The other pandemic.

“What is the implication for how we understand ourselves and each other in reference to our racial identities? And if we are dissatisfied with the way things are, what can we do to change it?”

–Beverly Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

This is not the post we originally planned to publish this morning.

We have been so inspired, lately, by Vermont educators and families and students, all making this strange and challenging pandemic learning work for students as best they can. We have been so inspired by everyone’s creativity and flexibility in making this pandemic situation work on any level.

But this is not the pandemic learning work we’re talking about today.

This is the other pandemic learning work.

The pandemic of white supremacy and racism.

It’s work on a pandemic that’s been raging for centuries, one that has infected all levels of American education and society. This pandemic has long infected our government, and our social infrastructure.

It infects us.

As an organization, we focus on personalized learning that honors student identities, and their lives and learning outside of school. Their communities. And for Black students, and students of color, those identities and communities continue to come under attack. Those lives have been, and continue to be, under attack.

The current political situation has emboldened white supremacists to violence at every level. We’re all seeing the news reports, and the twitter feeds.  So the question becomes: what do we do?

Before anything else? We admit we’re going to get things wrong because of privilege.

First off, an admission: the writers of this post, personally, are going to get things wrong, in a way that hurts Black educators and students. We will bumble through and try to fix things with imprecise helping hands and accidentally make things worse and then have to start over with those same hands. Because the authors of this post are both white, while we are committed to being anti-racist, the way we try and make things better will likely be blind to some realities. We welcome feedback on this post, either in the comments down below or via our contact form

But while we get things wrong, we still have to try.

We can begin by acknowledging the decades of hard work done by BIPOC — Black, Indigenous, People of Color — educators, writers, activists and thought-leaders.

We commit to reading and learning from BIPOC work in this area and beyond. White educators, students and community members need to learn and unlearn the true history of this nation, and listen to BIPOC people about issues of race, racism, and history.  

Then we as white educators get to work, holding explicitly anti-racist work as a constant goal.

  1. Honor student identities — and protect Black students and BIPOC students. This might look like making sure you create an intentional educational space for students of color to feel safe, valued, and important. This will take work of building trust, calling out and calling in students and staff, and creating a loving community that can openly discuss hard topics and plan action.
  2. Honor student lives and learning outside of school — especially those of Black students and BIPOC students.  Schools have often valued a limited way of being for learning.
  3. Honor student communities — especially those of Black students and BIPOC students. Student communities encompass the full range of communities any given student exists in: their family, their peer group, their place of worship, their service organization. How can we support and validate the learning done in those communities when the communities of Black students are under attack from white supremacy?

With a focus on the needs of BIPOC students, educators can develop a framework for personalized learning that responds to the pandemic of white supremacy. Paul Gorksi’s Equity Literacy Framework (.pdf) is an excellent tool for this work.

What can this look like in action?

Honor student identities

Scan the curriculum:

Let’s do a diversity audit of our school and classroom libraries. Whose voices are represented? Whose voices are missing? And are we interrogating the conventional literary canon? Are we reading about Black experiences? Are we reading about the experiences of other people of color? How are we centering Black voices? How are we centering Indigenous voices? How are we centering the voices of all marginalized students as we negotiate that curriculum?

Check on students and their experiences

But beyond that, how are we providing direct support to Black students and others as they negotiate our schools? We know that BIPOC students are on the receiving end of hundreds of micro-aggressions in their lives. How are we constructing spaces in our classrooms where we work towards having everyone understand a) what micro-aggressions are, b) why they are actual violence against students of color, and c) how we repair the damage in our constructed communities when they occur?

How are we building restorative justice systems for our classrooms that center Black students and mitigate those violences?

How are schools handling:

  • Hats, hoodies and other unequal dress codes
  • Display of the Confederate flag in any form outside a textbook
  • Policies affecting anyone’s hair at any time
  • Disciplinary rates that affect Black students and students of color disproportionately.
The list goes on; ask your students and they can fill that list out for you.
…But they shouldn’t have to.

Instead: negotiate school policies with students and their families, and your colleagues, in a way that centers and protects BIPOC students. Provide students with the support and means and the structure to negotiate and design more equal schools. Open that door, and be the educators and administrators who listen, who advocate, and who pro-actively create anti-racist spaces and structures in your schools.

