Let’s Multiply, Not Divide: A Closer Look at the ‘SDP Equity Framework’

There’s an old saying that a mother doesn’t divide her love among her children, but instead multiplies it like the stars.  America’s recent push for “equity” – a focus on equal outcome over equal opportunity – is sometimes viewed as being “zero-sum,” of dividing or redistributing resources rather than multiplying them.

The Philadelphia School District’s “Equity Framework” is at times zero-sum, and reveals two shifts in thinking from their traditional approach to improving schools and raising quality of instruction. One, it now uses race and social identity to guide instruction and the implementation of educational resources.  And two, it not only aims to provide extra services to marginalized students, but seeks to eliminate, disrupt, or remove so-called “dominant cultures” or systems that are viewed as privileged or predictably successful, which supposedly serve as obstacles or impediments to the success of marginalized groups.

The school district’s definition of “equity” is as follows: “Cultivating prosperity and liberation for students and staff, starting with historically marginalized populations, by removing barriers, increasing access and inclusion, building trusting relationships, and creating a shared culture of social responsibility and commitment to organizational accountability.”

I would agree that this kind of “equity” is admirable, being that it focusses resources on populations that face the biggest challenges.  No dedicated educator would object to giving extra help to children and families who need it most.  The school district’s Equity Framework becomes counterproductive, however, when it ties the success of marginalized groups to the disruption and elimination of so-called “dominant cultures,” and uses race and social identity to guide instruction and the implementation of educational resources.

One of the commitments under the Equity Framework is “redistributing resources to our most marginalized students in order to eliminate the predictability of success or failure based on historical trends.”  It’s one thing to eliminate the predictability of failure, but why get rid of a pattern of success?  Perhaps it might be better to increase the predictability of success so that it applies to all students?  Further, the notion of redistributing resources is problematic, as it suggests taking away from one group to give to another.  Which begs the question: which students from which schools/cultures are going to have things taken away from them?

The school district uses a “living glossary” of equity related terms to specifically define what they call dominant and marginalized groups.  Dominant Culture is defined as “the cultural beliefs, values, and traditions of the colonizer that are centered and dominant in society’s structures and practices,” and states that “indigenous and diverse ways of life are devalued, marginalized, and associated with low cultural capital.”

The definition leaves much to be desired, as it’s not only an overgeneralization, but insinuates the so-called “dominant culture” is negative, and assumes its dominance is arrived upon not through legitimate entrepreneurship or scientific, academic, or artistic achievement, but through oppression and the devaluing of others.

Interestingly, “Whiteness” is defined by the school district as “the component of each and every one of ourselves that expects assimilation to the dominant culture.”  This definition is not consistent with most equity-related definitions of the word, as “Whiteness” is defined by Critical Whiteness scholar Robin DiAngelo as “a term to capture all of the dynamics that go into being defined and/or perceived as white and that create and reinforce white people as inherently superior through society’s norms, traditions, and institutions.”

Still, the fact that the school district defined “Whiteness” as being associated with assimilation to a negative and oppressive dominant culture is unfortunate.  If “Whiteness” is associated with all people, why use the confusing and contentious term at all? 

Although not directly stated by the school district, the dominant culture by default is made up of white, male, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, English-speaking, American citizens.  This becomes apparent when reviewing the school district’s definition of “marginalized.”

“Marginalized” groups are defined as “individuals or groups that have been systematically disadvantaged, both historically and currently, lacking representation in dominant culture and have limited to no power or capital.”  The district lists as marginalized “a person of color/non-white based on race and/or ethnicity,” as well as women, immigrants, English Language Learners, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, special education, economically disadvantaged, and non-Christians.

This is the aspect of equity that becomes zero-sum – the splitting and dividing up of groups and cultures into “dominant” and “marginalized,” and insinuating that the gaps between these groups stem solely from oppression.  In other words, the complexity of the achievement gap is boiled down to racism, which the school district wants all staff to adopt as the culprit of all racial disparities.  Which is why the school district’s Equity Framework asks staff to commit to dismantling policies and disrupting practices “steeped in institutionalized racism and other systems of oppression” in schools and classrooms throughout the city.

A closer look at the Philadelphia School District’s “Equity Professional Learning Guiding Principles” contained in their Intro to SDP Equity Framework video reveals that teachers must “acknowledge that racism is systemic,” and “woven throughout all of the structures of our nation.”  Another guiding principle is “recognizing privilege,” and instructs teachers to “acknowledge my privilege,” and to “gain resources and strategies to confront and acknowledge privilege and how this contributes to my work, my role, and the larger system I’m in.”

The core objective of recognizing so-called “privilege” is to foster tolerance, empathy, and compassion, and one could argue it would be more beneficial (and less contentious) to simply have tolerance, empathy, and compassion as a guiding principle for teachers to practice.

Whether or not Philadelphia public schools are steeped in racism and oppression is a matter of debate, but one thing is clear: the SDP Equity Framework racializes the school system from top to bottom, encouraging all people to reject Martin Luther King Jr.’s colorblind “content of character” model in exchange for a color-conscious approach that views all things through the lens of race and social identity.

