Here at UrbEd, one of the main things we are trying to achieve is a diverse group of educators in Philadelphia public schools. Why? you may ask. When I first read this on UrbEd’s address I wondered the same thing. Why are diverse educators necessary? Actually--why is diversity necessary?
Let’s start with something that--albeit subtly--is at the heart of human nature: community. People need community. School, family, your neighborhood--we are surrounded by our community. We are made by it. Recently I was in a discussion with someone about why people believe the things they do, why we are convinced we’re just as right as the next person with a completely different opinion. She said something really interesting: community makes people feel more sure about their beliefs, perhaps beliefs they were tentative about in the first place. When the whole school is out at a fire drill--sure, it’s cold, and annoying, but everyone is out there standing behind the school together, and somehow, there is a feeling of safety, of power, even, in that togetherness.
Fire drills are trivial things, and togetherness during them won’t ultimately help the world thrive. But education--that’s important. In Philadelphia, as of 2015, black people have made up 43% of the students attending schools in the Philadelphia School District [Statistical Atlas]. But as for black educators, only 25% of teachers in Philadelphia are black [The Inquirer]. That means that black kids from pre-k level to 12th grade are not even close to being as represented by the adults who teach them as they should be.
Again, why does this matter? Why is this important? It’s important because without representation, there can be no sense of community--or, to take out part of that word--of unity.
As I white person I cannot claim to know specifically how lack of representation in their educators makes black students feel. But as a gay person, it is extremely helpful for me to have an openly gay teacher in my school, who is comfortable talking with students about just how gay they are. To have one of our intellectuals, our role models--an admired and respected teacher--also be gay, just like me, just like a lot of my friends and peers who want representation, is comforting and important--and makes me feel a sense of community, of unity, with the world and its intellectuals.
Students, both young ones who may not have a detailed sense of the world, and older ones, who are just preparing to leave high school and enter the real world, need to feel like they are a part of a group. Which is why it’s amazing for kids of all ethnicities that there are slightly more than half as many black kids attending schools in Philadelphia as there are white kids--because with exposure to every ethnicity, walls of xenophobia between students will disappear, and they can grow up being more comfortable with each other. But it’s not all about the kids. A part of representation--an important part--is who leads said kids in their endeavors, who teaches them. Kids look up to their teachers, even older kids. If an example is set of black educators--if the people who know things are not just white people, but black people--then kids will look up to these people. When kids grow up feeling like the adults themselves--the intellectuals, the educators, the role models--can only be white, black might kids feel like they can’t be role models, educators, intellectuals. Kids in a minority group whose schools aren’t very diversely populated may feel more confidence and self-reassurance at having educators who are also in minority groups.
Everyone needs representation; everyone needs to feel like they are part of a community. Everyone of every race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Today, because it is the second week of Black History Month, I touched on why it is important for kids of all races to be taught by more black educators, but--obviously--representation for every ethnicity is not only ideal, but something we can, should, will accomplish.