Untold Stories and a Call to Be Different
The AACTE 74th Annual Meeting culminated with a closing session keynote address by nationally renowned educator, education policy scholar, and best-selling author, Leslie T. Fenwick, Ph.D. Throughout her career, Fenwick has made significant contributions to the field of education, serving as the dean of Howard School of Education, and currently as AACTE’s dean in residence. In the closing keynote session, Fenwick shared insight and key themes from her book, Jim Crow’s Pink Slip: The Untold Story of Black Principal and Teacher Leadership, and she concluded with a series of recommendations to diversify the nation’s educator workforce and redefine school reform.
In our modern public education system, we as a nation currently experience inequities and challenges. Fenwick explained to the audience that “even before the pandemic, K-12 and college university educators were caught in the political battering that historically has surrounded public education, and since COVID that battering has become an all-consuming vortex.” Fenwick explained that this continued battering of public education must be addressed by those of us in the field of education in order to ensure an equitable and just system.
During her keynote, Fenwick explained that “the pandemic and righteous racial unrest have revealed just how much further the nation has to go in order to fulfill children’s constitutional right to equal education opportunities.” Despite rights outlined in state constitutions, nearly 30 years of research shows continued inequity in schools. Approximately 84% of Black students live in states that require high stakes testing, where only 66% of White students do. Fenwick posed the question: “How can we raise the bar for adults to teach them?”
In considering how to collaborate and revolutionize education for all learners to attain the education equity that AACTE supports, Fenwick outlined four suggestions in moving forward:
- A revolution is needed, and the following questions should be asked during this revolution.
- Who do we believe is worthy? Where is our sense of urgency to correct this divestment?
- What policies and practices that control others can be changed during our tenures as leaders?
- Basic principles of democracy must guide what we revolutionize toward.
- Structural inequalities are tied to outdated racial and cultural attitudes, and there is a need to teach and affirm the intellectual, historical, and cultural achievements of Black people.
- Divest from a deficit perspective of Black and Latinx students.
Despite a need for revolution in the field of education to attain educational equity, Fenwick highlighted the current roadblocks faced by educators. Though there is a need to revolutionize and create more equitable environment in education, educators are met with pushback from communities and policies. Fenwick explained that, historically, this pushback has previously existed, and that “the tactics being used now come from the exact same script; history is not dead.”
Highlighting the importance of “interrogation and interruption of misinterpretation of black people in research and media accounts,” Fenwick helped her audience challenge perspectives and stereotypes held toward Black students, parents, and individuals. In moving toward equity in education, she urged us to challenge preconceived and inaccurate notions held about Black Americans and question negative statistics about its communities when conducting research and considering racial disparities. The notion that Black communities’ history, surrounding research, and commentary is plagued by cultural elision is asserted throughout her book. Also asserted in Fenwick’s book are the untold stories of black educators impacted by the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which “even half a century later” still affect public education today in the disproportionate representation of black educators.
In closing, she state, “we have much before us” in creating an equitable and just society. Fenwick explained that “this era that we are living through is calling on us to be and do something different … to do and be in a way that advances humanity in new and more humane ways.” She urged the audience to question: “To what extent are we captured by our own ways of knowing, and what do we really know about the other?” It is through these reflections that we as knowers and co-creators of knowledge can influence positive and just change moving forward.
A video recording of this AACTE 2021 Opening Keynote session is available to Annual Meeting attendees at aacteconnect.org. Additional video recordings, including the Opening Keynote session and Deeper Dives from the 74th Annual Meeting may be accessed on Connect360.
Margaret Gerry is a member of the PRISE doctoral cohort studying special education at George Mason University. She plans to engage in comparative international research to investigate international education systems and identify new approaches to systems change across special education and teacher education policies and practices within the United States.