It is time for international schools to not simply mean well, but to do well. Here is a good place to start to promote equality and antiracism*:
Adopt an institutional stance against racism. Create an unequivocal statement denouncing all forms of racism and other forms of discrimination. The school should be clear about its drive to achieve equality, and equally direct in its opposition of racist policies, practices, and behaviors. Align all foundational documents to this statement.
Listen. Those perceived to have power and credibility within a school community rarely see the invisible system of over-privilege from which they routinely benefit. Those same people must admit this privilege, and rather than feel guilty about or apologize for it, they should instead cultivate their own awareness by truly listening to the lived experiences of those in the community without this privilege: women, people of color, those on financial assistance, etc. Empathy is a powerful driver for anyone with a conscience.
Educate your community. In order to discuss issues of race, we must first educate ourselves, and undo the steady stream of brainwashing provided by the media, past education, and the opinions of some friends and family. Plan out a reading list that includes books, articles, websites, blogs, and social media. Routinely send out communications to your community, encouraging parents to talk to their children about what they’ve learned. Facilitate book groups and discussions. We are schools, after all.
Audit the school’s curriculum. Typically, students who do not make up the ethnic majority in a school see little of their own culture represented in what they study. This can even happen in schools where the host-country ethnicity is not White. Fix this omission by infusing the K-12 curriculum with new content and experiences that will reflect the diversity of cultures within your own community.
Train teachers to be culturally-responsive. Cultures possess distinct characteristics of communication, beliefs, histories, and value systems. We can respect and honor each of the representative cultures in our classrooms by adapting our instruction to activate prior knowledge and experiences, and to leverage students’ cultural capital, in order to maximize the achievement and growth of each student. These instructional strategies require specific skill development, and thus professional training.
Hunt for opportunity gaps, and remedy them. All schools will have gaps in student achievement within and between certain populations. The problem is not in the students, but rather in an unequal playing field of opportunities. Take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), for example. Created in 1926 by a eugenicist, the SAT is a tool that perpetuates racial hierarchy and inequality, through stereotype threat and other means. While it may be too much to expect all universities to categorically reject a racist instrument like the SAT in its admissions algorithm (though some have), international schools can ensure all its students have access to affordable test prep.
Hire to reflect the diversity in your community. Students of color need to see their ethnicity represented in those who teach them. It goes beyond role modeling, and to the core of identity and culturally-responsive teaching. Hiring teams need to remove biases inherent in the hiring process, such as gravitating toward those candidates who have similar backgrounds and experiences as that of the hiring team.
(* Antiracism is defined by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi as “supporting antiracist policy through actions or expressions of an antiracist idea.” A broader definition of the term can be used to include promoting equality, sustaining equity, and rejecting all forms of discrimination based on sex, gender, ethnicity, religion, physical appearance, etc.)
Dr. Paul Richards, June, 2020