Recap: “Reconstructing Education: The Schools We Want to See”
October 6, 2021 by Noor Amanullah
On Sunday, September 26, 2021, Connecting With Humanity brought together four people striving to improve education in the United States. The community forum, titled “Reconstructing Education: The Schools We Want to See,” was the first hosted by the organization, which strives to bring together young people and their allies for meaningful conversation and connection. The panel featured Dr. Rai Wilson, Dr. Nora Aboali, Adam Keller, and Noor Amanullah. Dr. Wilson, a dean and teacher at the Francis Parker School in San Diego, and Dr. Aboali, an educator and the Restorative Justice Coordinator at the New York City Department of Education, provided the valuable perspective of teachers in the classroom, and the relationship between students, teachers, and administrators. Adam Keller, an education activist based in Huntsville, Alabama, emphasized the importance of community and stakeholder voices in education, and Noor Amanullah, a Rutgers University student shared her insights on civic education and effective classroom practices. Moderator Eshe Lovely, along with Connecting With Humanity Co-Leaders Spandana Bondalapati and Asquith Clarke II, opened the conversation by asking what issues in education stand out to each panelist. Reflecting on her own classroom experiences, Amanullah pointed out that effective teachers recognize that students do not always experience personal congruence with the ideals taught in school. Other panelists answered in terms of the goals of schools: Dr. Wilson noted how schools are not prepared for conversations of justice and contemporary relevance, and Dr. Aboali pointed out that schools reflect societal values. When budget cuts occur, she explained, the first programs to go are often civics, art, and sex education, topics she places importance in. Keller added that the people participating in the school system, such as parents, students, and teachers, often have the least say in it. The hour-long discussion moved between various issues in education, covering the national debate over Critical Race Theory, and the accuracy and breadth of history taught in schools. On Critical Race Theory, Dr. Aboali emphasized that those in power dominate the discourse, and that there is a structure above teachers that hinders their ability to update curricula. A history teacher himself, Dr. Wilson added that “even if no white people were racist,” there would still be a need to discuss race in classrooms. Sharing his own experience, Dr. Wilson also presented that “teachers don’t know what they don’t know.” Teachers, he said, are part of the cycle of inadequate history lessons. Toward the end of the discussion, panelists turned toward the theme of “the urgency of now” in education. For Amanullah, urgency can be found in supporting all students, based on their needs and civic identities. Schools, she explained, should aim to transition students who are complacent to a position where they are aware, and move students who are discouraged to a position of empowerment. Keller ended the event by offering advice to the young people in the room and youth advocates in general. Here are his suggestions: 1. Build relationships on love, solidarity, and respect. You can’t do it alone. 2. Relish your small victories. They will build on each other. 3. Stay resilient. Always be organizing your next steps.
Thank you to all our panelists and attendees for contributing to this discussion. The future we want to see is possible, and young people play an important role in bringing it about!