By: Andrew Hanson, Co-Chair, LTLT Research Committee
On Tuesday, August 15, LTLT partnered with YEP-DC to host its first major event: a screening of Teach Us All, a documentary and social justice campaign on educational inequality set against the backdrop of the 1957 Little Rock school crisis. The Public Welfare Foundation kindly donated space in its John Anderson Lankford Auditorium for the screening.
The event was a major success! More than 100 passionate professionals came out to reflect and discuss how to best promote racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse schools in DC and throughout the nation.
LTLT founder Chris Suarez kicked off the event by informing attendees about LTLT’s history, upcoming activities, and setting the stage for Teach Us All.
Mark your calendar for November 17-18, when LTLT will host its first annual Diversity and Equity Policy Summit, a convening of DC-area parents, teachers, students, administrators, and other policy leaders to discuss school diversity.
LTLT co-founder Jenna Tomasello introduced YEP-DC President Emmanuel Caudillo, who thanked the audience and expressed his excitement for the event and enthusiasm for partnering with LTLT.
Teach Us All features a series of case studies, beginning with Little Rock, 60 years after the Little Rock Nine first walked through the halls of Little Rock Central High School. The movie’s aim is to facilitate strategic collaboration and conversations among grassroots organizers to promote school and classroom diversity across the country. The film will be screened throughout the country, from New York to Los Angeles, to examine how re-segregation and inequity persist in schools and classrooms across America. The film examines how communities and schools are organizing themselves to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion using a wide range of approaches.
After the film concluded, Chris Suarez moderated a rich panel discussion that included former U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary Tanya Clay House, Richard Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation and a preeminent scholar on school diversity, and Ramin Taheri, who currently works in the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education.
The recent violence and terrorism that occurred in Charlottesville the previous weekend weighed heavily on the panelists and permeated their discussion. The panelists didn’t agree with every education reform position espoused in the movie, but they all agreed about that school diversity in a more important issue than ever, particularly at this time of division and polarization. To that end, the panelists largely saw the film as a motivating and moving call to action not only for school diversity but for high-quality teachers, parental voice, and educational equity.
Several themes defined their discussion:
- They expressed serious discontent at the regress of integration and educational equity since the 1980s and the state of race relations in America today and argued that, since public housing and education policies artificially created the segregation we see across society today, the public has an interest and responsibility to promote diversity in our schools and communities.
- They expressed the importance of not thinking about diversity in isolation and challenged the conventional wisdom that race-based segregation is only prevalent in the south. We should think about diversity systematically, the panel argued. It shouldn’t only be an issue about schools in the South, but in liberal bastions in the Northeast and West, in our classrooms among the school faculty/staff, and in our communities, toll booths, and community groups.
- They expressed the importance of communicating the benefits of diversity for people of all backgrounds, not just Black, Latino, and low-income students. Though social justice requires targeting society’s most disadvantaged citizens, the political success of diversity initiatives requires understanding and communicating the benefits of diversity for white people and the business community as well, for example, in terms of education, economics, and its ability to alleviate bias. The gay rights movement succeeded, Rick Kahlenberg argued, when gay people came out in large numbers so that virtually everyone had a gay friend or family member they thought about when encountering homophobia.
- They expressed the importance of thinking critically about initiatives marketed under the diversity and equity banner. They discussed the controversial Vergara case, one of the case studies presented in Teach Us All, as an example. The film presented it as pushing for the same goals as the Civil Rights movement but, in fact, would have stripped teachers of tenure rights.
Audience members posed thoughtful questions to the panel about avoiding seemingly easy political wins that could turn out to be counterproductive, integrating diversity into curricula and pedagogy, and recruiting a new generation of diverse teachers into the profession.
Chris Suarez concluded the evening by discussing the power of organizing, and the importance of the stories and successes that were shared in Teach Us All. LTLT looks forward to convening similar events and discussions in the future!
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