"Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists; it is making a new space, a better space for everyone". ~ George Dei
Friday was a professional development day in our district. Part of the day was dedicated to providing inservice on the provincial government's Equity and Inclusive Education document. Our learning goal for the session was to deepen understanding of the goals of the Ontario Equity Strategy and to examine the relationship between assumptions, power and privilege and the learning continuum.
After some introductory comments on the document and viewing a TED talk from Chimamanda Adichie we moved into an activity based on what is called the Equity Lens. Staff were presented with the following question - You are about to embark on an 8 hour flight. The airline has given you the option of sitting beside one of the following people. Which one would you choose, and why?
- An ex-high security prisoner, jailed for over 26 years
- A basketball player
- A person with a bald head and multiple piercings
- A refugee
- A woman from Iran
As staff thought about reasons for sitting beside one of the people above they moved to areas in the room indicated for each of them. While in a small group they spent time discussing their reasons for sitting beside that particular person.
Take some time to think about this scenario yourself. Who would you sit beside, and why?
After giving the group time to share their thoughts within the small group we then moved to sharing with the entire group. There were some really interesting ideas shared. Common themes were getting to know someone new, to ask questions and to learn something new from a different culture. All great. What the participants didn't realize was that they were using their personal lens when presented with the scenario. With that personal lens on we all make assumptions. Here are who those passagers could have been.
- Nelson Mandela - an ex-high security prisoner, jailed for over 26 years
- Kendra Ohama - paralympic gold medalist in basketball in 1992, 1996 and 2000
- Enas El-Atrash - a 5 year old girl, bald from chemotherapy
- Michealle Jean - a refugee who fled Haiti in 1968 and became the Governor General of Canada
- Anousheh Ansari - An Iranian women who became the first female space tourist, first muslim and first Iranian in space
Three questions can frame this discussion and help to understand how our personal lens can influence our thoughts and maybe even our classroom practice.
What assumptions did you make about your choices? Why is it important to identify those choices? Where did your assumptions come from?
This exercise was extremely important and eye opening for many of us. Our personal lens is formed by many factors such as our age, religion, gender, beliefs, socio-economic status, education and experiences among many. Our goal as an inclusive educational system to ensure the instruction and culture is one that allows everyone into a new open space, so that all children feel safe and accepted.
Think about your current educational context. Is it inclusive and equitable? If it is what are you doing? If it isn't how can you make it inclusive? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Below is the TED Talk from Chimamanda Adichie about finding her cultural voice.