Equity in the Classroom: A Whoopin’ and a Sandwich

Kristen Taylor | St. Louis ‘06

The lack of educational opportunities characteristic in St. Louis is what brought many of you to this fair city.  We each came here to change a life (or a hundred) by investing our time, our energy, and our resources with the young individuals placed within our care.  We came to make an impact and change the possible futures of this world.  These reasons may resonate with you but in short, even without thinking about it consciously,

…we truly came to change ourselves.

As human beings in this world, we cannot affect each other without first acting in way that is true to ourselves.  We spend hours planning for our content, investment, and behavioral management systems.  But we haven’t really conquered ourselves within these pedagogical boundaries. 

We think that culturally responsive teaching is the magic bullet that will reach our students.  We make excuses for the maladaptive behaviors that they exhibit as force of habit, or a cultural phenomenon, or we blame their social-economic position in relation to our own privilege.  We feel sorry, we roll our eyes and make jokes, but at the crux of the matter, we overlook that

… our students sometimes simply need a whoopin’ and a sandwich.*  

Educational equity is purposeless unless we examine how we interact with students.  They don’t only need a well-structured class agenda and paper to write on.  They also need to know that their actions have natural and logical consequences the minute their behavior foreshadows a future that limits the ultimate human potential.  That’s the whoopin’ part.

The key here is that after the whoopin’, they also need a sandwich.  Excluding the students from the lesson, or the room, or our attention says to them that their wants, needs, and desires are no longer a priority to us. Our students need to see that their mistakes won’t prevent them from achieving the future person you have spent endless hours convincing them they can be.  The sandwich represents exactly what they need to move forward,

… which sometimes is an actual sandwich, or a pencil, or a smile, or an encouraging word, or a minute to cry.

In changing the world, we must also change ourselves.  We are here in the world and therefore cannot exclude ourselves from that equation.  Gandhi is quoted saying, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” We must operate in a way that our actions reflect the nature of the inequity that we claim to work against.  Be careful to ensure that your actions build a community of self-actualizing people, instead of pointing out why society tends to marginalize those that we serve.

This essay was your whoopin’.  You’ve just been “read.”  I just threw some “shade.”  It’s ok.  This needed to happen because you are human and loved.  But this was never about undermining you, or convincing you what you do doesn’t matter or affect students positively.  I know that you all are good people at heart.  Everyone, including myself, could simply benefit more from seeing it all the time and in every place.  So, good in peace and love; just

don’t leave behind the sandwich I made for you. 


*This is a metaphorical whoopin’ – please note that the author is not suggesting, advocating for, or endorsing physical contact or violence towards children or anyone.

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