“What if we realized the best way to ensure an effective educational system is not by standardizing our curricula and tests but by standardizing the opportunities available to all students?”
― Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
We have begun good work at Turning Point School to advance inclusion and racial justice, which is always about the health and well-being of the entire school community. And, there is much room for growth, particularly for those of us who are White and have not had the same experiences as our Black, Latinx, Asian, and other BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) community members.
I have outlined our progress below as an introduction for those of you who may be new to our community, and as a reminder to those who have engaged in this work over the past few years.
As we take a moment to appreciate where we have been, I think we must state the truth: that persistent racial inequities in myriad institutions in society are the result of systemic racism, and independent schools are not exempt. We charge tuition and can have practices that benefit those with financial resources. I believe we must use our position of privilege to redouble on our efforts to identify and address injustice both inside and outside our community and commit to embracing antiracism as a guiding tenet of our work.
Additionally, we live in a larger culture whose habitual patterns revolve around the myths of individualism and the pursuit of wealth defining features of our worth. Unless we work to study and understand how history has shaped our habitual ways of thinking and of organizing our lives, we cannot see how these systems continue to undergird racism and other injustices—compromising our own humanity and that of others. We may all agree that we want to live in a culture where compassion, caring, and justice predominate; to get there, we have to acknowledge the flaws in our system and the consequent suffering, and commit to understanding and accounting for own habits and contributions.
Independent schools traditionally walk a middle road, a path which dooms us to a continuous loop. Tre Johnson describes this societal tendency in a recent The Washington Post piece as “the racial ouroboros our country finds itself locked in, as black Americans relive an endless loop of injustice and white Americans keep revisiting the same performance.”
As writer and activist Rachel Cargle puts it, “Here’s how you can show up. Knowledge plus empathy plus action.” We need all three to be effective. I take this to heart and hope to inspire others to do so as well.
In order to sustain action, we need to foster knowledge and empathy. To that end, I am asking all adults in our community – parents, caregivers, Trustees, faculty/staff, and anyone else who cares for our children – to read Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist this summer. Much of our work in the 2020-21 school year will stem from numerous concepts and lessons from this book, so please, let us all do this homework so that we can all actively engage together from the same place of understanding.
As Larry Ward points out, we need to be able to recognize and talk about the ways in which our lifestyles, daily choices, ways of thinking, and treatment of each other and our earth feed the systems that permit injustice. Then we can choose to withdraw our energy and our resources from economic, political, or cultural systems and ways of thinking that threaten everyone’s livelihood and instead direct our attention to a culture of care and compassion.
Our work as a school, and as individuals, is far from complete. I am hopeful that as a community of educators and families we can capitalize on this moment and do our part to sustain our work as part of an antiracist movement that will allow our nation to live up to its ideals.
Our Turning Point Journey Thus Far
Over the past three years, as a community Turning Point School has been engaged in deliberate work around diversity, equity, and inclusion with a goal of ensuring that everyone in our community experiences a true sense of belonging so that we all can thrive.
During our first year of this work, Elizabeth Denevi joined us to share research with parents and with faculty that demonstrates why diverse and inclusive school communities increase critical thinking and problem-solving skills for all children. Our work with Ms. Denevi consisted of a version of her acclaimed workshop on “Equity as Excellence” where we examined questions such as:
- How do we swim against the tide of a culture that has historically been so incompetent at talking about issues related to race and identity?
- How do we make sure children of color do not have to educate us about race, and how race impacts their school experience?
- How do we ensure that we do not give rise to another generation of white students who, at best, feel bad about being white, and who, at worst, promote racial stereotypes and prejudice?
In the next stage of our work, over the past two years, we have engaged Dr. Derrick Gay to work with our community more intensively. With his guidance, we have moved from understanding the skills, mindsets, and cultural competencies our children need to succeed in a multicultural social environment, to how we can have courageous conversations with our students and with each other about race. Dr. Gay has helped us to practice and activate diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations into the broader community, including training for white community members to talk about race and racism.
As a professional community of educators, Dr. Gay has helped us to develop anti-biased, antiracist curricula, resources, and teaching strategies and create inclusive classroom environments. Our middle school deans have led the way in implementing a restorative justice approach to student discipline where students are empowered to “repair the harm” when they have broken community agreements or when their intention does not match their impact. As an integral part of our equity and inclusion work, we invited parents and caregivers to participate in their own journeys and to commit to a deeper understanding of racism and antiracist responses.
All these resources, strategies, and approaches to discipline are intended to provide our students with a strong foundation so that they will eventually be well-equipped to acknowledge, disrupt, and dismantle institutional and structural racism and to build a society based upon the inherent worth and dignity of each individual and the common good.
As we plan for continued anti-racist work at Turning Point, I will continue to communicate where we have been and where we are going with respect to parent involvement. Next steps include:
- A school-wide climate survey
- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice vision statement
- Extension of our restorative justice pactices to the upper elementary grades
- Continued implementation of antiracist curricula and pedagogy, and ongoing training for faculty and staff
- Review of our hiring practices to mitigate bias
- Establish and nurture more pipelines for candidates of color
- Revision of faculty and staff assessments to include cultural competency metrics
- Training governance and leadership to understand their roles in diversity, equity, and inclusion work
- Review of school policies and procedures to ensure our impact as an institution matches our intentions
In order to be an antiracist community and live these ideals, we must first understand what an antiracist community is, what it stands for, and how it would be structured. To this end, I again invite you to join us in the summer reading, How to Be an Antiracist, and also explore the resources below as you continue your own journey—wherever your entry point may be.
Warmly, with gratitude, and in solidarity,
Head of School
Follow Rachel Cargle on Instagram (@rachel.cargle)
Follow Private School Village on Instagram (@privateschoolvillage)
Follow the Independent School Alliance on Instagram (@independentschoolalliance)
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning) by Ibram X. Kendi
Antiracist Baby Board Book by Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram X. Kendi’s An Antiracist Reading List
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Resources from my May 31, 2020 Blog Post