Looking for transformation
While subzero temperatures and shoveling snow off the roof may not appeal to everyone, winter in Wisconsin can be startlingly beautiful. One unique meteorological phenomenon – rime ice – occurs when supercooled water droplets freeze in the air and then attach to a surface. The resulting ice whiskers can transform everyday objects into magical creations. Crystallized water vapor, or ideas, can transform a landscape as we know it. Likewise, in the past year, we have been challenged, shocked and in many ways changed by remarkable events both locally and globally: healthcare crises, racial reckoning, political strife. These collective experiences have resulted in deep introspection, dialogue and in some cases reconciliation. In response to extraordinary circumstances due to the pandemic, stark realizations about inequity and a growing conversation about the decolonization of school systems, educators around the world have had the opportunity to re-imagine what school can be, and should be.
This sense of change, possibility and transformation was captured by the first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, Amanda Gorman, in her poem for last month’s United States Presidential Inauguration:
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
And during February, as we engage with Black History Month and grapple with 400 years of racism in the United States, the global education community collectively inquires into the intersection of race, language and culture in international schools. This ongoing conversation not only sheds light on the historical legacy of international education, but is also helping to transform the future of international schools.
As international educators, we have the responsibility to consider our own identity and how it frames our experience with respect to our schools and our students. In her powerful new book, Growing Up in Transit, transnational scholar and former international school student Danau Tanu, writes that “Being international is a form of cosmopolitanism that privileges those who have a certain set of cultural capital, such as being “westernized” and/or being able to speak English fluently. As a result, those students who do not possess the right set of cosmopolitan cultural capital, or enough of it, are seen as failing to become international, even when they are perfectly capable of engaging across difference through other means.” This requires a deliberate inquiry into cultural and linguistic diversity as a resource. Audre Lorde cautioned that “Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.” Just as claiming to be colorblind completely misses the point of systemic racism, when we don’t recognize the historical legacy of our schools, we run the risk of being equally “language-blind” or “culture-blind” in perpetuating norms of exclusion.
As a university-based research center, WIDA is committed to social justice. And as we develop language standards and assessments, we want to ensure we are part of the solution – not part of the problem – in providing an equitable education for multilingual learners. We are proud to partner with organizations like AIELOC (Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color) to create spaces for important and uncomfortable conversations about the colonial legacy of international schools as well as the role of race and language in school policies and practices. Many international school communities are critically engaging with questions of belonging and representation among students, teachers and school leaders. As these questions transform conversations, they are starting to crystallize into principles and action, impacting schools around the world. So even in the long Wisconsin winter, we can find hope – and possibly transformation – when we look for it.
Dengan segala hormat,
Jon Nordmeyer, WIDA International Program director
*Bahasa Indonesia: “With all respect”