Reflection on Challenging Times
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more are names and faces that must not be forgotten as Alto, and the country must stand united in our advocacy for equality, inclusivity, and diversity. Now more than ever, Alto needs to demonstrate the commitment to these values as we teach our students and as we interact with all members of the local and global community.
Dear Alto Community,
It is very difficult to comprehend the tragic events taking place across the United States right now. Yes, we have been working through COVID-19 together, and now this unity is threatened as we grapple with peaceful and violent protests countrywide. Alto’s mission has always been to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment and to educate global citizens of the world through empathy, knowledge, collaboration, and compassion. There has never been a more important moment for our entire community to reflect and renew our commitment to creating change through the education of young people. To that end, Alto will convene a community task force with the intent of reflecting on who we are as a community and strengthening our equity and diversity and to assess if we are achieving our mission. More information on opportunities to serve on this task force will become available as the new school year begins.
In a conversation during a recent Alto meeting, teachers and staff took a moment to reflect on these challenging times. Many spoke most eloquently on the need to end all forms of racism, discrimination, and social injustice, and I have invited them to share their words with you. You are encouraged to spend a few moments reading their essays and reflecting on your commitment to be a positive force of change.
Former President Barack Obama said that “It falls on all of us…to work together to create a new normal in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.” Those are powerful words that take on renewed urgency today.
This Moment at Alto
We have all borne witness to the grief and mourning that is coursing through the veins of America in this moment. The murder of George Floyd and the ensuing anti-black racism protests give all of us reason to reflect on our identities, our values, and our role and responsibilities in society.
As an IB World School, Alto International School embraces international-mindedness as a core value. Our values are global. We see ourselves as global citizens who are aware that the world is much larger than the local community in which we live. This might suggest that Alto transcends its local context to connect with cultures across the world.
Nonetheless, Alto and its increasingly diverse staff and student body are physically present in modern-day America and tethered to the social fabric of this country. In liberal California, Alto also embodies progressive values that promote equity, diversity, and inclusion for the people whom we live amongst and call our neighbors. This is a different value system to the core identity of the school, but it remains a significant part of who we are.
These values are reflected in the great work already happening at Alto. This work takes place in advisory sessions and subject classrooms where students and teachers engage in discourse about matters such as identity, genocide, prenatal genetic screening, anti-racism, and the criminal justice system.
In the midst of protests rippling across the country, we must make an unwavering commitment to talk about matters of race and privilege because we ourselves are people living in America. It’s vital for students to have the space in which they feel safe and encouraged to participate in conversations about sensitive and uncomfortable topics. They need a space where they can practice listening, taking on new perspectives, asking questions, disagreeing with others, asserting allyship, being an upstander, and most importantly, making mistakes and learning from those fumbles.
Not only will this strengthen students’ communications skills, it will also make them more courageous and compassionate people who can interact respectfully and responsibly with others when they leave Alto and journey into the various avenues of their lives outside of school. This is why at Alto this week Advisory teachers have been leading discussions with students about the current civic unrest in America and its root causes.
We are sure that this work will continue at Alto into the future as it continues to have one foot in the globalized world and one foot in its local context.
As a parent, a teacher, an Alto community member, a member of American society, a world citizen, a human, it is our duty to speak up.
I came to California in 2004 to study multi-ethnic theatre with an African American theater specialist, Professor Harry Elam. One of the plays that we studied was Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna-Deveare Smith. This documentary play presented the riots that occurred in Los Angeles after a trial jury acquitted four police officers for using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King. I was deeply shaken by this play as it exposed so openly the racial discriminations woven into the fabric of American society.
Unfortunately, since then, we have all continued to witness police brutality against people of color. The recent horrific murder of George Floyd and subsequent anti-racism protests all around the world echo deeply with Rodney King’s. It forces us to reposition ourselves, question our identities, and the role we must play in society.
In the midst of the current worldwide pandemic, when people are struggling to survive, when front-line workers are putting their lives at risk to serve us when doctors and nurses are working tirelessly to save lives, this cold-blooded murder is simply unbearable to watch.
We all have a role to play. As parents, it is our duty to raise issues of discrimination with our children. As teachers, we must engage our students in open debates about injustice. As Alto community members, we must remember that we are here to support and help each other. As members of American society, we must stand united against racism. As world citizens, we must continue to listen to and empathize with others. As humans, we ought to find love, kindness, and compassion in our hearts. Speak up. Only then can we re-imagine a better future where we are all equal.
Caroline De Wagter, French Language Teacher and Alto Parent
Here are a few resources to explore this important topic with children and teenagers at home. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations with younger students; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.