May 26, 2020
Dear LREI Community,
I hope this weekly message finds you well and finding meaning and comfort in our very challenging time. As always, please do not hesitate to be in touch if you need our support in any way at all.
I set out this school year to write a series of messages focused on essential components of LREI’s mission. Thus far I have written two of these pieces. The first focused on the school’s mission overall and the second shared thoughts on what Bryan Stevenson calls, “Getting proximate.” The third, today’s, I began writing in February with a focus on the school’s equity, inclusion, and social justice mission.
After beginning quarantine and LREI@home I re-read my earlier draft which almost overnight had become both more and less relevant. As I re-examined my thoughts I realized that I did not have to look too far to find current examples of ways in which the issues of race, ethnicity, geography, and class have played out in the patterns of exposure, illness, healthcare, and mortality in our coronavirus world.
Earlier in the school year, we had several parent gatherings focused on the NY Times’s 1619 Project during which we discussed this dynamic investigation into, and explication of, the systemic racism that grew out of that moment in 1619 when the first enslaved African was dragged onto the shores of North America. Today we see tentacles of this heritage playing out in the patterns of who is getting sick, who can access healthcare, where resources are plentiful and where not, employment/unemployment, transportation, who is living, and who is dying. We see similar ignorance and bigotry with where blame is being placed for the situation in which we find ourselves. While there are tragedy and grief enough for all identities to feel the virus’s impact, there are current patterns that conform to those that are all too familiar from the old normal.
In order for your children to truly integrate their growing store of skills and content area knowledge into their widening understanding of the complex world in which we live, they have to be able to acknowledge and have an ever-deepening understanding of the origins of the ways in which our society operates. This is why, in large part, as a progressive school we teach “social studies” and not simply history in our lower and middle school divisions, and why our high school history classes focus on past, present, and future. Investigating past events is important – seeing them in relation to those that came before and those that came after. Examining these events, these people, these places in context is an essential companion. To understand how these events impact the now, to understand how we can use history to chart a brighter future, requires a deep understanding of the relationships between the people involved and of the systems within which they lived and live.
In Democracy and Education, John Dewey, American philosopher, and Elisabeth Irwin’s mentor, wrote that the “state” must face, “the tendencies due to present economic conditions which split society into classes some of which are made merely tools for the higher culture of others.” He continued: “…the question is concerned with the reconciliation of national loyalty, of patriotism, with superior devotion to the things which unite men in common ends, irrespective of national political boundaries.”
If the “undoing” of the systems that divide and oppress, the undoing of all that we see playing out every day in the country’s struggle with the coronavirus and yet another race driven murder, for example, is the responsibility of the “state,” than schools are the tools through which we can provide opportunities for children to grapple with these issues as they move into the majority and become a part of Dewey’s “state.” Examining our world in an honest fashion with students of all ages is essential if the children are to lead us to a future that does not repeat the sins of our collective past.
LREI’s program leverages all that children learn in school and examines it within the context of the real world in all of its beauty and ugliness. The goal is to set the children on a path towards active citizenship, in service to their own needs and dreams and, hopefully equally so, to those of their fellow humans.
Acknowledging that we, as an institution, are part of the world, shaped by it and responsible for it, LREI will continue to examine its own principles and practices, division by division, office by office, to make sure that we are truly providing the full LREI experience to all students and families regardless of identity. We have made significant changes to the ways in which we operate and will continue to grow and change, just as we ask our students to do.
Our hope is that the community of adults will challenge itself to grow alongside the community of children. The adult LREI community has to do this work in order to relate effectively to each other and so that we can support our children as they grow into a world we can hardly imagine. If we model a deep and abiding respect for all, for our shared humanity, we will provide yet another example from which our children can learn. This work happens every day at LREI and has grown in the recent past and continues even though we are separated. We must make sure it continues in the future.
We are convinced that through our program your children will learn more deeply, connect more honestly, and understand the world more clearly and critically. They will not be consigned to a future that is reminiscent of the past nor modeled solely on their present. They will be able to work towards a future that is honest and just and of their own design.
At this moment, the vast majority of Americans believe in the need for mutual care, that we are all in this together; that wearing masks and staying inside, that forgoing our individual wants for our collective needs, is best for each and all. Will we allow ourselves to leverage these generous beliefs in this moment of naked inequality and bias? Will we see our current state as one of opportunity and move to a place where the vast majority of us believe, and act upon the belief, that what is best for each of us is best for all of us, not just when it comes to masks, but also in education and healthcare and housing and economic opportunity, and on and on? Can we come together around the idea that if we each work for justice we will all be saved?
A final thought for today. Much of LREI’s work on this front has, for the past 13 years, been inspired and led by our director of equity and community, Dr. Sandra Chapman. As you know, Chap will be leaving LREI at the end of the school year. We are grateful for all that Chap has inspired us to accomplish during her time at LREI. We will miss her wisdom, her deep knowledge, her work ethic, her devotion to a just future, and the faith that she has in children. Leading this work is hard. Chap doesn’t try to make it look easy, rather she models perseverance. She has taught us that if something is truly right, you must never give up. It is important to acknowledge that the bulk of Chap’s time was spent leading efforts that may well be a life’s work. I think she would say that we can become a more just school and that we can be part of a more just society AND that this will be hard AND that there will always be more to do. Inspired by Chap, we will strive for justice. We will ask all to participate. We will keep on.
WOYAYA (click to listen)