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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

‘More Inclusive Policies,’ What Teachers Say They Want

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 26, 2024 7 min read
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Today’s post finishes up a multipart series in which teachers share the policy issues that concern them the most.

‘More Inclusive Policies’

Chandra Shaw has more than 24 years of experience in education, as a teacher, reading specialist, instructional coach, and now a literacy consultant at one of her state’s regional service centers. Chandra is a TEDx speaker and amateur YouTuber:

Education policy plays a pivotal role in shaping the learning environment and experiences of students in public schools. When it comes to determining the most important education policy issue facing public schools today, take a close look at any of the alarming ANTI-inclusive education policies that have been implemented in a number of states across the United States, and the obvious need for more inclusive education policies becomes glaringly clear.

Inclusive education policies are critical because they ensure that all students, regardless of their background, identity, or orientation, have equitable access to quality education. Inclusive policies foster an environment where students feel safe, valued, and supported, enabling them to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. By embracing diversity and promoting inclusivity, public schools can prepare students to navigate an increasingly interconnected and diverse world.

Another significant component of inclusive education policy involves encouraging open and honest conversations about race. By providing a platform to discuss racial and cultural differences, public schools can promote understanding, empathy, and mutual respect among students. These conversations equip students with the tools to challenge systemic racism and work toward a more equitable society. Restricting these discussions limits students’ ability to critically engage with important societal issues and hinders their growth as informed citizens of a global society.

I believe that it is the responsibility of public schools to educate in a way that benefits society as a whole. Public schools should create safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environments for all students. By promoting understanding, empathy, and acceptance, we can cultivate a generation of individuals who are equipped to embrace diversity and work toward a more inclusive society. Education policy which acts counterintuitively to the idea of tolerance and inclusion only serves a vocal minority and sets our public education system back decades.

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Censorship

Gina Elia is a high school Mandarin Chinese teacher at an independent K-12 school located in south Florida. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018 with a Ph.D. in Chinese literature:

I think that the most important education policy issue facing public schools today is the extent to which parents can or should exert influence on what books students read and/or have access to in public schools. It is a big deal to remove a book from the shelves in a public school, since frequently students do not have the means or wherewithal to seek it out on their own if it is not already right in front of them. Thus, the decision to make certain books inaccessible has a big impact on the diversity of ideas to which students are exposed and, subsequently, to their formative education.

I am not a fan of the censorship of books, period. German poet Heinrich Heine once commented that “Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.” This may seem dramatic, since at least nobody is yet publicly advocating bonfires of books they do not like, such as the ones the Nazis held in 1933 in Berlin. However, I am concerned about the direction of an educational system in which the information to which students are exposed is carefully monitored and curated.

I was under the impression that the First Amendment Americans hold so dear, which gives us the right to freedom of information, would forbid interference with the resources to which students are exposed in a public education system. Parents should expect that the public nature of the system means that their children will be exposed to ideas of which they do not approve. The public is a shared space. It is not meant to be tailored to one or several families’ visions of what constitutes a proper society, but should rather be a space where people of differing views can gather and discuss their opinions civilly and openly—a space where people learn and gain new perspective from ideas that differ from their own, not one in which they remain firmly ensconced in their own camps and refuse to be exposed to any information that might challenge their beliefs.

Public education should be a training ground for this ideal public of civil, open discourse, but attempts to censor what kind of information students are exposed to is teaching them the opposite, that they should avoid any resources that contradict what they hear at home.

If a parent does not approve of the ideas of a book that is available in school, the solution is to expose their child to more information, not less. Parents can show their children different books with opposing views and even recommend that such books be added to their school libraries. This way, students learn a valuable lesson that many varied viewpoints exist in books, and that they have to read broadly to develop critical opinions on important issues instead of just parroting one author’s or their parents’ views.

At the same time, this practice upholds a United States that is committed to the ideals of free speech and freedom of information, where opinions are combated with opposing opinions and open discussion, rather than censorship. It is a slippery slope from the censorship of certain ideas to the oppression of all.

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‘More Than the Numbers’

Emilie McKiernan Blanton is finishing her 16th year teaching high school in Louisville, Ky., and is a mother to two children:

When we think of education policies and their direct impacts on students, many folks can find symptom issues from class sizes to funding issues and all manner in between. These are all part of an ongoing problem we have in education: the fact that we focus on factory models to teach our children.

Schools are staffed and run based on containment of a total number of students and moving them around like products on a conveyor belt. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that students are individual human beings instead of a manufactured product to be delivered. Education has to be about the humanity of our most valuable people, our students. Our class sizes being large, lunches being short, and tracking of things like seat time are all symptoms of the larger issue that the policymakers often seem to forget our children are humans.

As a parent myself, I want my own children to be more than the numbers associated with them. They’re more than their test scores. They’re more than their spot on the roster. They’re entire people and teaching the whole child is what we have to do to ensure their future success. Unfortunately, the people who know and understand this most such as teachers and parents are often cogs stuck in the machine making it work.

Even the funding of our schools seems to be centered on how to squeeze the most blood out of an unbleeding stone. Rather than focusing on running our schools with an obsolete business model that does not acknowledge the humanity of our students, we should be embracing changes that allow for nuance, humanity, and growth. We often hear the phrase “there are no standard children” when we discuss standardized testing, but that same sentiment needs to be considered for more than just testing.

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Thanks to Chandra, Gina, and Emilie for contributing their thoughts!

Today’s guests answered this question:

What do you think is the most important education policy issue facing public schools today, why do you think it is so important, and what is your position on it?

Keisha Rembert and Kit Golan provided responses in Part One.

In Part Two, Bryant Odega, Angela M. Ward, Ph.D., and Michael Hernandez contributed their commentaries.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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