The Purpose of the Equity Literacy Project
Schools serve as the ideal environments to promote sociopolitical consciousness as we strive toward a more just society. Unfortunately, schools often maintain social and structural inequalities by leaving them unchallenged and even promoting ideologies that allow them to persist. Educators have the opportunity to equip students with the awareness and skills necessary to work toward a more equitable society; however, we as educators are only as aware of our social, political, and historical context as the exposure we have had. As many educators have learned about our history through the lens of the dominant culture, there is much work to be done to educate ourselves and our students in ways that speak to the realities of our students’ lives and present a much broader understanding of the issues students encounter related to disability, gender and sexuality, language, immigration status, race and ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status. This project supports educators in their quest to increase their own awareness and understanding of inequities that individuals and groups navigate to prepare them to serve as cultivators of critical engagement so that each new generation of students is better equipped to be informed citizens who promote cross-cultural understanding, equity, and social progress.
Central to this project is the importance of language and terminology. In order to have reasoned and productive discussions — professionally and interpersonally — it is crucial to have a growing mastery of the language and terms used in (not sure of which to use: critical education, multicultural and social justice education, culturally responsive or inclusive education, etc. choose one. Anything other than diversity, equity, and inclusion). For instance, equity is not the same thing as equality. Gender is not the same thing as sex. Living in poverty is not the same thing as living in the working class. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy is not the same thing as Culturally Responsive Teaching. Fairness is not the same thing as empowerment. When dialogues ensue, conflating and confusing terms are not helpful and can dramatically cause frustration, misunderstanding, and dissension. As educators pay increasing attention to challenges in schools, being aware of and adept with relevant language is fundamental to professional practice. All professions have a lexicon that needs mastery and education is no different.
Almost sixty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963), that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” The purpose of this project is to put together a collection of resources that will expedite the pace at which educators learn about the often overlooked issues in our schools through the lenses of colleagues and students, understand the terms that identify and explain these inequities, and increase their capacity to serve as practitioners who can engage and empower students to be active participants in creating a more just society. As educators with a broad range of identities and experiences, we believe that exposure to the narratives of students and teachers in schools combined with the related concepts will allow those who interact with this resource to dramatically increase their knowledge base so that they go forth seeking to identify, unpack, and address additional inequities.
Written by Joseph Flynn, Northern Illinois University, and Stephanie Whalen, William Rainey Harper College, on behalf of the Teaching for Equity Community of Practice