The loss of innocence
2020 has been a turbulent year (and it’s not just about the virus). Stephen M. Whitehead thinks it will force us to face some difficult truths.
The world of education has never seemed more in turmoil. In every country, schools, colleges and universities are desperately trying to establish some level of cohesion, predictability and stability for students, parents and staff. For many it may well appear that W.B. Yeats caught the essence of it:
“Things have fallen apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is lost.”
This may appear rather dramatic, but then 2020 has been nothing if not dramatic. And as each drama unfolds so it tortuously peels back the skin of innocence enveloping human consciousness and belief.
For a good many of us, 2020 has seen us lose whatever innocence we once had – and innocence lost is never regained.
Losing our innocence
I know of several prestigious UK independent schools whose leaders have, this year, been severely shaken if not shocked by the rising chorus of BAME students accusing staff of at best unconscious bias and at worst, conscious racism. These (White) educationalist managers and leaders innocently imagined their schools to be havens of tolerance and inclusivity. Innocence lost.
Many of us have read the growing number of news reports about the English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong and allegations of racism made against their teachers and managers. But how did you react when you read the reports? Where you surprised, disgusted, or dismissive? If you are a leader of an international school or university perhaps you were also a little fearful. Innocence lost.
And what have you made of the recent challenges firmly and persuasively put to all us educationalists by the likes of Rachel Engel, Tracey Benson, Angeline Aow, Hadley Freeman, Lola Okolosie and Anjali Hazari.? As an international educationalist, how has it left you feeling when forced to confront the rampant and embedded institutionalised discrimination within your profession? Innocence lost.
If this year has seen you lose your innocence then congratulations. Welcome to the real world.
Beneath the rhetoric
Innocence is a luxury, especially for educationalists. No self-respecting international educationalist can rightfully claim either innocence or ignorance. You must be the protector and to be an effective protector and safeguard you must forgo unworldliness and become alert. Alert to the fact that too many humans have a predatory and aggressive character. Alert to the prejudices inherent in local and national cultures. Alert to the implicit racism which festers behind much of the international school rhetoric, exemplified, for example, by the term, ‘native English-speaking teacher’. And especially alert to your own biases and cultural assumptions.
What is to be done?
If we educationalists are serious about our profession, the task we have set ourselves, then we are 100% anti-racist, determinedly anti-sexist (pro-feminist), LGBTQ supportive and, not least, aware of our own personal relationship to these identities. In other words, we recognise our privileges and seek not to translate those privileges into personal entitlement but into improving the world around us.
That is the pact we have made with ourselves and with those we educate.
To clarify that pact and define the task facing every international school in this age of uncertainty, I suggest there can be no compromise on protecting diversity, enabling equity, and ensuring inclusivity. This is the only sure way to safeguard every member of a school’s learning community.
In short, the time has come to embrace Total Inclusivity and be brave and determined enough to put it into practice.
Defining ‘Total Inclusivity’
‘Total Inclusivity’ is recognised as both the starting point and ultimate objective for every aspect of a school’s delivery and mission. It is central to the notion of a ‘learning community’, underpins the school’s operational policies and practices, informs the curriculum design and delivery, nourishes the organisational culture, and creates the foundation upon which a school can confidently claim to be safeguarding both students and staff. By pursuing a Total Inclusivity model, the school clearly demonstrates a commitment to recognising, valuing, protecting and nurturing diverse identities, regardless of race, gender, sexuality and class.
In an age when identity is so politicised it is essential that any school, but especially those purporting to create ‘global citizens’ and ‘the leaders of tomorrow’, adopt an uncompromising, self-aware and sensitive approach to diversity, both of students and staff. This objective can only be achieved by embedding Total Inclusivity into every level of a school’s operation thereby ensuring the security, wellbeing and potential of all participants in that learning community.
- School owners must recognise and support it.
- Parents must recognise and support it.
- School leaders must recognise and support it.
- Every teacher must recognise and support it.
- Every member of staff must recognise and support it.
And every student must be educated to recognise and support it.
Total Inclusivity will enable a school climate wherein trust, empathy, security, reflexivity, awareness, well-being and safety prevail. That must be what international schools are for, what all educational institutions are for.
And achieving this takes precedence over exam results.
Anything less is no longer acceptable. The times we are in demand it. Join the voices for change – be more than an educationalist, be an advocate for a better world.
Dr Stephen Whitehead is an educational consultant, lead writer for the Educational Digest International and trainer. He is currently delivering Total Inclusivity training for schools around the world.
A sample chapter from Stephen’s forthcoming book, International Schooling: the teacher’s guide, can be accessed here.
Contact Stephen via: stephenwhitehead.org