scratching your head about now, you should…

This conclusion feels not only wrong but incredibly harmful. It is this kind of conclusion that has honestly has led to a lot of “blaming the victim” mentality in school reform or just public schooling conversations in general. But this is exactly where this question of theory and practice becomes so important. It is one thing to write a schooling plan that orients itself towards the most marginalized it is another thing to implement that plan with that same orientation. What I mean by that is this: the discrepancies between a theoretical plan and its practice are incredibly telling especially in our case. How a plan is enforced is as much of a decision as the creation of the plan itself. That means our district administrators chose how and if to hold its teachers, staff and building administration accountable to their schooling plan. They also chose how to present and publicize paths for students and families to hold their teachers accountable to that schooling plan.

And this exactly where we find ourselves. We are talking about a schooling plan that was created in March 2020 and was completely jettisoned by September 2020. And there comes that pesky why again? Why would a plan that we have claimed actively includes and protects our most marginalized students in school be thrown out? Well, I will tell you why… it is because the first plan was agreed upon at some level by teachers, parents, and administrators alike to not really be what school is or at least ought to be in Pink Valley. It protected the wrong persons and promoted the wrong values. How I do I know this… well just take a look at the practice and the accountability or lack thereof to this schooling plan.

And that is exactly what we hope to do next time. Next time in Schooling and Roots, we will consider one personal example to emblematic of a much more far reaching practice in Pink Valley high schools.

Okay thanks for joining me for this little journey. And hope to see you back here real soon in the pink room.

Till then!

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