I went to a segregated (white) school. I grew up in a segregated (white) neighborhood. I remember learning briefly about the Little Rock Nine, but my peers and I never connected their story to our real lives. We failed to realize we were living proof of a promise unfulfilled. Or that our public education system, a theoretically democratic good, creates winners and losers—largely along racial and socioeconomic lines—with lifelong consequences to both individuals and the collective.
In a country many call divided, I’ve come to believe that the deep healing we need must take place in our schools. This is where we learn who were are in the world, how to relate to others, and the value that society places on us. Teach Us All is thus a story for all Americans—for our “melting pot” of people from diverse backgrounds who really don’t know each other because of the ways in which we arrange our neighborhoods and schools. And this is an answer to the Civil Rights Movement—generations later, with still so far to go.
While media attention on race relations in America tends to focus on police brutality, mass incarceration, and immigration, we have yet to adequately address the root cause of our most urgent social challenges: education. Across the U.S., the confluence of race and poverty deny low-income students of color educational access and opportunity in complex, pervasive, and enduring ways. Today, 1 in 7 black and Latino children attend hyper-segregated schools. Children who attend segregated schools are less likely to graduate high school and more likely to go to jail, and earn an average of 25% less over their lifetimes.
If we as a society permit the staggering marginalization of minority youth in our schools, we are effectively sanctioning their disenfranchisement for the rest of their lives. This is a social, economic, and moral imperative critical to the future of this country. And yet, while Teach Us All seeks to highlight egregious inequities, it was not designed to further victimize or disempower young people. Instead, we seek to honor their intelligence and agency—and the astounding potential that we as a nation stand to waste.
Teach Us All is organized around three central themes: the critical role of teachers in shaping the lives of young people; the urgent need for community engagement to ensure the success of schools; and the power of students themselves, who must now take up the mantle from the Little Rock Nine and fight for the quality, equitable educational system they deserve and that has yet to be realized. But ultimately, this affects all of us, and can only be solved in collaboration.
Sonia Lowman, Director, Teach Us All