While it’s important to pay attention to systemic patterns and racial disparities in order to close gaps, an overemphasis on race-consciousness can become counterproductive.  As teachers, we should all work to form strong learning partnerships with all our students, and make sure all children – regardless of race and social identity – are given equal opportunities to succeed.

Christopher Paslay is a longtime Philadelphia public schoolteacher, education writer, and coach.  His new book, A Parent’s Guide to Critical Race Theory, is available on Amazon.

Ibram X. Kendi Gaslights Teachers at AFT Conference

Anti-racist educator Ibram X. Kendi recently headlined the American Federation of Teachers’ TEACH 21 Conference, speaking at a livestream session titled, “A Conversation with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.” The official AFT conference agenda stated, “Hear from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi in this free-ranging discussion with student activists and AFT members on his scholarship and on developing anti-racist mindsets and actions inside and outside classrooms.”

During the livestream, which has not been posted on the AFT website, Dr. Kendi compared those who oppose critical race theory to Southern segregationists from the 1950s.  According to an article titled “Anti-racist education benefits all of us” published on the AFT’s website:

Ingram asked Kendi about the furor over critical race theory and related pushes against teaching about enslavement and discrimination. Kendi compared it to the reaction to Brown v. Board of Education, when some white people were fearful that desegregated schools—and the Black children in them—were going to be harmful to their children. Today’s fears are similar in that misinformation is being spread about potential harms; one bold lie is that teaching about racism conveys to white children that they are inherently evil. Kendi was clear and compassionate: He does not know of any anti-racist teacher who would believe or convey that any child or group of people is inherently bad or racist.

But Dr. Kendi misrepresents the growing concern by parents, educators, and community members over the toxic and polarizing tenets of critical race theory, and falsely states that no anti-racist educator teaches that all whites are inherently racist; Robin DiAngelo, whose anti-racist approaches are embedded in K-12 curriculum in a number of school districts – and whose book White Fragility is on recommended reading lists across America – explicitly teaches just that. 

Instead of disassociating with such polarizing tenets of anti-racism – which is an example of critical pedagogy under critical race theory – Kendi attempts to gaslight educators when it comes to remembering his own ideas, as well as the ideas of other anti-racists who use an identity-based model, which polarizes by skin color and offers little in terms of holistic, universal solutions to the real problems of racism and racial disparities today. 

Inside the Joy Reid Interview with Christopher Rufo

Joy Reid recently had Christopher Rufo on her MSNBC show, The ReidOut, where she failed to engage in a rational debate about Critical Race Theory, and instead attempted to spin a pre-packaged narrative about the topic. 

As reported in New York Post:

After accepting Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo’s requests via Twitter to appear on her MSNBC show, host Joy Reid declined to engage in a debate on the topic of critical race theory — resorting instead to constant interruption and insults, insisting, “it’s my show … so it’s how I want to do it.

This video gives a breakdown of that interview. 

John McWhorter Lambastes Robin DiAngelo’s ‘White Fragility’. Again.

Recently on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, John McWhorter once again gave his candid opinion of Robin DiAngelo’s bestselling book, White Fragility. The only use for the book was “to keep tables from wobbling,” McWhorter said, insisting such approaches to race relations treated Blacks like “silly babies.” In July of 2020, McWhorter published an article in The Atlantic titled “The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility.”

‘Action Civics’: Political Protests for Class Credit

The very term “Action Civics” is a euphemism for political protests for course credit, which is actually the opposite of what a proper civics course should be. This video takes a close look at what’s actually inside the egregiously misnamed “Civics Secures Democracy Act,” and analyzes the proposed new rule by the Biden Education Department, which will allow action civics to usher in critical race theory into K-12 schools across America. 

My Interview with Dom Giordano on 1210 WPHT Talk Radio: The Effects Of Anti-Racism Lessons On America’s Schools

Long-time radio host Dom Giordano, an educator in a past life, returns with his fourteenth installment of his podcast centered on the ever-changing landscape of education. This week, Giordano is joined by Christopher Paslay, Philadelphia teacher and author of Exploring White Fragility: Debating the Effects of Whiteness Studies on America’s SchoolsIn Exploring White Fragility, Paslay takes an in-depth look into the concept of ‘white fragility’ and ‘white guilt’ as the two phrases have become regular topics in discussions of race. In the book, and on his new YouTube channel, Paslay examines the effects that whiteness studies have on America’s schools, and investigates how the antiracist movement to dismantle “white supremacy culture” is impacting student and teacher morale and expectations, school discipline, and overall academic achievement. For more from Paslay, check out his YouTube channel HERE. 

Discussing Critical Race Theory with Deb Fillman on ‘The Reason We Learn’

Deb Fillman, a homeschooling parent of three, online educator, and former classroom teacher with an MSed from the UPENN Graduate School of Education, hosts a YouTube channel called “The Reason We Learn.” Deb has 10 years of experience homeschooling, tutoring, and teaching online, and runs a tutoring service to help families develop customized education experiences for their children in grades K-12. Yesterday, Deb invited me on her podcast, where we discussed Robin DiAngelo, Critical Race Theory, and the future of public education in America.