Rowe misunderstands approach and goals of racial equity audit; his fears misplaced

To the editor:

As an educator, I have some concerns with how Ian Rowe characterized the equity audit in his recent interview with the Pelham Examiner. In my coursework at Teachers College, I read a fair number of studies that mirror the approach and methodology employed by the Metro Center and what their recommendations are. More importantly, the qualitative data that was collected by way of feedback from students is critical information that deserves a thoughtful, reasoned response from our community, and the report provides guidance to support that process.

Rowe stated that, “One of the many flaws of the equity audit is that the Metro Center provided amorphous and un-actionable next steps.” I found this concern to represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the goals and underlying philosophical frameworks contained in the audit. While the audit does include actionable steps in the conclusion, these steps place the onus on the district and the community to push the work forward. They call for a generative process that includes participation from across the community, including an emphasis on student voice. In other words, the very point is for us to take steps that make sense for our community, rather than for the Metro Center to direct our actions.

Rowe also supposes that the equity audit is intended to promote curriculum changes that “make stereotypical group assumptions about (students) being ‘privileged’ or being ‘marginalized’” or otherwise “categorize” students. This fear is misplaced because equity-building curriculum does not do this at all; it is designed to be learner-centered, participatory and affirming for all. It seeks to move away from labels because they are reductionist and the world is a complicated and dynamic place. It pushes a shift toward learning how to see every person as an individual, including the challenges that they may face given their lived experiences. Creating this space to empathize with others’ experiences and making changes at a policy level to abolish structural racism are at the heart of creating a more equitable society. Rowe’s concerns are actually touched upon in the audit’s recommendations, especially if you are familiar with the texts that they are citing. We all need this education to be equipped to function in a diverse community.

Because of the generative process called for in the audit, the interventions that will be designed and implemented to address inequity in our school system will come from the people of Pelham. This is our opportunity to listen and learn from each other, allowing us to better understand ourselves, our neighbors and the dynamics within our own community. To ground ourselves in research and texts—not anecdotal practices from other places—and then model that process for our children. Finally, once we’re all speaking the same language, we need to work together to identify the inequities in this community and find the best ways to break them down. These are the actionable steps that are called for in the audit. No one else can do that heavy lifting for us, though, and we need to do this work now.

Elizabeth Herbert-Wasson

17 Irving Place