Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Invisible Majority

In full transparency, I am unsure if I heard the term "invisible majority" at any point throughout my life, and it has been merely buried in my subconscious.  However, it is clear to me that the concept popped into my head recently as I observed and listened to educators and elected officials discuss an amazing program that clearly had inequitable outcomes for a school population.  In my opinion, the discussion passively addressed the inequitable impact on the majority of students, while intentionally highlighting the benefits of the program which disproportionately benefits the minority of the students.  As amazing as the program may be, as an educator with a social justice lens, all I could focus on was the significant disproportionate representation in the students who were able to access and benefit from the program -- the "invisible majority".  In fairness, the presenter briefly highlighted the disproportionate data and introduced a proposal  to expand the program in hopes of addressing the gap, but the presentation and questions that followed quickly shifted the conversation to the "program" and not the systemic root cause(s) that allowed for the disproportionate student representation.  I understand a discussion about the program was the easier conversation.  Nonetheless, it is my principled and professional stance that educators and elected officials have a fiduciary duty to prioritize the latter.

Although this was one presentation about one program, the concept of the "invisible majority" permeates through many systems, especially education.  I propose it is a widely understood concept and the real reason education struggles to achieve equitable outcomes that result in a quality education and experience for all students.  I am not pointing the finger or placing blame.  The reality is until we focus efforts on what is not working for the majority of students, instead of simply scaling up what is working for the minority of students, desired results will remain out of our grasp. Efforts have to move beyond courageous conversations to actions and accountability.  If I am honest, at this point, as an educational leader, I am exhausted by the number courageous conversations I either initiate or participate in daily.  Courageous conversation alone will not change the experiences of the invisible majority.  Conversations must be followed up with clear expectation, actions, and accountability.

Earlier this week, I suggested education adopt the business sector's concept and view students and parents as customers or clients.  If we viewed students and parents as customers or clients, we would focus our efforts on maintaining or attaining their business.  I am not naive to the fact that the issues that plague education are complicated and entrenched, and will not be remedied by one mental model shift.  That being said, there still remains the need for the shift.  Using the business model, maintaining or attaining the invisible majority as customers or clients requires intentionality. According to Forbes , the four key areas to focus on for increasing revenue are: strategy, structure, people and process.  It is important to have a clear sales strategy that aligns with your revenue goals.  The structure must support your strategic efforts. Making sure you have right people in the right roles is critical. Lastly, to ensure velocity and efficiency and to avoid wasting time and effort, killer processes have to be in place.  (Keenan, The Four Key Areas of Increasing Sales Revenue, (2014),

Clearly education's goal is not to increase revenue; but, instead, to improve educational outcomes and experiences for students.  For the purpose of this blog entry, the focus is the invisible majority.  How does education strategically identify areas of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the system that will directly impact educational outcomes and experiences for the invisible majority? Is there a structure in place that allows the right pieces, people, and processes to be in place to implement the strategies? These are not new questions to be posed by educators.  I have worked and continue to work with phenomenal educational leaders and educators who pose these questions and solutions daily in meetings, at lunch, and over adult beverages at happy hour.  What I would question, is the degree of intentionality of conversations, and how the conversations then move to intentional actions and accountability.  To assume a conversation about  "all students" would trigger intentional efforts that substantially impact the invisible majority is idealistic and unrealistic.  General and broad conversations about "all students" only perpetuate and widen the achievement and access gaps, not narrow them.  The right people in the right positions will lead conversations away from what is best for "all students" and begin to have critical, courageous conversations around the educational outcomes and experiences of specific groups of students.  The conversations should address inequities; adverse impacts of people, policies and practices; vertical and horizontal accountability, and intentionality. 

The invisible majority deserves educational leaders and educators that will hold critical, courageous conversations, with the goal of moving to actions and accountability.  There is no compromise. 

Educational Leader and Social Justice Advocate,

ShaKenya Edison

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Fair and Equitable Free and Public Education system for all students.

As I return from the Equal Justice Initiative's Peace and Justice Summit and grand opening of the Legacy Museum and the Peace and Justice Memorial, I am reflecting on the entire experience and I am full. I feel as if I am ready to birth a new movement, but it is not new-- more like revived, renewed, recycled. This movement is to champion educational justice through the lens of humanity and equity.  Although the physical journey through the museum and memorial was short in distance, it was a long journey in time, spanning back over 200 years. The journey shined light on how far we have come and how far we still need to go.

As I walked through the memorial and read the reasons men, women and children were lynched,  it became apparent the lynch mobs' goals were not merely to kill an individual, but,  instead,  to kill the seeds of equality, justice, fairness, prosperity and humanity.   Some of the reasons individuals were lynched ranged from refusing to vacate their own property, organizing sharecropers, writing a note, testifying against a white man,  registering Blacks to vote, and complaining about being discriminated against.    As I reflect on the past and present state of and experiences in many communities of color,  it could be argued, the mobs in part achieved their goals.   Today, in 2018, there still remains remnants of the terror that lynchings imparted on an entire race. The remnants of inequality, injustice, greed, and inhumanity are embedded in many of our institutions and structures.

As I walked through the museum,  I was overwhelmed by the lack of humanity reflected in photos of those who gathered to bear witness to lynchings and attacks, as if it were entertainment. There were men, women and even children in the crowds.   As I looked at the crowds, it became even more evident to me that passive observance is passive consent.  Sitting or standing in silence does not make us less guilty of the deplorable acts we witness.   Not directly participating is not innocence. 

Yes, lynchings are no more, but we continue to grapple with institutions and structures that achieve the same outcomes as lynchings,  including, but not limited to:  inequality, injustice, unfairness, and dramatically limiting access to education and financial prosperity for people of color.  The same agenda with different methods of attainment.  There continues to be work to be done!

As an educator, advocate, and social justice warrior, I attended the Equal Justice Initiative's Peace and Justice Summit, as well the museum and memorial grand openings to gain tools and insight to continue working to ensure all students, especially students of color,  have access to a high quality, fair and equitable free and public education system.  For me,  this means educational professional are supported and held accountable to professional standards; policies and practices are monitored to ensure fairness; success for all students is at the center of all decisions; elected officials are held accountable for desired outcomes for all students; best practices become memorialized in policies as the norm and expectation;  identified injustices and inequities are directly addressed and remedied; and lastly, the students with the greatest needs receive the appropriate levels of support and services.  To do this important work, leaders must be results driven, continuously challenge status quos and mental models,  master the critical and hard conversations, set professional expectations with accountability, advocate for resources and services, and invest in capacity building.

I am excited to continue this work with social justice advocates, near and far.  I highly recommend a visit to the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum and Peace and Justice Memorial.  For those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it!

Committed to the work,

ShaKenya Edison