We Need a Paradigm Shift in Education – From Power and Compliance to Support and Care

by: Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles

Reflection

The past two years have been transformational, challenging, scary, and hopeful. In 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shut down which forced instant pivots in teaching and learning. Schools had to instantaneously shift to remote learning and use technology with intention. However, for years, EdTech and Assistive Technology Integrationists have been shouting from the rooftops that we needed to leverage intentional training of teachers in authentic, relevant, and meaningful ways to integrate technology and accessibility tools to meet every learner. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic and this shift to online/distance learning to realize that school systems missed the mark. Thus, this  forced schools to look at their paradigms. They’re interesting. They’re challenging. The energy around them is as variable as we are.

In 2021, schools had an opportunity to reinvent themselves and continue to provide options on the ways children accessed school. There were some children who thrived in a distance learning environment and some who did not. Yet, many schools prescribed to the “learning loss” hype and sugar coated the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL). Just get them back into buildings- the kids will be just fine.

It has been anything but fine. Teachers, service providers, guidance/social workers, school psychologists have been doing their very best to mitigate what has become a mental health crisis amongst our children (APA 2022). The ramifications of this are yet to be seen. Are schools prepared for this reality, or will they continue to test, test, test and ignore this truth?

Shifting Paradigms

This tension is really a shift in paradigms- from one of power and compliance to authentic support and care. While this may sound metaphysical, it’s really not. When talking about paradigm in terms of education, the shift is already underway. There are educators out there who are dedicating their lives to ensuring that ALL learners are seen, heard, valued, and respected, leveraging Universal Design for Learning, Culturally Responsive Teaching, and authentic Social and Emotional Learning Practices. There are educators who are actively working to remove inequities that children who are marginalized face on a daily basis. The work of advocates like Andratesha Fritzgerald, Dena Simmons, Alice Wong, Mia Mingus, and so many others are some of the ways that this shift is happening. Are public institutions there yet? Hardly. In fact, the very nature of these institutions has nothing to do with honor- unless you meet a specific set of criteria.

Of course that criteria is based on one way of thinking. One way that has roots steeped in ability, whiteness, privilege, class, geography, orientation, and gender.

These judgements, attitudes, and beliefs create separateness. They dehumanize. They disempower. They dishonor. They traumatize and marginalize. They send a clear message to our children: “You don’t belong here.” The scariest part is that many are unaware or unwilling to participate in exploring how their own biases and societal conditioning intentionally or unintentionally creates this.

Reckoning

Over the past two years, a glaring light on inequitable systems has been shone, from institutions in K-12 and Higher Education, to access to technology, including assistive technology, and reliable broadband internet access.  If one continues to look away or ignore what is visible, the cycles of oppression will continue. We can no longer look away. We can no longer say “that’s not my problem.”. We can no longer sit inactive when there are such gross inequities in our systems. If schools do not openly and authentically address these disparities, who and what will (Mickelson, 2003)?

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”

Maya Angelou

This quote is as relevant today as it was when she first wrote it. Prejudice is tearing us apart. It centers one type, size, style, ability, race, gender, orientation over another. Prejudice separates, stigmatizes and dehumanizes. 

It’s been a rough couple of years for all of us in various ways. I’ve been in education for 26 years and have been committed to changing systems from within for the sole purpose of ensuring that children are valued, respected, supported, and appreciated. That happens when teachers, administrators are valued and trusted and authentic collaboration happens between parents, teachers, learners, and community members for the common goal of realizing the potential in our children.

I am angry at a system that lets teachers, parents, and learners down. I am grieving what I thought was real and can clearly see the insidious ways our culture can work to keep this paradigm of power active and thriving, from the ,misinformation and fear mongering around technology, equity work, and continued advocacy for “school choice”, which is thinly veiled segregationist language. This, ultimately, keeps us separate, and continues to create conditions where children are not seen, heard and valued.

What now?

Yet, amidst all of this, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that more will recognize that we all have a collective responsibility to be and do better from a place of love, so that learning is joyous and when challenges arise, necessary supports are there to ensure healthy struggle and growth. There will come a day when teachers are trained in teaching to variability and have opportunities to unearth their biases authentically in a healthy, safe, and supported manner. Administration will also be trained in this way, and ensure that their staff have the support they need to do the all important work of teaching children HOW to learn as opposed to WHAT to learn. Schools will learn and embrace that one way of being and doing is not the only way. Where power and control are replaced by empathy and compassion. Perhaps then we will stop dehumanizing each other.

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