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Systemic Problems Need Systemic Answers

Why is SFUSD still using a hodgepodge approach to addressing systemic bias in our schools?

Last Saturday, my friend’s daughter (who happens to be one of the only Black kids in a mostly Chinese-American school) was told by a peer, Black kids should only play with Black kids, Chinese kids should only play with Chinese kids, etc. Several weeks before, my daughter and her friend reported a student said, “Black kids are bad at numbers” in their math class. My daughter’s friend, then vented to a friend that she is “sick and tired of all the ‘ish’ she has to put up with” being one of the only Black students in most of her classes. Last year, my daughter and I reported kids “joking” about the KKK and “sending people back to Mexico.” As a result, we were targeted by our principal (who as since been removed.)

Systemic Problems Systemic Answers This is in a diverse San Francisco school, in a “progressive” city. (One only wonders how bad things are in less diverse places.)

Nonetheless, no matter how much Black, immigrant, and LQBTQ families ask for concrete policies and practices to address the almost constant microagressions our kids and families face, many district and site leaders continue to promote “opt in” policies to address systemic bias in our schools.

Systemic Problems Systemic Answers: Haven’t we had enough wake-up calls?

It’s been almost six months since the Charlottesville Attack on August 11-12, 2017. While the white supremacist rallies were considered a wake-up call by many, anyone following #Ferguson, #ICantBreathe, and #BlackLivesMatter hashtags, and basically all of American History know white supremacy, xenophobia, trans and homophobia, and misogyny have been a problem for a long time now. (Also see, “Train of Tears“, “Stonewall Riots” and “The Chinese Exclusion Act“… I could go on.)

In response to the growing tide of racial, xenophobic, and transphobic hate which is now glaringly visible in our country, educators continue to meet the challenge of educating a new generation to push back on the hate. As our president continues to use name-calling and slurs to further a racist and xenophobic police state, (and based on our current president’s recent comments about African countries), it’s not getting better anytime soon. is even more important for families and educators to talk with children in developmentally appropriate ways about what they may be seeing and hearing.

And remember. Talking about bias and oppression are a lot like talking about sex. When we DON’T talk about it, we send the message that it’s bad to talk about. Our kids don’t learn important information and we never get to check the inaccurate assumptions they may have picked up along the way.

We need Systemic Problems Systemic Answers .

We need to take the necessary steps to address the bias in our schools. All educators, school parent groups and classrooms should be engaged in conversations about what it means to create safe and welcoming spaces for all students. It is no longer acceptable to just talk about “bullying” as something separate from race, class, language, religion, sexual/gender identity or social status. “I Messages” are great, but they don’t fix systemic bias in our schools. We need to talk about which students gets bullied, what slurs mean and where they come from, why we choose to read about and celebrate certain cultures and not others, the ways we share or don’t share power… And we ALL need to have this conversation. Not just some folks. All of us. And not just once a year, on MLK day or during the Gay Pride Parade.

In an effort to share strategies, in future posts, I will list some specific ways local Black families and I are creating change in our schools. I am also mindful that these conversations about Black students and families are just a start. Our dialog about equity must be all inclusive and ongoing. We must also fight for the safety and affirmation of Latino, API, LGBTQ, immigrant, etc. students and families. We should consistently be asking, “How are we SYSTEMATICALLY addressing hate and bias in our schools?”

How is your school systematically addressing hate and bias in among students? How are staff members unpacking their own implicit bias? How do site leaders support support marginalized families in feeling welcome in schools?

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4 thoughts on “Systemic Problems Need Systemic Answers

  1. Thanks for this, Ali. I totally agree and support what you’re saying here. I’m an incoming kinder parent for next fall, and stories like this have me very concerned about the district we’re coming into.

    1. Connect with me offline and I’m happy to share information. My girls are overall having an EXCELLENT experience. I also want to be clear, I am NOT just speaking about public school. I’m talking about our entire education system. I have friends who send their children to a local parochial school and had an issue with children joking about the KKK. Lowell HS, one of the top high schools in our state had an issue just a few years ago and so did Saint Ignatious (just “google” the names of schools with the word “racist” and stories are not hard to find.) Whether we like it or not, we know racism and other forms of bias are heavily embedded in our culture. It’s entirely normal for children to repeat things they hear on social media and make inappropriate jokes. This is especially true of tweens/teens. That’s why we need systems and structures to address this type of negative socialization.

    1. I like that! I’m thinking “Appropriation”. It’s a tricky concept, but a good one. My girls and I have had several conversations about that and now are pretty good at spotting it. Sometimes we disagree and that leads to a good discussion as well. 🙂

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