A white woman in a red dress with a black headband and a White man with glasses against a purple background with red text above them reading "Exploring Educational Equity from Theory to Practical Application."

Exploring Educational Equity From Theory to Practical Application with Alida Miranda-Wolff – Episode #23, Minisode #5

In the most recent episode arc, the Care Work podcast explores educational equity with guests who are experts in impactful social education for teens, supportive higher education spaces, and inclusive literacy. In this reflective episode, Alida Miranda-Wolff investigates the parallel themes that emerged throughout these episodes to reveal a multi-faceted definition of educational equity and how its integration could create safer spaces for learners of every age.

Episode Show Notes

Reflect with Alida on the finer points of this essential topic:

  • The nuances and intricacies in defining educational equity
  • Practical application that will help these theories succeed in the real world
  • The responsibility of policies, government, and educators in realizing educational equity
  • Complications that require that these practices be implemented with great care and attention

Important resources from this episode:

Neapolitan novels mentioned in episode – https://bookshop.org/search?keywords=Neapolitan+novels+by+Elena+Frante


ALIDA: Welcome to the Care Work Podcast. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff. This podcast is for anyone in the business of providing care. Whether you’re being paid for it or not, you’ll discover what it means to offer care and how to take care of yourself in the process. For the last ten years, as a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging practitioner, a care worker myself, I’ve focused on providing care to other people for a living. Now with this podcast, I’m hoping to create a culture of care in my community and help you do the same in yours.
I’m going to be honest with you, I am feeling very self conscious about recording this minisode number five on educational equity, because I have been slogging through hbomberguy’s new YouTube video on plagiarism, and I’m not worried about plagiarizing. I’m worried about something that he spends great length detailing,
which is the unfortunate habit of YouTubers reading long blocks of text from other people’s work and calling that their content. And as I was making the outline for this, I was creating long blocks of text from other people’s work. So I’m going to make my best attempt here to put something together that’s got my own perspective and synthesizes the research and hopefully shares a perspective in a conversational and creative way.
That intro brings me to the subject of today’s episode. So we have just finished our educational equity arc, and this has been an arc that’s focused on through interviews with Johnny Campbell, Deborah Guinta, and Ken Bigger, what it means to create classroom and learning environments that include everyone. And I think it’s helpful that we start off with some definitions. So there are the definitions that the folks, the guests on the podcast came up with, and then there are the actual sort of sanctioned definitions. So when I was doing my research for the arc, I pulled definition directly from the National Equity Project, and they’ve got a nice succinct definition, which is that educational equity means that each child receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential, and they list out a few different outcomes that are a result of educational equity, or a few different processes or practices that bring this about. So specifically, that all participants in the education system can achieve high outcomes, and that being able to predict whether someone succeeds or fails is basically removed on the basis of social or cultural identities.
Educational equity also involves interrupting biased behaviors or inequitable practices that ultimately allow for us to create more multicultural environments for both adults and children. And then finally, that there’s a real focus on a strength based approach to looking at every learner. So, thinking about what their unique gifts and talents and interests are, which dovetails really nicely into all of the work and research that Johnny Campbell does on anti-deficit learning and anti-deficit thinking in classroom environments. So, that was the definition I started on. And then now that I’ve had time to reflect on the podcast episodes and go through the editing process, I’m, um, going to add a few things.
So, when it comes to educational equity, what I keep reflecting on is Johnny Campbell’s concept of the freedom to dream that in a classroom environment, every student, every learner, every participant is free to dream multiple possibilities for themselves, for the world, and that they’re not limited. And I think this is also related to something I talked about pretty at length with Ken Bigger, which is what it means to honor multiple literacies. So, not just thinking about what are the rote ways that in our education system, we assess learning capability and learning success, but understanding that there are other things at play. So, for example, a literacy that we don’t talk a whole lot about is storytelling and oral literacy, what is a spoken tradition. So, being able to create space for this strength based approach.
And then I went back to Debra Giunta, and what she’s doing at Prismatic, and what I found there is, again, this idea of really honoring the dignity of every human learner. So, in her case, what Prismatic is looking at is, what are the experiences? What are the preferences? What are the needs of the kids that they serve and taking them really seriously. So, asking kids, what is your mission? What do you care about? What do you want to change? What are you able to do? And asking what their interests are and what they’re good at, and being able to provide examples of things they could be good at that are not just math or reading or chemistry, but being able to say, I’m a really good doodler, or, I’m really good at playing video games, or, I’m really good at bridging conflicts between my friends and building a learning path and a career path out of this mentality. So, in other words, now that I’ve had the chance to spend all of this time on educational equity, I’m coming out of it thinking that educational equity means that everybody has the resources that they need within a learning environment. And once those baseline resources are provided, that each learner is treated with respect, dignity, and an outlook that ultimately allows for them to dream up bigger, better other worlds and visions of themselves into the future, and that they’re treated as being innately worthy, valuable, and that they represent hope and possibility rather than some set of limitations or adversities.
