Sydnee solved the problem and shared that there would be enough seats for everyone. Immediately, this innate, non-negotiable feeling emerged, and I advised her to rethink her problem and try again. The student continued to say that she was confident in her answer and found a solution. I proceeded to demonstrate several strategies that matched my thinking. And again, Sydnee indicated that there were enough seats because she found a way to make things work. Baffled by his reasoning, I took the time to look carefully at his illustration as all students had to demonstrate their problem solving methods. In a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, she wrote “Jacob cAnt coM”. Afterwards, Sydnee explained that she hadn’t invited a student due to the lack of available chairs so that we could all have a place to sit.
Her math journal taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of decolonizing my mind. I started to ask myself: How do i often expect students to put their thinking into a box that i have created? How did I create this box? Why do I get the idea that things have to be done a certain way to meet standards? Where do these standards come from? How do these standards harm the creativity and brilliance of the students I serve, especially those on the margins? Trying to match Sydnee to my reasoning, I failed to match her thinking process and seeing the possibilities beyond how I conceptualized the problem.
Decolonizing our minds is a process of unlearning where we deconstruct ideologies and binaries that other individuals repress cultures or judge people as inadequate due to categorical and socially constructed hierarchies embedded in thought.sometimes without even knowing it. Advancing equity in education is a combination of mirror work and systemic work where we collectively assess and challenge power structures that produce unequal outcomes. We need to understand the role we play in maintaining inequalities. When you think about success, how do you define it and do these views relate to your expectations of students? (Kawi, 2020). At Hahnville High School in Boutte, Louisiana (Page, 2021), a student was barred from graduating due to the style of shoes he was wearing (resulting in a teacher providing the student with his own shoes). How were these standards for a dress code determined? A policy that would cost a milestone and accomplishment for a student? Given the subjective nature of disciplinary offenses such as disruption and insubordination, how do we decolonize our minds when working with human behaviors? The decolonization process begins with us (mirror work), then we work to develop content with essential identity issues in a physical environment designed to enhance student identity.
Erica Buchanan Rivera, Ph.D., is an educational equity specialist, consultant, community organizer, and passionate advocate for children and freeing spaces where people can be themselves. She has served as a teacher, principal, curriculum director and adjunct professor. She is currently the Director of Equity and Inclusion at a K-12 public school district in Indianapolis, Indiana.