As many of you may know, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted Board of Directors crafted this statement on social justice and equity on June 5, 2020 in the wake of the events that rocked our nation:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
“As our nation faces the grave consequences of long standing and systemic racism, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted remains committed to equity and justice for all. As an organization, we are cognizant of the inequities in identification and educational programming for gifted students of color. We remain committed to examining these inequities, and rectifying these inequities. We pledge to do our part to dismantle structural and institutional racism. We invite partnerships with other institutions, groups, and individuals to share conversations about the impacts of race, and will work to listen, learn, and support each other in this critical process of changing our world.”
Though crafting a statement such as this may be easy, carrying out the promises and the work of the statement is the true test of intention married to commitment and follow-through.
As we have progressed through the summer, our board has dedicated conscious effort to hold ourselves accountable. At every meeting, we lift up our statement and reflect on ways that we are carrying out its intent and its promise. We ask hard questions; we seek answers. We reflect on terms such as equity and excellence; we look for evidence of them in our work. We choose to dedicate parts of our social media presence to explore what is being done to ensure fairness in identification and programming in gifted education. We explore topics such as diversity in hiring in the field of education, and ways to increase diversity on our board. We encourage and welcome speakers to our annual fall conference who will speak on topics of diversity, “missingness” in gifted education, our data regarding race and ethnicity and gifted programming, and ways to “level the playing field.” We speak at other state conferences with ideas to increase representation in gifted education. And we ask for your help in doing the social justice work in your districts, your schools, your classrooms, and your homes.
In a recent article from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) entitledAction Steps and Additional Resources: Black Lives Matter in Gifted Educationauthor Jessica Stargardter suggests ways that all of us can promote anti-racism, equity, and inclusion. She speaks, first of all, of doing the work of educating ourselves. Whether we are reading, listening, questioning, discussing, sharing ideas, we need to be informed. We need to do the anti-racist work in our own lives, and then apply it to our lives and our practices.
As educators, we must be vigilant about practices that are inclusive surrounding identification, programming, and support. When identifying, we must include families in the process and provide communication in multiple languages along the way. We must ensure that we will identify a pipeline of talent that begins with young diverse gifted students and supports them consistently along the way. We must guard against bias in identification, work critically with our colleagues, and use multiple measures that honor different ways of showing the gifts and talents of students.
When we program, we must provide talent development opportunities that begin with our youngest learners, include families along the way, and support students and families, especially during transition years (e.g., at entrance, between elementary and middle school, middle and high school, and high school and post-secondary). To program effectively for diverse learners, we must effectively attract and retain diverse teachers, for these teachers will provide understanding and role modeling for equity and excellence. Finally, we must hold governance (administration, school boards, legislators) accountable for examining and rectifying equity and justice issues.
At the classroom level, we must utilize resources that celebrate diversity, and examine history through a lens of justice and equity. We must teach creative and critical thinking skills, allow for voice and choice, and find space for students to discuss race and racism in a safe environment. We must continually assess our own progress in the quest for a more fair and just world, and share our frustration and continued commitment.
Finally, in our homes, we must have critical conversations about race and racism. We must ask hard questions of ourselves and each other. We must ask questions of our school boards, cities, states and nation, and discuss answers with our children. We must answer hard questions from our children, and know that they are often extremely insightful about these issues. Finally, we must find ways to put our words into action.
One way you can put your thoughts and words into action is to attend our WATG virtual conference, “Hands-On, Minds-On: Now More Than Ever” on October 18-20. At this conference we will open conversations, share insights, and make commitments to the hands-on work of our minds. We will pledge to do the work of promoting equity and social justice, and will ask for your help. We cannot do this work alone, and we charge all of you to do your part. We encourage you to join us on this journey, and to share your joys and challenges. The time is right for this important work -- NOW MORE THAN EVER!