Columbus discovered America.
The Constitution proclaimed that all men are created equal.
The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.
Perhaps, like me, you were taught these (and many other) so-called facts without reference to the full truths and historical context within which these ideas were presented — that tens of thousands of indigenous people were on this continent before Columbus, and that the national holiday in his honor was due to the efforts of Italian Americans who aimed to be culturally assimilated as White in the early 20th Century; that enslaved peoples were widely considered property and not humans during the Colonial era, and the “three-fifths compromise” in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 counted slaves as people only for the purpose of giving southern states more seats in Congress; and that the 19th Amendment of 1920 gave only White women the right to vote, and it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that all people regardless of race or gender held the lawful right to vote.
Though I used to look back very fondly at my K-12 experience, I have increasingly become more concerned about the brazen white supremacy embedded in my early schooling. I remember and am grateful for the environment of love and care I experienced from teachers, but now I wonder if all children felt that, and how it worked out for those who did not — especially the black and brown children with whom I did not develop lasting friendships. I remember the feeling of personal success as I internalized knowledge and developed academic skills, but now I wonder how the experiences of other students shaped their perspective on the classroom and themselves — especially the students that struggled with traditional academic content and instruction. And I am full of questions about why my teachers did not bring critical consciousness to decolonize the curriculum by exposing the ways in which narratives presented as facts marginalized and erased the experiences of people of color in America.
I’m grateful to see our community of educators and families lean into the work of becoming better educated on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion this year, and how we are translating these growing understandings into new classroom curriculum and practices. One of the crucial steps that we adults can do to help our children thrive now and throughout their lives is to vigorously continue to surface our assumptions, dismantle our biases, and educate ourselves about the perspectives of those who experience life very differently from our own — whether by dint of gender, race, class, body type, nationality, or other facet of human experience. It is our responsibility to first seek out the voices of people with those diverse experiences, and then dive deeply into their words and worlds so as to shed new light on their experiences of our shared society, and in doing so better illuminate the complex truths of humanity to and for ourselves.
Later this month the United States takes a national holiday to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While many of us are familiar with I Have A Dream, his speech delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, he left behind an incredible body of work that continues to be relevant to the work of social justice today. Whether his damning identification of the particular challenge posed by moderate Whites in Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963), his clarity in naming racial injustice, poverty, and war as society’s three main problems in The Quest for Peace and Justice (1964) and The Three Evils of Society (1967), or his radical intellectualism foreseeing the neo-conservative movement that arose after his death in The Other America (1967), Dr. King’s work continues to loom large over the modern society more than 50 years after his assassination.
I hope you join me in finding inspiration and wonder by diving deeply into the words and thoughts of Dr. King, and a renewed optimism in our community’s efforts to teach our children the full truths of American history, along with the development of their moral compass, their critical thinking skills, and the agency and confidence they need to become positive change agents as they grow into the next generation of civic participants and activists.
What an exciting time to work in education. What a gift to be at Gateway!
Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School