So this is what educational equity is at its core. What is it that we need to do to actually make sure it happens practically? Because when I go to that national equity project website and I look at those different dimensions, they both make sense and don’t. Because I look at something like creating an inclusive, multicultural school environment, and I sort of have this image of a United Colours of Beneton ad where we have all different kinds of bodies and we are able to see love and warmth between them. It’s also like the 1980s, hands across America visual. But I don’t actually know what that means in the classroom and how those students interact with each other, with their teachers, with their parents. So I started to take what I had learned from my guests and put together what I think are the practices of educational equity.
And I’m going to start with one that immediately came to mind. I think educational equity is only possible if we put recess and rest at the center of education, as opposed to using them as rewards or levers, things that we can put in or take out, depending on what the county, state, municipality, federal government is asking of our education systems. And this really brought me to Tricia Hersey’s, Rest is Resistance. Because I think the insight that stuck out to me the most from her book was that we have taken PE, physical education, recess, and nap time out of public schools. And by doing this, we have also taken out what she calls space connection and slowing down. And so we’re creating a, sense, again, in her words, that there is this ongoing socialization and manipulation by the systems that then become internalized. And so we become agents of grind culture. If we are going to take a strength based approach to education, then we need to create multiple avenues to engage students and also allow them to process and recuperate. It’s wild to think that if you are constantly learning, learning, consuming, consuming, consuming, and you don’t have a chance to expel that energy or actually go to sleep or take a rest or break, that you’ll be able to fully digest and process it. But it also, I think, sends a message that when it comes to learning, what matters is the quantity of what you are able to retain rather than the quality of what you are able to interpret and again, imagine and dream.
So I think a big part of reaching a place of educational equity is reintroducing PE recess, naps, into the classroom and also considering how those things get integrated into multiple levels of education. So not just k through twelve, but higher education, lifelong learning. Where is the space for people to shift focus and gears? I think this is related to something I didn’t just hear from my educational equity guests, but also from my disability justice guests who will be coming up in the next arc on disability justice, which is just this really intense need for adaptive and responsive teaching. It’s the kind of teaching that takes more time, more preparation and more resources, but ultimately leads to better outcomes. And what comes to mind in particular is looking at the episode with Tim Viegas. His example of an inclusive classroom where students with disabilities and students without disabilities are learning together in the same space. His sort of utopian example, which was a real example that he experienced, was one where teachers were able to really look at the kids in their classroom, understand the learning objectives that they had set in the curriculum, and then fully customize for the strengths of those humans. I think with our standardized test focused education system and just the perpetual funding cuts and under resourcing of teachers, this feels like such a huge ask for care workers who are so badly undervalued. And I think that this commitment to adaptive and responsive teaching, apart from just the policy need and political need to invest in schools and invest in public school teachers significantly more than we do today, especially if we’re trying to hold ourselves to the standards of, uh, what I’m going to broadly refer to as the Nordics, which routinely show up as having the best education systems and have highly paid teachers who go through rigorous training, and also approaches that are very aligned with this adaptive and responsive approach. I’m just going to give one quick example, which is that in Iceland, much of the curriculum as students get older and older, is dictated by them and what they’re interested in. These questions that Prismatic asks, what is your mission? What are your interests? What are you good at? Actually shape the curriculum that they experience. That’s all about adaptive and responsive teaching. But I think we also have to consider, who are our teachers? What constitutes a teacher? It’s no secret on this podcast that I have a toddler, and I have a very expressive toddler, very active toddler, a toddler who is very much unlike how I was as a child and unlike many of the children I have known, even as an educator myself. And so I’ve been reading a book called Tiny Humans, Big Emotions, which has been very helpful. And one of the pieces that’s really stuck out to me about the book is you are not going to have the biggest interventions with your emotionally sensitive children from ongoing therapy or major major interventions, it’s going to be what you do in your habits, in your day to day, what gets integrated consistently in your interactions. Which means as a parent, you are as much a teacher as the teachers in the classroom, if not more so, just based on time. And that’s true of a whole community of people who are interacting with learners overall.
