According to the Columbia County School District in Columbia County Georgia, there is a framework for ensuring success. The clever acronym, L.E.A.R.N. is used to spell out this Framework.
• Lead by example;
• Expect all to succeed;
• Achieve excellence through engaging experiences;
• Respect and value each other; and
• Now and tomorrow.
Based on their own framework, you must question the reasoning behind the recent decisions to reject certain works from the supplemental novel list for secondary schools. Taken step by step, this decision is contrary to the very fabric of the district’s map for success.
Lead by example. In looking at leadership, the district’s example is to silence voices of color and ability. In doing so, they are telling the students of the district that some voices are more important than others are. Is this the message that the district wants? Does the district want to tell the students that those in power get to dictate the message and that some messages are not as important? Personally, I do not buy the argument that there were areas of concern. All of the books on the list had them. The books that were silenced just did not mesh with the dominant voice in the district.
Expect all to succeed. In education, there is a concept of culturally responsive teaching. According to Gloria Ladson-Billings, teachers should use culturally relevant works to help develop students’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes. If Columbia County is trying to prepare students for life, it would make sense that information about all people would be relevant. Not just books about dinosaurs, Ebola, and a post-apocalyptic world. This is not relevance. This is entertainment veiled as works about science and man vs nature.
Achieve excellence through engaging experiences. Schools are places of control. Schools control when students eat, when they can go to the bathroom, when they can talk, and when they can walk. However, there is another part to control. Schools can also offer a safe place to have conversations. Critical conversations. Difficult conversations. Conversations that can lead to critical and creative thinking that are necessary for a democracy to succeed. However, by stripping the curriculum of books that deal with voices of color, voices of ability, and voices of the marginalized, we are taking away engaging experiences. We are limiting the potential of the students of Columbia County by offering only one voice.
Respect and value each other. No and no. No, this policy does not show respect for each other. No, this policy does not show value for each other. In fact, it does the opposite. By silencing non-dominant voices, the Columbia County School District is saying that if you are not part of the dominant culture, your voice does not matter. And, in turn, perhaps you do not matter. Just because a work is difficult and deals with difficult topics does not mean that it is lesser. Everyone lives different lives and has different experiences. We must, as a society, respect and value each other.
Now and tomorrow. If one of the purposes of schooling is to help students prepare for life, both now and tomorrow, how can the rejection of minority and marginalized voices accomplish this? Is the plan to limit students understanding the world? Is the plan to create an idealized view of society through the lens of whiteness? Is the plan to have students graduate and realize their sheltered world is not reality? By limiting voices, we limit ourselves.
According to the Columbia County School District in Columbia County Georgia, the mission of the district is, “Empowering and Inspiring All Learners to Excel in a Global Society.” I guess that is true if the “All Learners” refers to white, Christian, straight, cisgendered learners. Ultimately, this decision reeks of white supremacy, white privilege, and a desperate attempt for Columbia County Schools to reinforce their notion of a conservative, white utopia. This is not what education is about. This is not what learning is about. And it is certainly not what living in a democracy is about.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.