We have a challenge ahead of us. There are a lot of changes in our society right now that are leaving many of our students scared, feeling in danger, and many educators are worried about the future of schooling. Rightfully so.
We understand these concerns. As mentioned previously, we emerged at a perfect time. We received our business status in July, when some of these worries were just beginning, we became a registered 501(c)(3) right as many marginalized groups began fearing for their future. We decided to start offering our services in January 2017, and it was a perfect time to do so. We have been told that students are worried about their families, their schooling, we have seen a huge shift in social climate where people are worried about their safety.
As The Dignified Learning Project, we have a duty to protect our students, teachers, and community members. Our goal is to work together, addressing many issues in our educational system. Our first step is to work right here in San Diego using dialogical education to instill a sense of equality, love, and understanding in our school system.
We have known from the beginning that our organization was founded on dialogical education. It isn’t a widely known term, but it should be. If you would like to know more about the term, you can watch Dr. Jung Choi’s presentation on dialogical education here. The basic idea, (though it is far from a simple concept), is that we must be willing to talk, converse, understand, and have a level of togetherness and intimacy that will allow us to enter into each other’s personal “space”. We rarely see this in education, as the process is very formulaic and almost mechanized – we have a strict set of guidelines of what we can learn, books that fill this criteria, and teachers must not deviate from this. Many have been fortunate to have teachers who can bring the material to life, creating a connection to the material, but I would argue that most people do not have this.
I firmly believe that if we can begin utilizing dialogical education in the classroom, we can begin to see a more equitable form of education. Right now is especially important. Living in San Diego, we have very high rates of immigrants. In February 2015, Jeannie Murray of The National Immigration Forum, published a picture breaking down San Diego’s immigration. Looking at the numbers, we must be sensitive to the various populations that San Diego houses and be willing to connect with them, regardless of biases. No person should be denied an education, and they should not be afraid to achieve that education, whether it is at the kindergarten level or college level. We must be willing to connect with every single student. There is a dynamic that is focused on power, which in term can be oppressive, and by practicing dialogical education – allowing students to feel important in the classroom, (and in turn in society), giving power to their voices, perhaps we can cause a real shift that emphasizes democracy and encourages unity and equality.
I also understand that with increasing classroom sizes and decreasing budgets, this is tremendously difficult. And, not all students appear to have the desire to connect. But I truly believe that individuals want to connect, but either feel as if they have nothing to offer, we have nothing to offer them, or perhaps few to none have bothered to truly secure a relationship with them. We read and hear so often about educational reform, but the focus is more on numbers and tests – while it is difficult to possibly impossible to train empathy, we must emphasize the necessity for empathy, especially in uncertain times like now. We cannot allow a place of privilege, should we have it, to overpower our minds, creating a space that fosters stereotypes and negativity. We must be willing to uphold values that encourages acceptance and love of the human experience and each life that enters our classrooms. We must never stop connecting. This also means that if we do have students who do not form bonds with us in traditional methods – perhaps some students would better respond to popular culture references, maybe some aren’t social, perhaps we have nonverbal students in our classrooms – we can still connect with them by understanding, exploring, and respecting them and their needs.
I know it’s hard – it is certainly not easy being a teacher. I have always, for as long as I can remember, appreciated teachers for what they contribute to society. This is why it is so vital for community members to come together and support our teachers and our students, and especially during trying times when teachers are navigating policies that may make their positions harder and create an environment that will not promote connection. Now is a time for solidarity across all people, sects of society, and backgrounds to come together and work toward changing education. If we can change education and protects our students, we can really reshape our future, create more understanding, empower individuals to be loving, and begin learning for the sake of knowledge instead of focusing on test scores.