So what does it mean for us to take on this community centered mantle of being adaptive and responsive teachers to those learning around us and also have the humility to recognize that we ourselves are learners and may need adaptive and responsive teaching ourselves? That being said, in order to broaden our understanding of what makes educational equity possible, I think there are two items that are tied together, which is we need to better support teachers, and we need to better support parents. What that could look like, so for better supporting teachers, this means actually listening to the teachers unions when they strike, what they’re asking for, and instead of thinking about the inconvenience and often the inequity that is created when a strike is taking place, especially if you have working parents who don’t have other means of childcare, listen to what they are advocating for and consider how we might give teachers more of what they need. Ultimately, better supporting teachers is a policy issue, and one we should be taking seriously, especially as we come up into an election year and have the ability to bring kitchen table issues front and center. But I think at the more individual level, we can better support teachers by better understanding what it is they do, what it is they’re managing, and what it is that they need, and seeing what are the different ways that we can offer them care and support, whether that’s through empathy. A reminder from Dylan Marin is empathy is not endorsement. It just means feeling with. So being able to feel with our teachers, understand their experiences, and offer them information, tools, our time, our help and support.
But then there’s also, in order to do that, we have to better support parents. And in order to better support parents, I’m going to use another example from the ETHOS team, Miriam Cherbib. She is a resident of Sequim, Washington and a very engaged citizen. And one of the things that she’s been working on, along with a whole coalition of other people from the community, not all of them parents, is to consider what it would look like to actually provide subsidized universal childcare within their town, how that might actually strengthen the economy, attract better workers, attract specifically better doctors and nurses to hospitals, and provide community members with what they most truly need, which is support in raising their families. So, again, a policy issue here. To better support educational equity, we have to make sure that parents have access to the caregiving supports that they need. It’s no secret that the cost of caregiving in the US is exponentially high. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. Our daycare costs are higher than our mortgage, and we’re fortunate that we can pay both. But there are many people in our life who have had to make very difficult decisions in order to just have children to begin with. And I do want to point out that now that abortion access is very limited in the US, talking about better supporting parents and then actually putting things in place to do that has never been more vital and crucial. If we’re telling people they have to have kids, then we have to provide them with the, uh, resources to parent those kids and teach those kids in healthy ways.
Okay, so those are my ideas around where we need to spend more time. And some of these are more obvious than others. Obviously, my calls to action are going to involve writing letters to your legislators and looking for campaigns to be part of in order to really enact policy change. But I do think it’s also helpful to name some complications that I’ve been pondering and maybe see what you think of those. So there’s this very true phenomenon that happens in the US, which is that the learners who aren’t left behind, the ones we really invest in and who go on to pursue higher education, perhaps elite education. I count myself as one of these. They have the highest earning power in the U.S., and they tend to be the greatest decision makers in the U.S., so obviously, educational equity would expand the amount of people who are able to engage and participate in our society more deeply and also really help deal with generational wealth gaps. There’s a lot to investing in education, but I think it’s also worth pointing out that our current education system supports very specific type of learner and then helps them succeed into adulthood. But this doesn’t necessarily mean from a working life standpoint that they have a better life or a more balanced life. Something that Jonathan Malisek writes about a lot in his book, The End of Burnout. Why work drains us and how to build better lives, is that when we do the analysis of Americans with higher education degrees, the ones who have the highest earning power, they spend more time working than they do on leisure, than people with less education. In other words, the most educated people have the least balance. So that is an important reminder to us, because if we’re going to pursue educational equity, we have to really consider what is our desired outcome. Is it to produce more and more workers who work more in knowledge work? Are we trying to shrink the gap economically, alone? Or are we trying to shrink the gap between people who can experience leisure time and those who cannot? I think that sometimes these conversations around educational equity center more on market based ideals than they do on the needs of the humans in the system.
What I mean by that is the argument that if we provide everybody with what they need educationally so that they can contribute to society more meaningfully, what we mean when we say contribute to society more meaningfully is work in corporations and ultimately be more productive and spend less time on doing things like raising families and pursuing hobbies, and more on clocking time. And a great example of this that Malisec points out is that children of rich parents are twice as likely to have summer jobs as children of poorer parents. That there’s not just a need for working within these groups. Because, obviously, if your family has more income, the need to generate more income is less than if your family has less income. But it’s really about the status that it confers, and this idea that the work ethic is what we’re cultivating and managing. And so I think when we talk about educational equity, we have to really consider what it is for and the world we’re trying to shape by putting it in place.
