With Their Souls Intact

Danny Stock

Dr. Bettina Love Speaks to GDS Faculty and Staff

“I don’t know that I have ever experienced a talk focused so intentionally on the children.” – Azureé Harrison, 2nd grade teacher
Energized by Dr. Bettina Love’s presentation during their fall “In-service” Day focused on anti-racist professional development, GDS faculty and staff members began moving the work forward. As Dr. Love reminded us, an ally knows all the right language and reads all the books, but a co-conspirator takes what they know and puts their privilege to work. Let’s get to work together.

Linked in this story:
Anti-Racism Action Plan
A Conversation at the Heart of GDS
An Ecosystem to Nurture Citizenship

WITH THEIR SOULS INTACT: A SUMMARY OF DR. LOVE’S PRESENTATION

Dr. Love, author of We Want to Do More Than Survive:  Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom and board member of the Abolitionist Teaching Network, explained that the pandemic has provided a “window into what is possible.” Massive systematic changes that many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and their co-conspirators have been seeking for decades have been suddenly enacted in response to COVID-19, including in technology and health sectors. “It shouldn't take a pandemic to see people’s humanity,” she said. And change is desperately needed in education.
 
“Schools should not just mimic society but be better than society,” Dr. Love said. “Can we build something—are we better than these systems?” She charged GDS faculty and staff to have a radical imagination, to have vision, and to be bold.
 
Dr. Love discussed how in schools across the country, when curriculum doesn’t include the stories of people who look like their students of color (except in the contexts of oppression, enslavement, or protest), their humanity is invalidated. They and their peers don’t learn about the contributions of BIPOC historically. The “methodical and slow” diminishing of the joy and light of students’ spirit “is a death.” Dr. Love called the systemic, sinister disdain and disregard for the humanity of students of color in this country “spirit murdering.”
 
This abolitionist foundation to education means beginning with policies that ensure schools stay loving, just, and compassionate. Teachers are asked to show up not as allies, but rather as co-conspirators who model for all students—particularly our Black students and students of color—our humanity and our resistance to the practices, policies, and institutional cultures that perpetuate racism and anti-Blackness. They must also be equipped with the knowledge, compassion, and courage to have real conversations with students.
 
Dr. Love offered a fierce reminder that our students of color, and particularly our Black students, are not in our school because they need us but rather because we need them. Schools that include their voices, experiences, and humanity—and ultimately a richly diverse student and parent body—have better learning outcomes for all students. Yet, representation is not enough if it’s going to do harm to have them there. Schools, including GDS, must be deserving of the privilege of having students of color by ensuring that those students will experience joy and love and compassion at school. BIPOC students must “leave these schools with their spirits intact, their soul intact, and see themselves as beautiful.”
 
By the end of the talk, a chorus of faculty/staff voices in the chat proclaimed Dr. Bettina Love one of the best speakers invited to GDS. 
 
“
This has been the most amazing, inspiring, illuminating presentation I have ever heard at GDS,” said 1st grade and High School civil rights teacher Paula Young Shelton. 
 

Middle School teacher Mary Petras said, “Thank you for being with us today, I really took a lot away from your session, and will continue my thinking and my acting to become an anti-racist educator.
”
 

High School English teacher Aisha Sidibe echoed the praise shared by many of her colleagues and added her own mantra for continuing the important work. She said, “Grateful. Top to bottom. We be radical. We disrupt. We act. We tell truth. We brave.
”
 
By the end of the next day, dozens of faculty and staff members had signed up for a panel discussion “We Can't Be Neutral: Abolitionist Teaching Strategies” from Love’s Abolitionist Teaching Network. The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) will provide a forum for the GDS cohort of attendees to reflect together following the panel and bring their learning to the rest of the staff. 
 
DEI Director Marlo Thomas announced at the end of the presentation that Dr. Love has already been booked as the featured guest for our Middle and High School students during their MLK Jr. Social Justice Teach-In Days this winter.

 

Ongoing Learning

Below are several reminders of past and upcoming events we hope families will learn from. 
 
First, we kicked off our 75th Anniversary Speaker Series with “Race, Justice, and the American Judicial System” on October 6, and the recording is available. 
 
GDS was privileged to host Jeff Johnson in conversation with Head of School Russell Shaw on October 14 for a discussion of civic engagement as part of the DEI Office’s ongoing Dinner and Conversations series. He will return to talk to High School students one week after the presidential election.
 
Last week, our Math Task Force held their first virtual meeting of “Let’s Get it Right: A Collaborative Approach to Ensuring that Females and Students of Color Thrive in Mathematics!” GDS founded the group of area educators (math, curriculum and instruction, DEI, and principals) several years ago and hosts, and facilitates regular meetings throughout the year. Their work continues to replace policies and practices in our schools that curtail the comprehensive mattering and thriving of students of color and females in mathematics. The collaboration is building anti-racist structures and individual best practices across multiple learning institutions.
 
On October 27, the PSA hosted a guided discussion entitled “Good Trouble” centered on the life and legacy of Rep. John Lewis. The PSA is grateful to teachers Paula Young Shelton (LS & HS), Judy Brown (MS), and Andy Lipps (HS) for facilitating the conversation.
 
In November, the DEI Office will host the next Dinner and Conversations with parent educator Michelle Harris. “Change Begins at Home: Tools for Nurturing Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Attitudes in Your Child”
Monday, November 9, 6:00–8:00 PM, PK–6th grade parents
Monday, November 16, 6:00–8:00 PM, 7th–12th grade parents
Michelle Harris will guide our parent community through how to talk about race with our children. This interactive workshop will highlight the importance of and provide specific strategies for building stamina in these crucial conversations. Understanding that these conversations look different developmentally, we will be hosting two sessions. Parents will receive an invite with meeting information soon.
 
Stay tuned for additional important programming and follow our progress on our Anti-Racism Action Plan.
  • DEI