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Equity, Opinion, Policy, Teaching

Watch Your Tongue!

Could the language of equity be holding us back from moving forward?

There are many barriers that prevent us from reaching the visions of equity we have for our society and, in particular, for our schools. I have come to believe, however, that the language and terminology we use to talk about educational improvement and change is one of the greatest barriers to entering into the type of conversation for which other bloggers here are so passionately and eloquently advocating.

There are many barriers that prevent us from reaching the visions of equity we have for our society and, in particular, for our schools. I have come to believe, however, that the language and terminology we use to talk about educational improvement and change is one of the greatest barriers to entering into the type of conversation for which other bloggers here are so passionately and eloquently advocating. More specifically, I am continually frustrated by the appropriation of the public education discourse by those who continue to promote a field of vision that is narrower and more limiting than is necessary. Necessary, that is, if we hope to move practice on the ground beyond the political rhetoric that is so comfortably couched in neat and tidy policy statements and memoranda.

I am continually frustrated by the appropriation of the public education discourse by those who continue to promote a field of vision that is narrower and more limiting than is necessary. Necessary, that is, if we hope to move practice on the ground beyond the political rhetoric that is so comfortably couched in neat and tidy policy statements and memoranda.

Language is a powerful thing; it not only allows us to communicate and share ideas in ways that are accessible by a wider community, but it also frames our thinking and the types of conversations that we have. This is evident in the language that we use to talk about schools and schooling.

boy_tongue

Photo by juhansonin from Flickr

Language, however, can be limiting. The words and phrases that we carry through the world can sometimes cause us to assume that we know exactly what we see. Many times we don’t challenge ourselves to look at things from a different perspective, or in greater depth. Our preconceived notions and attitudes are held in our lexicon, ready to be applied at a moment’s notice.

I’m afraid terms like equity, achievement, and success can lull us into a sense that we really know where we’re headed and that we really know what it looks like to get there. Sure, we now have very strong equity policies in most jurisdictions. But how strong are our actions that really address inequity on the ground? We have wonderfully crafted targets for student achievement, but what about the thousands of students that are still left on the sidelines once those targets are reached. In Ontario, secondary schools have been flooded with Student Success Teachers, but with what vision of success have they been commissioned.

Terms like equity, achievement, and success are what I like to call sunshine words. They make us feel  good about what we’re doing, but they can also blind us to just how much more still needs to be addressed. We know that there are shadows cast by each of these ideas and we need to develop the capacity within our discourse to pay very close attention to those shadows. Further, that discourse needs to be developed at the school level, among the educators that are ultimately charged with putting policy into practice.

Terms like equity, achievement, and success are what I like to call sunshine words. They make us feel  good about what we’re doing, but they can also blind us to just how much more still needs to be addressed. We know that there are shadows cast by each of these ideas and we need to develop the capacity within our discourse to pay very close attention to those shadows. Further, that discourse needs to be developed at the school level, among the educators that are ultimately charged with putting policy into practice.

Let’s not celebrate the existence of policy too quickly here, because policy does nothing but start the engine and map out a direction. Let’s not celebrate 1 and 2 percent increases in achievement scores too loudly, because we know that there are thousands of students that are still struggling to “make the grade”. And let’s be sure that when we talk about success, our understanding of the term actually inspires us to create that place where all are given the opportunity to benefit from a full range of programs and opportunities.

Related Education Canada article:

Meet the Expert

Stephen Hurley

Stephen Hurley

Education Consultant, Catalyst, voicED Radio

Stephen Hurley is a recently retired teacher from the Dufferin Peel District School Board in Ontario. Stephen continues to work to open up public spaces for vibrant conversations about transformation of education systems across Canada.

Stephen Hurley est un enseignant récemment retraité de la Dufferin Peel District School Board en Ontario. Stephen continue de travailler à ouvrir des espaces publics pour des conversations dynamiques sur la transformation des systèmes éducatifs partout au Canada.

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