Building equity in education


Reflections from Teaching Fellow Meenoo Rami

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve had the honor of serving as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s teaching fellow over the past year. During that time, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the many rich conversations we’ve had at Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) working sessions about how to build a more equitable education system, as well as the challenges of doing so. I want to start with an excerpt from Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book by Paulo Freire that, decades later, still resonates deeply with me:

"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

The need for such transformation—and to discover our role in it—is as salient as ever. As educators, the burden falls on us to ensure our school systems are indeed places where our students learn to question the status quo, to think critically, and, yes, to deal with their reality. As the TAC community continues to engage in difficult discussions and take important actions on these issues, I hope we will all continue to ensure that education truly can become the “practice of freedom.”

I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me over the course of the last year, and I am still trying to wrap my headaround it. I had to read it in chunks because it was too painful to sit down for an extended period and take in the racism Coates and those he profiles experienced as they pursued education. This is an especially difficult time to, as a teacher, navigate the issue of race in America. In these times, we must interrogate our own role as educators committed to high-quality instruction and equitable access to resources, and commit to unlearning the hidden messages that have been taught to us by society about race and power. We are living in a time of vitriolic election cycles, controversies over standing up vs. sitting down during a national anthem, and continued gun violence that ends too many lives. 

We have to create classroom spaces where our students can make sense of the world around them. We must model for them what a safe, respectful dialogue looks like even when we disagree on such charged issues. I have come to understand that our power as a group of educators is undeniable and that by promoting equity and social justice in our schools and professional networks, we may be able to support other teachers who are grappling with these issues. There is no single answer to the question of how to do this work, but here are some ways I try to incorporate it into my own life and share it with other teachers:

  1. #educolor: When facing daunting issues such as this, we cannot do this work alone. Educators from around the country are gathering and sharing their best ideas through this hashtag. Join this conversation and invite others along.
  2. Strengthen your practice in a community: We as teachers are on the front lines of the war on inequity, and we can best address this issue by providing students with high-quality learning experiences. You can garner support by leaning on the expertise of networks such as Facing History and Ourselves, Teaching Tolerance, and the National Writing Project.
  3. Create a safe space for others: The conversation we had at the TAC meeting about equity will always stay with me. I felt safe in that space to share my thoughts and, more importantly, listen to your thoughts. But this work and conversation need to continue in our communities. For inspiration, check out the Teacher Action Group in Philadelphia. The group hosts sessions across the city that bring community members together to learn about issues of social justice in education and work toward “creating the schools our students deserve.”
I deeply value your perspectives, and I hope you will reach out to share your thoughts as we continue working together.