Fear is born from ignorance.
The string of hateful acts across the country over the last several weeks and months has been overwhelming: Eleven people murdered while worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh –because they were Jewish, said the killer. Two people shot while shopping at a grocery store in Kentucky –because they were black, said the killer.
Our hearts go out to the families and communities of those lost. As we all try to grapple with these devastating events, I have appreciated and valued some of the public responses: criticizing hateful speech, calling for stronger gun laws, and getting out the vote.
Given this country’s, this planet’s, long, dark history of hate – of gruesome attacks against particular ethnic groups, religions, races, sexual identities — education is our most powerful weapon against history repeating itself again and again.
We are not born fearing and hating those different from ourselves. Hate is learned. As educators, it is our responsibility to teach young people of all ages to recognize, respect, and celebrate our differences. It is our charge to see, name, and talk about the richness in our difference.
I am inspired by the examples of this work that are already taking place in our schools. There are educators teaching students of all ages to understand and honor our differences, to know what stereotypes and biases are — to understand that while we all have them, it is important to recognize and address them before they cause harm. Teachers are inviting Holocaust survivors to share their stories with students, they are reading and meaningfully discussing biographies of leaders with identities across intersections, like American novelist and influencer James Baldwin, a gay black man. For resources about discussing bias and building a culturally responsive curriculum, see Teaching Tolerance.
At the NYC Leadership Academy, we focus on helping educational leaders to identify and address their own biases and to understand the importance of understanding how those biases influence decisions, policies and overall leadership moves. As part of this work, it is also important to discuss how leaders create systems across schools and districts to recognize and celebrate differences. We must approach undoing or preventing hate from all sides if we are going to make an immediate and long-term difference, and we must be able to see and name what doing this looks like in our own contexts and on a day-to-day basis. It is not about celebrating Latinos in September or attending the Gay Pride parade, it is about daily actions and interactions.
As we have seen, the consequences if we do not educate and lead with intentionality around difference are dire. Consider the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate. At the very base of the pyramid are stereotyping, making insensitive remarks, and fears of difference. If those behaviors are not squelched, if they are not prevented, they can escalate into acts of bias like those violent incidents we have seen.
Let’s each take the lead on teaching appreciation of those different from ourselves, so that the lives we have lost of late will not have been completely in vain.
Nancy B. Gutiérrez, Ed.L.D.
Lead Education Officer & President
Dr. Nancy B. Gutiérrez is Lead Education Officer & President of The Leadership Academy. Nancy joined The Leadership Academy in 2014 and has served as National Leadership Designer and Facilitator, Vice President of District Leadership, and Chief Strategy Officer. She was named President & CEO in July 2018 and continues to serve as an executive leadership coach and facilitator for school systems across the country. She was a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow, and in February 2020 was named among the 100 most powerful education leaders in New York by City & State New York. Nancy is a frequent keynote speaker for local and national education organizations and has authored numerous pieces on education leadership and equity for national publications including Education Week, Kappan, The74, and Hechinger Report. Nancy began her career as a teacher and principal in her home community of East San Jose, CA, where she was the founding principal of Renaissance Academy, the highest performing middle school in the district and a California Distinguished School. Nancy also led the successful effort to turn around the district’s lowest performing middle school. She was named the UC Davis Rising Star and Association of California School Administrator’s Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010. Prior to her tenure with The Leadership Academy, Nancy launched a program for executive leadership advancement for the New York City Department of Education that led to superintendent certification. Nancy is a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program and is a graduate of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Aspiring Superintendents Academy. She served on the national board of the Coalition of Essential Schools for more than a decade. She is an instructor at NYU and frequently teaches at the Harvard Principals’ Center institutes for School Turnaround Leaders, Urban School Leaders, and Race, Equity, Access, and Leadership. Nancy is a member of the Board of Directors at The Hunt Institute, Brightbeam, and Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) and serves on the Latinos for Education teaching team. Find Nancy on Twitter @nancybgutierrez or LinkedIn.