By Kevin Simpson, Nayoung Weaver and Rama Ndiaye
What do you think is the most influential way of effecting community wide change within international schools and whose voices should be heard? What advice would you like to give to school leaders and educators today?
In his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire states that education must be a revolutionary process within which revolutionary leadership is practiced. Revolutionary leadership stems from a culture of “co-intentional education,” wherein all members of an institution have a collective awareness of the reality within which they live, and critically understand and discover that reality as a community. Once that reality is acknowledged, members have an opportunity to co-construct understanding and use that knowledge as a tool for societal transformation. This process, however, must be embodied within a culture Freire calls “humanizing pedagogy,” a culture of dialogue where generosity, vulnerability, trust, and cooperation are fostered in lieu of inequities and individualism.
The qualitative data and anecdotes from our AIELOC community show that many international schools are still not genuinely (or financially) invested in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) work. Community-wide change seems to have been summarised into a checklist completion task, which keeps the inequities and individualistic culture in place.
Be a revolutionary educator
For change to genuinely and meaningfully happen in the international school ecosystem, historically marginalised educators must become the hopeful revolutionary educators. We must recognise the leadership skills in ourselves that stem from our lived experience surviving a capitalistic, white supremacist world. We have witnessed many schools fluctuate from individual and overt racism to systemic and covert racism. In order to survive a system that was not created for the global majority, many of us found ways to develop self-reflection skills, collaborative skills, relationship skills, adaptability, vulnerability, and shame resilience. Since we have acquired these attributes through our lived experiences, many of us have an (almost) “automatic understanding of oppression” and thus, capable of fostering – with the help of our antiracist communities – our own ability to lead the teaching of “criticality” (Muhammad, 2020) towards change and liberation (Gardner-Mctaggart, 2020).
As marginalized educators, our first step towards revolutionary leadership is to acquire a revolutionary consciousness (Freire, 1970) in order to dismantle the western-centric, Anglophone-centric, and colonialist legacies of our educational environments. Deeply understanding our roles, our disadvantages and our privileges -in systems filled with inequities and harmful hierarchies- is one of the most influential ways we can affect community-wide change as revolutionary educators.
Additionally, revolutionary educators must foster authentic dialogue among every single member of the school community to ensure that cooperation becomes the lynchpin of the institution. For this kind of culture to become liberating, revolutionary educators must strive for a relationship among all stakeholders to be “human[e], empathetic, loving, communicative and humble” (Freire, 1970, p.171). Revolutionary educators must also be committed to creating a non-restrictive, more open-minded school culture where they actively question the status quo and inspire other educators/stakeholders to see, unveil and denounce various forms of what Freire coined the “dehumanizing aggression” (Freire, 1970, p. 88) that consistently takes place in the international school ecosystem.
International schools could benefit immensely from revolutionary educators whose values are entrenched in humanized pedagogy and the democratization of schools. Such a systemic shift would empower students and their families and also provide a space for the silenced to be centered, rather than manipulated into the oblivion of oppression.
Advocate for racism as a child protection issue
“There is such adulation of the Western world across the Global South; international schools need a conspicuous number of Western teachers to be deemed desirable by the local elite. Parents dream of sending their children to Ivy League schools, to Oxford and Cambridge. They want their kids to internalise Whiteness as a standard. The denigration of our own cultures has been going on for so long, and enforces the narrative of Western superiority.”
-Xoài David, an international school alumnus (2020)
As international educators of color, we have witnessed the systemic inequities within the classroom and the institution at large. These inequities (economical, racial, or otherwise) stem from colonial remnants and further create widely accepted hierarchies within international schools. From our experience, and based on the experiences of many of our AIELOC members, these inequities/hierarchies end up becoming harmful to all members of the international school community. Keeping international schools the way they are – as a colonizer’s tool to systematically elevate and render superior the culture of the dominant minority – will continue to produce generations of traumatized students.
The Council of International Schools (CIS) clearly states on its International Taskforce on Child protection mandate that, “The International Taskforce on Child Protection (ITFCP) was formed in 2014, after its members recognized that in order to affect any real change, organizations needed to work together and not in isolation, to set new standards and raise awareness about abuse within international school communities”. We are beyond awareness when it comes to global and institutionalized racism. This phenomenon is a child protection issue because the legacies of its implementation continue to dehumanize students as they internalize the oppression they observe around them.
Historically marginalized educators and co-conspirators must implement an antiracist curriculum that can empower students to understand the reality within which they live and provide them the tools to navigate, name, understand and co-construct knowledge around the power structures that surround them. Students bear the right to acquire an education for liberation and therefore should be provided the space to freely speak about the context within which they reside.
DEIJ for the right purpose
We are observing a clear trend of international school leaders trying to adapt to the global multicultural paradigm shifts by wasting energy on learning to use antiracist education as a tool for domination. This confirms that “they are not interested in the liberation of marginalized people [but rather] (t)hey are [solely] interested in the development of white people” (Perreras, 2021). They utilize Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) work as a new way to dominate the voiceless, diversify the elite and disempower learners from fully understanding and expressing their consciousness. DEIJ, at its core, should be perceived as a “quest for mutual humanization” (Freire, 1970, p. 75) and thus used as an instrument to build the path to liberation.
As historically marginalized educators, we enter the antiracist space with personal and often traumatic experiences. Our lenses and abilities start from the margins, and we work our way to expand the “norms” of each space we inhabit. As a result of our culturally expansive lens, we are capable of embracing a wider array of identities that often foster empathy. So when schools actively decenter students and tacitly endorse the status quo in the international school ecosystem – to personally benefit from its capitalist nature – our antiracist lens sees right through the performance. As committed educators, we see “education as the practice of freedom [rather than a tool] that merely strives to reinforce domination” (hooks, 1994 p. 5). For these reasons, we absolutely see it as an affront to human dignity – and thus take it very personally – when we witness learners and other community members being harmed by the inequities, the abusive hierarchies, and the racism taking place in the international school ecosystem.
The systems to implement
Current revolutionary educators have prepared and shared a plethora of resources in the past few years, for committed people who are in different parts of the DEIJ journey. A few of the systems that we believe should be urgently implemented are:
- local school/college counselors in place and/or training for foreign counselors
- a safe and brave space for students to discuss DEIJ freely
- and an anonymous microaggression/bias reporting tool that will be utilized to help support the person who reported the incident and actively help the perpetrator through restorative justice.
We live in an era when leaders can no longer make excuses to slow down the work for personal gain or hide behind the lack of a legal international system that should hold them accountable for their actions. Instead, we want to welcome courageous educators to be vulnerable and open-minded enough to share their struggle around shifting the cultural paradigm. The privileged educators who authentically embrace this need for change – to benefit learners – will also be the ones willing to create space in their community where people can voice their fears and freely talk about the liberatory work they are doing and why. This culture of permissiveness (Freire, 1970) – where all members of the community feel self-actualized – is another lynchpin that can effect positive, community-wide change.
Accountability is your superpower
“Those arguing that education should be neutral are really arguing for a version of education in which nobody is accountable.” – Henry Giroux (2019)
Revolutionary educators always hold themselves accountable. It is fundamental for educators to reflect and be deeply aware of how they engage in the transformation of their schools. First, there should be a permanent culture of dialogue (Freire, 1970) where every single member of the community is perceived as a stakeholder, thus engendering a more democratic organization. By choosing to approach this work from a place of obliviousness, and without an inquiry-based framework, educators continue to perpetuate the cycle of racism.