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The Need for an Intersectional Education Reform Movement

We can’t go any further without addressing intersectionality in education reform.

Over the past few years, images of violence against black people have dominated twitter feeds, air waves, and news segments across the country. Young people are increasingly becoming witness to real life public examples that they are not valued and that they do not matter. Just in the past month, we have mourned the nine lives whose last moments in a Charleston sanctuary were spent praying and pleading for mercy; conversations about being black in white spaces have resurfaced following the viral dissemination of a video that captured 14-year old Dejerria Becton and her peers being terrorized by police outside a pool party in McKinney, Texas; and we learned about the tragic plight of Kalief Browder who took his life to escape the traumatic horrors endured as a result of spending 3 years of his childhood on Rikers Island. In view of these facts, structural violence against black people highlight the need for the education reform movement to become intersectional.

Structural violence, like physical violence, is debilitating whereby people are impacted on physical, psychological, mental and emotional level. Unlike physical violence though, structural violence is wielded by institutions and has long-term impacts on the health and well-being of those without the power or access to become decision makers within those institutions. Structural violence shapes the experiences our children have in education starting in preschool, throughout K-12, college, and into their professional careers. Kids Count Data Center 2012 reported 41% of children in New Orleans live in high-poverty opposed to 29% in the state. This economic violence comes out of the growing wealth inequality and the shrinking middle class in America. Structural violence and economic violence compounded with the actual violence of the justice system (police brutality, over incarceration of black people, sentencing laws) and healthcare access and disparities are prevalent and have tangible effects on education outcomes. Education reform must then include structural violence as a core component of its movement. Since education and learning do not happen in a vacuum and therefore aren’t disconnected or isolated from all the other variables happening in black communities, if we are even remotely serious about improving educational outcomes, we must do so with structural violence as the frame moving forward.

Howard Fuller was a speaker on a race and education panel last week at The Education Research Alliance Conference, and he shared that black people came out of slavery understanding that education was to be used for liberation. To become more intersectional we must acknowledge the multiple systems of oppression black and brown people exist within. We are having difficulties seeing real movement in education reform because of all these other variables impacting education and our learners. In order for us to move the needle on education reform we have to address these other issues as well. If we want to see the impact of the resources that have been invested and the work that has been done on the ground in these different communities we need to move in the interest of becoming more intersectional.

White allies: we need you. In fact we need you to step up in ways you have not. Having an intersectional movement may be challenging in ways that may cause you to rethink your ideology around this work. We need a new way to look at education reform so that it is not just about teacher effectiveness, common core and other policies but moves beyond to include these other structural inequalities that impact black and brown lives. We need you to learn and understand these issues more deeply. We need you support those of us who understand structural violence on a personal level to lead the movement. We need you to believe in our vision for our community and work with us to leverage the resources that you have amassed with our help over the past couple of decades in the education reform movement. We can’t go on without our movement being intersectional; not if we say we really care about student achievement and not if say we care about people of color.

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