Following my previous article the Network of Public Education published a response on their website reprinted here in full which they have sent as a letter to the Nation. Below is my response to their letter which I have also sent to the Nation. Long may such exchanges continue.
NPE response to questions about diversity
May 1, 2014 NPE News
A recent article in The Nation critiqued the “unbearable whiteness of the left.” In that article, the author took issue with a grassroots panel at the 2014 NPE conference that was led by four White individuals. Having a grassroots panel that did not include people of color leading the discussion was a mistake. However, we do not want to minimize the participation of the many panelists of color who led discussions during the NPE conference – 34 panelists of color, out of about a hundred total.
We do not raise this as a defense in relation to the oversight on that particular panel, but to highlight and underscore that our priority is to partner with diverse stakeholders across the nation. The work we share, challenging the misguided “reforms” we see damaging our children and communities, calls for us all to work to overcome overt and covert discrimination. We continually seek to strengthen our connections with one another, and ensure that the voices of all are included and heard. The Network for Public Education is just over a year old. We were honored to host stakeholders from the across the nation in Austin this year and look forward to standing together with friends and allies in coming years as we build alliances across the nation to support the best education possible for all of our children.
Diane Ravitch, Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Robin Hiller, Anthony Cody, Mark B. Miller, Leonie Haimson, Phyllis Bush, Colleen Doherty-Woods, Bertis Downs (Network for Public Education Board of Directors)
May 2 2014
When “Oversights” Become Patterns
The lede highlighted this particular panel at the Network for Public Education conference not because I believe the NPE is the worst offender in this regard but because both the all-white panel and the response to the question raised about it were so emblematic of a broader problem—the degree to which people of color and low-income people are marginalized within organizations on the “Left” in general.
There are only so many isolated “oversights” one can reasonably acknowledge before it is necessary to understand them as part of a pattern. And if we are serious about challenging that pattern then the demands and participation of people of color and low-income people must be integral to the agendas and workings of progressive movements, like NPE, from the base to the board. (According to your website of your 9 board members only one appears to be a person of color. I cannot speak to its class composition)
That pattern emerges from America’s history of economic and racial inequalities. It didn’t emerge from one panel and isn’t limited to the question of representation. As such the central issue is less about diversity than racial and economic justice.
As I wrote in the piece this “should be a civil conversation between friends.” Such conversations demand both generosity and honesty. It is precisely because I support the agenda of the NPE that I want it to be effective. I’m glad you exist. I want you to thrive. For that to be possible you will not only need people of color and low-income people to be friends and allies. You will need them to be you.