Why is the door closed?

Image of door slightly open with light shining through. Photo by Lalesh Aldarwish.
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Why is the door closed?

Every week I get to chat with the amazing Nicole Tucker-Smith about all thing’s inclusion, equitable, anti-racist, and anti-biased. I love these conversations in general, but Nicole’s one-liners are what really get me. This week we were talking about the importance of inviting, listening to, and hearing diverse perspectives other than our own if we are to authentically embrace equity in education and society. We spoke about the questions, and people not asked so that we can avoid confronting social injustices and hypocrisy in our systems and in our own practices. To address this gap, I always say we need to ask who is not in the room. To which Nicole responded, ‘why is the door closed?’

Lightbulb moment! After a moment of stumped silence, I realised that I was so focused on inviting others in to be inclusive that I hadn’t considered that sometimes the very act of ‘inviting’ is exclusionary. With the door closed, or creating the invitation list, it still becomes a matter of who is in and who is out. And it is those with the power to keep or change the status-quo, those who are already in, that are making that decision. This got me thinking not only about our schools and classrooms but about how we go about accessing diverse perspectives at national, system, and curriculum design level. Are we truly accessing those perspectives? I’m not always sure we are, not in an authentic way anyway.

Let’s think about how diverse perspectives are invited. I know that when I get invited into the room it is because I’m perceived as an expert in my field of special education and thus I ‘represent’ a voice for special education, but I don’t have a special need. I’m also aware that I am invited in as a well-educated middle-class person. What many don’t know is that I’ve banged and broken down the door, several doors in-fact to have that label. When I was just Margaret Flood from a one-parent social welfare family very few people were opening doors let alone inviting me in. I’m so grateful for those teachers who challenged me and wouldn’t open the door to let me out until I’d succeeded but I was keenly aware of others’ teachers’ low expectations of me because of my background. I remember not being welcome at certain events. I don’t mean I felt unwelcome, I was, sometimes without subtlety, not invited or encouraged to attend-in my school, in my community, in places where I should have felt safe, welcomed, and valued.

And I’m aware of the language we -I- use when talking about those not in the room at both national and school level. Language like ‘hard to reach.’ How hard have we tried to reach them and is the term itself a privileged rationale- dare I say excuse or defence- for us not really trying to invite them in, listen to them. Language like ‘at risk’, ‘on the margins’, or ‘disengaged’. Is it not our/education’s/society’s actions or inactions that have created these realities? Yes, it’s a fact that some just don’t care or want to be invited in but how many others are we white washing with these phrases, absolving ourselves from any responsibility because of the labels those in the status quo have imposed. And what about the language- and barriers- of ‘invite’. I’m now in the room where these invitation lists are made. At national level, conversations are had based on capacity, political and public perceptions, those we feel will best ‘contribute’ to the intended goal, those we feel will ‘disrupt’ the process. There is often an alternate room where everyone else is ‘invited to contribute’ but the doors and windows are often shut in these rooms as those others, the ‘hard to reach’ can’t access the survey, online consultation, venue location. Indeed, they often can’t access the language because it hasn’t been written with them in mind. This is often what public consultation looks like. And the same can be true in our schools. Do parents and students sit in on subject department meetings when texts, activities, assessments are being decided? And if so, who is choosing the representative? Is every voice represented? Is there follow-up to ensure every parent and student understands the plethora of written information sent to them? Is the school door opened a half hour before schools starts and closed five minutes after the bell, literally closing the door on our students. Instead of thanking those who are late for making it in (remember we don’t know what happened prior to them reaching us) we give them late stamps and detentions. We put unrealistic dress codes in place that financially burden our community. I don’t mean uniforms here, but the stringent rules on the type of shoe for example. Yes, I’ve known of students sent home because they were wearing all black runners instead of black leather shoes while teachers were in jeans and black runners (nothing wrong with that but where is the fairness, the equity – especially when that parent probably had to choose between the leather school day shoes or the 24/7 runners).

I know this sounds negative and bleak. And probably like I’m blaming schools and teachers for the problems of society. I’m not. I know many amazing schools and educators who strive daily to include all voices, and the same is true of organisations at national level. But I’m pointing out that while there is the other side of things still occurring, we are keeping those doors shut. So, I ask. Why is it all about opening and closing doors? Why is it all about ‘inviting’ others in? Why should some have to bang down the door because they didn’t get an invitation. As Nicole, said ‘why are we even in a room?’ but that’s a whole other tangent….

So, I’ll end on this note. Quoting from Hamilton

‘My God, In God We Trust
But we never really know what got discussed
Click boom! Then it happened
But no one else was in the room where it happened……

I gotta be, I gotta be, gotta be (the room where it happens)
In the room (I wanna be in the room where it happens)’

In the room where it happens (Hamilton)

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