My blog is about educational technology, technology integration, and sharing thoughts and insights about how to be effective with students and teachers, using technology as a tool to help transform what happens in classrooms (and during professional development). All of my posts for the past week have been about ISTE 2016, and I still have one more that I want to write, but as a member of many communities — educational technologists, educators, parents, Minnesotans, U.S. citizens, human beings — broader, far more fundamental topics must be raised.
While many of our world’s problems capture my attention each day, two blog posts I have read in the past week have pushed me to set aside my usual focus on technology. The first was a short, but insistent post by Dr. Scott McLeod on his Dangerously Irrelevant! blog: #educolor — The most important hashtag you’re probably not following. Scott is one of the first educational technologist and leadership specialists I ever encounter, and I hold him in high esteem. I was particularly struck by two things. First, Scott was taking the time to recognize how easy it is for discussions of technology and educational transformation to gloss over the reality that injustice based on race, gender, sexual preference, and so many other things are still a constant presence in our schools (and that we need to do something about that). Second, Scott was absolutely right that I was not following #educolor, so I started. Which lead me to the other blog post that has been the even more powerful reminder that promoting and discussing appropriate uses of technology need to take a back seat on a more frequent basis. Yesterday, I was privileged to read Shana V. White’s blog post: No offense… (which I came across specifically because I am now following #educolor). While the interaction described in Shana’s post made me frustrated, upset, and angry because of the way she was dismissed, it also made me uncomfortable because my silence on issues of privilege certainly played a role (albeit small) in helping to create a world where she could be dismissed. So, I am choosing to raise my voice now, in hopes that one day, Shana and others will no longer have to face inequitable situations at any level.
I am a white, heterosexual male which gives me a tremendous amount of unearned privilege and power, certainly globally, but even more so in the United States. And, I have a pressing responsibility to use my privilege and power to not only call attention to the inequity that has created (and continues to create) them, but also to openly challenge the institutional systems that perpetuate these injustices at all levels in our society. A brilliant woman, Dr. Heather Hackman (former professor at Saint Cloud State University and now full-time consultant on issues of diversity, equity, and social justice), regularly has groups with whom she works write out index cards, “What had I done today to fight…?” The word or words after “fight” are areas in which the individual has power and privilege — for me, they are racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Heather then asks the participants to post those index cards in a prominent place where they will be seen every day — bathroom mirror, car dashboard, desk, etc. The entire point of the exercise is to provide me, as a person who has been given undeserved power and privilege (because of the lighter tone of my skin, the presence of a Y-chromosome, a sexual preference for members of the opposite sex, etc), a daily call to action. People who are members of oppressed and underrepresented groups constantly have to work twice as hard (if not three or four or five times as hard) to garner the same respect, attention, professional deference, etc that is simply given to me — whether that is within the educational technology community, the larger community of educators as a whole, or the overall culture of U.S. society. If that system of injustice is ever going to be dismantled completely, I (and others) who have privilege must join our voices with our sisters and brothers who have always been at the forefront of these struggles for equity to ensure that all of us are afforded the respect and acceptance that we deserved based on our work and interactions, not some arbitrary physical or genetic trait, or our sexual preferences. And, people of privilege finally owning their unearned benefits and working to end them can never be seen as the “reason” for the eventual success of achieving equity — in fact, a claim like that only perpetuates the privilege itself. The people who are daily oppressed and underrepresented by “super whitey” (a Heather Hackman term that I quite enjoy) battle and struggle against issues of privilege and prejudice every single day — multiple times each day. They will be the reason our society and world achieves balance and equity; those of us with privilege need to raise our voices to lend strength and support — and to help loosen “super whitey’s” grip on the reins of power and privilege.
I do know that significant strides have been made in the United States in the past 150 years when it comes to issues of injustice and oppression, but one need to look no further than our current presidential campaign to know that racism, sexism, and homophobia are not only alive and well in the United States, but also that they are tolerated in frighteningly open and widespread ways. Privilege is “super whitey”‘s insidious way of luring even the most decent people down the road of intrinsic bias and prejudice. When the prevailing culture, its engrained norms, and its established institutions all subtly (and often not so subtly) underscore constantly that white, heterosexual men are “right” place to put trust and faith and responsibility, it can become easy to ignore the completely unfounded nature of those beliefs. And, when people who do fall into one or more of those privileged groups are challenged on the unjust nature of those rewards, it is significantly easier to let the guilt and shock become defensive righteousness than to admit that “merit” has been unfairly award for circumstances completely out of an individual’s control. But, that reality only makes it more important that people like me do challenge the injustice of privilege ourselves. I become a better, more balanced, more grounded individual when I do begin to recognize that my “luck” and “good fortune” that I have regularly experienced in school, at work, in daily interactions are partly (in not sometimes completely) influenced by unwarranted beliefs placed on me simply because of my skin tone, anatomical sex, and attraction to women. When I have a better sense of who I am and my true abilities, I am a better dad, husband, friend, brother, son, educator, friend, and person. There is no question about that. While I do want to afford far more opportunity and equity to my sisters and brothers who are oppressed as a result of my privilege, the reality is that my own mental health and emotional well being are best served by challenged my unearned privilege.
I feel incredibly blessed that I have been exposed to people and ideas over the past fifteen years that I have allowed me to start challenging my own privilege, but I also know, like so many of us who have been unfairly given these benefits in U.S. culture and society, that I have a long way to go. I should not need Scott McLeod, Shana V. White, or anyone else to remind me that I need to challenge my own privilege and the systems that have created it each and every day, but I do. And, because of that, I am tremendously grateful for communities and movements like EduColor and for people who are willing to share their stories and challenges. I do hope that this post and my actions in my daily life can help one (or more) other person who holds privilege and power in some capacity to recognize it and to challenge it. The future of education is vitally important to me, and I firmly believe that technology used wisely and appropriately as a tool is a vital key in creating student-centered learning steeped in pedagogy. But, none of that will matter, if our classrooms and our conferences and our large world remain a place where some of us are given benefits simply because we were born a certain way.