Every time I attend an education conference, I feel as if I’m entering a time capsule. I am immediately transported to the early 90s, when I was first involved in education. Back then, people were having the same conversations over teachers who don’t know how to engage their students in the learning process, parents who don’t participate enough, and students who are disenfranchised.
Why do educators continue to question the solutions to poor performance when there’s plenty of research to validate what works? Things like early childhood education, high expectations, rigorous instruction, good teachers with degrees in their area of instruction, an inspiring and creative environment, exposure to a variety of experiences that open children’s minds, a longer school year, a school culture that embraces diversity, leadership that nurtures innovation, after-school support for those who need it, early intervention, a college bound mentality that permeates the entire school system from pre-K to high school, and preparing students to attend colleges with a posse of their peers have all proven to be effective strategies.
But what would really help to break through the status quo in our education system is for the educators and administrators to recognize that new perspective is needed to see some of the solutions that are invisible to them right now.
What do I mean? Inevitably, all of us look at the world through the filters of our own personal experience and belief system. These filters are responsible for the assumptions every one of us makes all the time. The problem is that we are usually not aware of those filters and of the fact that we act according to our assumptions.
So, if you believe that the students in your care can achieve great things, they will. If you believe they can’t, they won’t. Either way, you will be proven right because you will align your actions with your assumptions and it is through your actions that you will impact these students.
This is easy to see when you look at how the adults in the school system deal with college readiness when it comes to non-white students, an area in which the system has been failing for decades. A young Latino junior walks into the guidance counselor’s office asking for college information. The guidance counselor takes one look at the student, assumes he is not Ivy League material and that his family will need him to work to contribute financially to the household. The counselor then shares information on technical schools and local two-year community colleges and sends the student on his way. Now this kid’s parents, not knowing any better, encourage their child to follow the guidance counselor’s advice without questioning it.
What would have happened if this counselor had been better trained to see her own filters and assumptions so that she could have offered a more comprehensive list of options? The student would have a completely different career outlook. I’m not saying the guidance counselor is racist. What I am saying is that unless she’s trained to perceive her own filters and the consequences of not keeping them in check, she’ll do what comes natural to all of us – she will use her past experience, imbue it with her belief system, and offer information she thinks is relevant to this student. And most of this happens subconsciously in a few seconds after the student enters her office.
When the adults in the school system don’t consider that they are part of the problem affecting students and parent engagement, the needle doesn’t move. They keep on trying to reinvent the wheel when the wheel has been around for a long time. The truth is that it would be pretty simple to fix the educational system if the parties involved could stop putting the problem outside of themselves and agree to examine their own assumptions with regard to teaching and learning.
Mariela Dabbah is the CEO of www.Latinosincollege.com, a renown speaker, media contributor and award-winning author. Her new book: Poder de Mujer will be released March, 2012 by Penguin.
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Mariela Dabbah is a published author and founder of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women's careers.