A collective sense of pride
As many schools around the world sprint to the finish of the school year, this month brings two powerful celebrations: Juneteenth and Pride Month. Both have enormous significance for educators in today’s international schools. In the United States, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution on June 15, 2021 to give Juneteenth legal holiday status. Short for June 19th, Juneteenth commemorates the day when federal troops arrived in Texas to ensure that all enslaved people would be freed, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. During Pride Month around the world, activists, students and educators help raise awareness about diversity within school communities. Global celebrations encourage us to not only include but also take pride in all members of our families and communities, particularly those who in the past may have had to hide who they were.
Amid the joy of returning to in-person Pride parades and Juneteenth celebrations, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the most recent mass shootings are heartbreaking reminders that ignorance, hate, fear and violence persist in our world today. Oren Jay Sofer reminds us that “The pain is valid. The grief is valid. The anger, fear and emotional exhaustion are all valid. And making space for the truth of our feelings is essential for keeping the heart healthy and finding a wise response in this complex world.” So, even during the busy end of the school year, as educators, it is important to take a step back and reflect on notions of both diversity and inclusion in international school communities. We should ask ourselves:
To what extent are all humans welcome in our school?
When we discuss inclusion do we just consider linguistic or cultural identity?
Could we be part of the problem by perpetuating unjust systems, or part of the solution by challenging inequity and bias?
So what can international educators do? We need to recognize our own privilege and biases. I acknowledge as I write this – that as a white, cis gender, able bodied, English speaking, heterosexual, male U.S. citizen – I’ve almost certainly received unearned privilege in certain situations. We need to examine our schools through an equity lens. Shifting from a deficit orientation to an asset-based orientation is not enough because ignoring systemic inequity perpetuates practices that remain unchallenged, especially when these practices are ostensibly targeted as support. We need to continue to ask difficult questions, even if we can’t answer them. In fact, that’s the very reason we need to keep asking them.
Segregating students from mainstream classes fragments their learning and stigmatizes rather than celebrates cultural and linguistic diversity. Punishing students for using their entire linguistic repertoire as a tool for learning both marginalizes and silences them. Remaining apart from the host community reinforces rather than challenges the colonial legacy of international schools. Around the world, courageous educators are noticing, speaking up and taking action to create more inclusive and just schools. As we move towards the summer break, I hope you take the time to recharge: all educators need and deserve it. I also hope you can take time to reflect, and share a collective sense of pride in ongoing work to include ALL students and educators in the global community of schools.
Jon Nordmeyer, WIDA International Programs director