Bending Towards Justice in Independent Education

On Monday, I had the honor to walk alongside 35 members of The Bush School community–parents, teachers, staff, administrators, Trustees, alumnae/i, students and Friends of Bush–from Garfield High School to the Jackson Federal Building in Seattle’s annual MLK March. The march, now in its 35th year, honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who would have celebrated his 88th birthday on Sunday. The theme of this year’s march was “Stop the Hate! Come Together” and was open to “everyone who honors the goals and methods of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Dr. King’s goal of securing racial equality through peaceful, nonviolent resistance is almost universally accepted today, and Dr. King remains one of the most admired figures in American history. In 2011, Dr. King boasted a 95% favorability rating, with over two-thirds of respondents indicating that they thought highly—rated 4 or 5 on a five-point scale–of the slain civil rights leader. Clearly, the country’s feelings toward Dr. King have evolved over time. Largely beloved and revered by Americans today, in 1966, only 37% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Dr. King, and 44% held a strongly unfavorable opinion him. Why has Dr. King’s message grown more resonant with the passage of time?  Continue reading “Bending Towards Justice in Independent Education”

Giving Space for Civil Discourse

One of the casualties of a culture that demands immediate feedback is the loss of time to pause, reflect, deliberate and respond thoughtfully. Most of us have fallen victim to the sensation of stopping a colleague, friend, or spouse as we pass them in the hall and commenting, “I sent you an e-mail about an hour ago…” While we will let this phrase hang in the air as if it were merely a declarative statement, a part of us wishes and expects them to have read our e-mail and responded. This expectation denies us the opportunity to be careful and measured in our responses and causes us to respond in a way we might not otherwise, and may not represent our most civil selves.  Continue reading “Giving Space for Civil Discourse”

Selma: Our Past and Present March Toward Freedom

selmaParamount Pictures released the movie Selma, by first-time director Ava DuVernay, on December 24. The movie tells the story of the social forces, political obstacles, as well as the strategic and tactical planning efforts that lead to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965. In the months prior to the march, and with the support of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was engaged in a voting rights campaign in southern states to register blacks to vote. The ability of SNCC and SCLC to mobilize African-American volunteers, King’s political acumen, and the media’s coverage of the vitriolic reactions to segregation by local whites and the city’s police officers—including the events of March 7, 1965 which came to be known as “Bloody Sunday”—brought sufficient pressure to bear on President Lyndon Johnson to push for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The movie reminds the audience of the immense sacrifices African-American men, women, and children made to secure the right to vote. Enfranchisement, they believed, carried with it the promise of full participation in our democracy and legal recognition of their rights as citizens. Selma’s release, at the end of 2014, was timely. Our nation watched as a series of protests—some of which were marred by senseless acts violence and destruction of property—dominated the news following the grand jury decisions to not prosecute officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men. The protests generated lively discourse at home and schools about race in our country, the relationship between police and the communities they serve, unconscious bias, the grand jury system, and our collective humanity. These conversations continue in the hallways of our Upper School among teachers and students, and through moderated talks with student groups like our Student Awareness Council.

Selma is a powerful and resonant reflection on our recent past, and an important reminder that the struggle for justice, equality, and for some mere visibility is long and arduous, but ultimately worthwhile; the arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice. In re-telling the story of the brave yet ordinary individuals who marched, sat, protested, and endured threats of economic insecurity and physical harm, Ms. DuVernay underscores the message that the power to change the course of history is within all of us. The past century is replete with examples of everyday folks using nonviolent, civil disobedience to raise our consciousness, galvanize our spirits, and call us to action, whether in Selma, Atlanta, Oxford, Kiev, Delhi, Beijing, St. Louis, or Paris.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.55.52 AMThis year, The Bush School will be joining thousands of Seattleites at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Rally and March Monday, January 19, to walk in support of human rights for all. We hope that you will join us—look for The Bush School banner, and those wearing Bush apparel on the northeast corner of 23rd and Jefferson—on Monday as we share in the tradition of Selma and honor Dr. King and the countless others who blazed the path on the long march to freedom.

Percy

P.S. I have attached links to resources you may use to talk with your children about race and Ferguson (or http://bit.ly/1xkJKXd).

How Diversity Works

In the September 16 issue of Scientific American (http://bit.ly/1qLZR2E), Katherine Phillips discusses how diversity makes us smarter, or more specifically, “more creative, diligent, and harder working.”  While acknowledging that creating diverse work environments and promoting inclusive dialogue among individuals is difficult, research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and economists suggest that these efforts not only support altruistic social aims, but actually make institutions more effective, innovative, and more productive.

Phillips’ article discusses two areas, in particular, in which diversity supports institutional learning and growth—informational diversity and anticipatory planning. When we surround ourselves with people from similar backgrounds, we tend to believe that we share the same perspectives. Research confirms what many of us have experienced throughout our educational and professional careers, namely that “people who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand.” The studies cited in the article demonstrate that diversity leads to improved organizational performance.

It is not just different perspectives, experiences, and information that matter in helping groups to function more productively. Group diversity also affects individual members’ planning. When placed in a context where group members realize that there will be others from different social, racial, gender (or even political) backgrounds, they anticipate the different perspectives and realize they will need to work harder to reach consensus. As Phillips notes, “this logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.”

Last month I attended a symposium in Washington D.C. entitled “The Future of Diversity” with board member Tracy Stanton and Director of Intercultural Affairs Jabali Stewart. The hosts invited independent school heads, board members, and diversity practitioners from around the country to discuss how to create more inclusive communities for students, parents, faculty, and staff from different backgrounds.  When I began working in independent schools over 20 years ago, schools often explained their outreach efforts to communities of color (there was much less emphasis on outreach to and support of LGBTQ communities) in terms of its social and moral value. They tended to emphasize the opportunities “we” (the schools) were providing for “them” (families of color).

It was nice to participate in a conference in which independent school educators were focusing on how inclusive communities not only supported our school missions, but how this work made for more robust and innovative learning environments. In fact, if our schools want to improve, then diversity and inclusivity will be a necessary part of our future.  I believe that The Bush School has been working on this for quite some time, and I appreciate that science supports our efforts.