Rio Del Sol STEAM Academy is trying to be something different, true to ideals most young teachers I’ve worked with hold but which often smother under the sediment deposited in the slack water and eddies of careers flowing toward some ocean. These ideals center on the learner, a belief that learning is active, inquiry-driven, social, natural, and fun. Such ideals struggle against a strong current of accountability that has scoured the educational landscape since I flopped up on shore in the early 90s: Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, CCSS.
While well intended (or maybe not, depending on how jaded, cynical, or woke you are), these various movements and programs dangerously narrowed what counts as knowledge, and privileged the knowledge of what Lisa Delpit calls “the culture of power.” What and whose knowledge counts eroded away to what can be easily quantified and measured. And, I will say it, white.
Del Sol, in its commitment to learners and the development of Five Cs: Collaboration, Community, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Caring – posed a question, an overarching, guiding question: Whose knowledge counts? The intent behind this question is to sharpen focus on the learner, all learners. The question serves as a sort of test, an accountability measure for us. Is our pedagogy respectful of all learners? Is it learner-focused?
COVID-19 and the civil unrest resulting from George Floyd’s murder have made visible the importance of this guiding question: Whose knowledge counts? I am proud to work in a school asking, and trying to answer this question. However, I want to argue that simply posing the question does not go far enough. I want to offer some revisions.
First, some substitutions – matters for counts. These are near-enough synonyms. Whose knowledge matters? Next, let’s define knowledge as the acquired wisdom, talents, skills of lived experience – life: Whose lives matter?
Whose lives matter, posed as a question, implies there are answers. The answer to that question could exclude or privilege certain lives – the culture of power. White lives. Again, COVID and George Floyd remind us that a prevailing answer to the question has been historically and systemically racist. Therefore, rather than posing the question, “Whose lives matter?” we must assert: Black and brown lives matter.
Before we pose guiding questions, we must compose certain articles of faith. I suggest the first to be: Black and brown lives matter. Full stop. No question.
Given this assertion, then, what guiding questions are available to us?
What are our other articles of faith?