And then the other idea that was complicating things for me is I have been back on my literature kick. And as part of that, I haven’t just been reading a lot of literature. I’ve been reading criticism of literature. And one of the books that I read recently by Joanna Biggs, A Life of One’s Own, really delves into ten women writers and basically lessons learned from their lives as well as from their work. And something that Joanna Biggs crystallized for me is that Virginia Woolf is often cited as an example of an Oxbridge educated woman writer. And she wasn’t. In fact, so much of her writing was driven by being truly angry at the injustice of not being able to go to a university, but instead having to watch her brother do it. And this theme comes up all the time. So she, in the book, talks about George Elliott having to write pseudonymously, because being a woman writer was so discouraged and looked down upon. And so her desire to write was a rebellion against the constraints, the adversity that she was facing. And also she had to protect herself if she was going to engage in that. And then I would say that my favorite work of literature, or collection of works of literature, is the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. Like many other women identifying people of my generation, there’s something truly special about those four books. But one of the main characters, Leela, shapes her life history around not being able to get a full education. Having to leave school and elementary school and not going to middle school is, in part, described as her greatest cross to bear, but also what forces her to make decisions to teach herself and ultimately become brilliant in other areas.
And so there are these really complicated relationships from these historical and fictional examples, between gender identity, education, visibility, and class. And an argument can be made, and is made, that what educational equity compromises is the ability to open up the brilliance of those on the margins who have to struggle against constraints in order to become who they are meant to be. So, would we really have had a Virginia Woolf if she was not denied her Oxbridge education, but had been able to go just like her brother had? Or would Lila have become the brilliant computer engineer that she does in the Neapolitan novels if she had been allowed to continue on in school? Would George Elliott have been known by her name and not her pseudonym? If the society that she lived in hadn’t created the adversity that she experienced? But would she have even been a writer at all if that was the case?
So I think when we’re grappling with educational equity, we also have to consider that when we talk about adversity. Yes, maybe these experiences helped shape people’s brilliance and success. But there’s also just a broader question of what would they have done in the opposite circumstances. I find it difficult to believe that Virginia Woolf wouldn’t have been Virginia Woolf if she had gone to Oxbridge. I think she would have still written her work. Maybe it wouldn’t have been tinged with the same level of anger or anger about the same things. But to suggest that people are great simply because of their adversity is, I think, uh, a dishonest and disingenuous argument that also keeps us from pursuing this stream of moving towards these more inclusive, equitable spaces of education.
Okay, those are my thoughts. I want to know what your thoughts are. So I’ve got a few calls to action for you. The first is, what do you think about educational equity? And do you have examples of what it looks like in practice? That’s really what my next step is. I want to compile lots and lots and lots of examples of educational equity practices that are happening today and working. Other calls to action, the thing about being adaptive and responsive teachers is a dual responsibility. First, it means that you have to try different forms of learning, including ones that are uncomfortable for you. For example, I’m making a pledge to learn in ways that I have avoided. I am not a person who likes to learn with my hands, and I’m going to be taking upholstery classes because I need to understand a kind of somatic learning that I have never really engaged in. So if you are going to say I will engage in adaptive, responsive teaching, that means first considering multiple models of learning and putting yourself through it. There’s also a call to action that I’ve got for you to just honor the dignity of both teachers and students and consider what it would mean to look at them not in terms of their deficiencies, but their strengths and what they contribute, and then consider how you might help them in those contributions. And then finally, I think it’s just taking responsibility for the fact that if you have people learning around you in any capacity, whether you’re a teacher or not, you have the ability to show up for them and respond in adaptive ways that open up their horizons and ultimately create the freedom for them to dream, which allows for greater possibility in the future. I bet there are other calls to action that I didn’t name. I’d love to know what they are. And if you are going to be engaging in them, let me know, because that’s going to be one of my major projects for 2024. As always, thank you for listening.
ALIDA: Thank you for listening to Care Work. Please share this podcast with other care workers in your community so that we can collectively create a culture of care.
This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Your host is me, Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Theme music “Vibing Introspectively” was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass.
Production assistance was provided by Ivana Savic-Grubisich.
Audio editing and podcast post-production were provided by Organized Sound Productions.


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