Why must we focus on the fence? Isn’t it true that some students require more support? Isn’t it true that some schools need differentiated staffing? Isn’t it true that we need to assist some families more than others? Yes, these are realities. But before we highlight what we’re doing, we need to ask ourselves what makes such actions necessary. In other words, why do some students need more support? It’s the fence of racism that disproportionately places less qualified teachers and instructional methods in front of racially and ethnically minoritized students. Why do some schools require more staffing? It’s the fence of redlining and other discriminatory practices that unfairly places a significant number of students from marginalized backgrounds into a single school. Why do some families need more assistance than others? It’s the fence of systemic oppression that prevents them from earning a livable wage, which leads to working multiple jobs and less time to be meaningfully engaged in their children’s schooling—not because they don’t want to, but they are balancing attending our meetings at 10:00 AM with providing for their families’ basic needs.
When we overlook these and other systemic barriers, not only do we unintentionally reinforce deficit ideologies about students, families, schools, and communities, but we also perpetuate savior complexes about ourselves. We run the risk of thinking that the problem lies within the individual [child, family, school, or community] and shift the attention to what we’re doing to help them.
In explaining the image, I used to say that as a short person there’s nothing inherently wrong with me, but I would need more support than those who were taller. While on the surface this seemed like a reasonable explanation to not problematize the individual, it didn’t critique the fence that was obstructing my view and prematurely centered my personal circumstance. Said another way, despite being short, I wouldn’t need individual intervention if the fence wasn’t there. And more than being short, the fence was the problem.
Have you ever heard that we should work smarter and not harder? Fundamentally, this means fixing the structural inequities that plague our systems, including education, rather than applying bandaid approaches that are focused on individuals. Focus on the fence.