The Silent Killer: What WE Already Knew

Click in order to hear the audio recording of this blog post.

During these times (out of an abundance of caution), we must maintain social distancing. In order to maintain our sanity we must connect to a higher being in a way that lifts our spirits, we must exercise so that we can continue to take care of ourselves and those that we love and must remain connected. Speaking of remaining connected, I am grateful to have been connected to social media during this time.

I have read posts on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. There are two however that have best helped me to come to grips with what I am feeling and as a result, I am better able to begin the process of (1) verbally articulating and (2) conceptualizing my thinking. The ultimate outcome of this experience is promising I am sure and yet it is not completely known at the moment. A good friend once said to me, “sometimes you gotta wait on it.” So I am good with that. 

With that being said, the two posts that I am referring to are one that reads, let’s feed our students and flatten the curve, and if we come out of this the same we have failed. I will be vulnerable and share that when you advocate on behalf of vulnerable people, you run the risk (especially during times like these) of people suggesting that you should be focused on something else. In a lot of ways, I have felt like Bill Gates standing on the stage during his TED talk in 2015. To get a better appreciation of what I am referring to please go to YouTube and watch the TED Talk episode entitled: The Next Outbreak: We’re not ready. During this short presentation he shares with us his concern that five years ago our country was not ready to address a pandemic outbreak. I can’t help but to wonder what if anything happened as a direct result of what he and others have shared. 

Now, this is the part where I offer a very important disclaimer, I am not a medical doctor, I am doctor of education. I do not know entirely the background of Mr. Bill Gates, nor have I ever worked with him. However, I remain very staunch in my position that as professionals, regardless of our line of work, we have a fundamental obligation to act on what we know and not ignore the warning signs.

Which brings me to the ultimate focus of this podcast and that is to encourage my peers to recognize that this too shall pass. We will do our part to abide by the law and all medical recommendations and we will come out of this better. However, in alignment with my unapologetic and relentless focus on ensuring that all students have equitable access to a quality education. I would like to be on record as stating that low literacy is also a silent killer and in my estimation warrants a higher level of national attention than it has ever been given and I want it to occur during my lifetime.

When our country successfully addresses the current pandemic outbreak, I do not want the lights to go down, I do not want national and state leaders to come off of the stage, and I do not want the media to forget about the poor. At no other time in my career has inequity related issues such as the digital divide, been more apparent to me as it has become over the last two weeks. We cannot afford to forget about the poor. What I want is there to be the same level of attention focused on the silent killer of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of people who live in poor communities regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. 

I can think of one other time in particular in which this topic was as important as it is today. It occurred in 1954 (65 years ago) when U.S. Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled segregation in America’s schools as unconstitutional. Fast forward ahead, last year marked the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education and as a result, educators and researchers from all over the country posed the question, “how far have we come?” More specifically, a comprehensive research report entitled Harming Our Common Future: America’s Segregated Schools 65 Years after Brown was written, published and released by The Civil Rights Project and the Center for Education and Civil Rights. 

This report cites the following findings: black students attend schools with a combined Black and Latino enrollment averaging 67%. Latino students attend schools with a combined Black and Latino enrollment averaging 66% and White and Asian students have much lower exposure to combined Black and Latino students, at 22% and 34% respectively. This means that: America’s schools have re-segregated. So, for my equity minded peers whom I respect a great deal and whom I am growing with, I want to pose the question: is it possible to achieve equity within segregated systems? It is important to recognize that doing so is exactly what we are attempting to accomplish as we continue to move our efforts forward. 

The factors that I have identified which contribute to homelessness, joblessness and the mass incarceration of black and brown people are all factors that either contribute to or are the direct result of low literacy in America. In my estimation, the silent killer (low literacy in America), was a national crisis over 65 years ago and it is again today. It has occurred on our watch and while we are in key and critical positions. Yet I believe that we now have the power, the resources, the connections and the intellect to change the trajectory of America as it relates to this topic. So let’s not get off the stage, let’s not let the lights dim and let’s work hand and hand with various media outlets for the purpose of ensuring that 3, 5, 10, 20 and 65 years from now we can actually say that with all power invested in us we have come out of this better than ever. 

In closing, I want to thank my superintendent colleague. You always seems to reach out to me in some of the most important times in my career and intellectual development processes. My exchange with you (and at least one other person) over the last several days gave me the courage to share my thoughts publicly. Peers, keep people around you that push you and encourage you to be the best version of yourselves. We will all be better because of it and our students and the communities in which they reside will be the beneficiaries of our intellectual efforts.