Honor student lives and learning outside of school

We need to ask ourselves how school currently provides a way for students to get credit for the work they do outside of school. For their work with Girl Scouts, or their mosques. For the work they put into family businesses, and the work they do looking after siblings. The work they do showing up to protests, organizing action and doing protest support.

And then we need to figure out how to dismantle systems that block students from getting that credit. We need to examine those policies for assigning credit for out-of-school learning and dismantle any piece that upholds ongoing racial inequity.

Honor student communities

Center Black voices and Black community organization. Support Black families. Hold a space for them to share their knowledge of their students, for them to share their experience — uninterrupted. Listen to Black students when they share who those communities are, and how valuable those communities are in informing and supporting their learning. Then go listen to those communities some more..

In conclusion:

As an organization, we are going to get things wrong about race, and about educating about racial equity.

And again, the writers of this post, personally, are going to get things wrong, in a way that hurts Black educators and students. We will try our best not to make things worse, and we will take responsibility for our actions and try again.

But we are committed to this work.

The point is always the starting over and the doing again.

Because if we were silent, we would do even more damage.

Our silence would be a form of violence. We are not satisfied with ourselves, and our organization’s work, when racial inequality and violence continue to plague Vermont’s education system.

We are in no way experts on equity, but we know that we and everyone else need to focus on equity — hard and consistently, in-house and beyond — in order to be anything like effective in whole school change in Vermont.

There is so much we have to do, right now. There is so much work to get stuck into, fighting this particular pandemic.

But we have always known the work is worth it. We are not here for white supremacy. We are here for Vermont’s Black educators and students, and their families and communities. Black lives matter.




Please note: The original version of this post featured an image of a plain black square. It has been brought to our attention that that image has been recently used in ways that are hurtful to the Black Lives Matter and activist communities. We deeply regret this error, and will use the moment to think through better guidelines for image choice in all blogposts moving forward, and will post those as part of the editorial guidelines we’ll make publicly available on this site. Photo credit: Elly Budliger, age 13.

Katy Farber

Farber joined TIIE after 17 years as a classroom teacher in central Vermont. She is passionate about promoting student and teacher voice, engaging early adolescent students, sharing the power of service learning, and creating inclusive communities where joy, courageous conversations and kindness are the norm. She lives in central Vermont with her husband and two daughters and loves being outside with family and friends, listening to music, writing about the world, and jumping into Vermont ponds and lakes.

5 thoughts on “The other pandemic.

    June 5, 2020 at 7:51 am

    When you say bumbling and blindly, does this also include the following letter that the group you co-created sent to the school board in response to the resignation of the school principal, who left under a cloud of issues related to implicit bias and inequity?

    “…The February 17, 2017 School Board column, on the other hand, paints a different picture. Consistent with the communications and actions of the Superintendent, the column still seems to imply that the Rumney Staff has contributed to, whether intentionally or not, “inequity in Student treatment around such things as disciplinary actions and educational opportunities.” In our experience, the Rumney Staff is exceptionally committed to the well-being of all students, especially those who may be at risk. The column goes on to say that student behaviors at Rumney School “appear to be, in part, influenced by socio-economic status, race, culture, and learning differences.” We are not satisfied that these statements are informed by fair and balanced information.

    We request that the Superintendent and the Rumney School Board refrain from characterizing Rumney as having a school-wide, systemic problem until the community and staff have been presented with specific data supporting this conclusion… The questions below are meant to serve as a starting point for the discussion:

    *1. *What percentage of Rumney families were interviewed during the Superintendent’s initial investigation?

    What method was used to determine which families would be interviewed?

    What percentage of families were unhappy with a disciplinary outcome?

    What percentage felt that their child had been denied an educational opportunity?

    Though we feel it is important to address any instances of dissatisfaction, is there reason to believe that these percentages are greater at Rumney than comparable preK-6 schools? If yes, please provide the specific data, used in comparison, that led to this conclusion.

    *2. *What was the charge given to the mediator, Curtiss Reed? [Note: Mr. Reed is the Executive Director of Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity]

    What method was used for determining which families would speak to the mediator before the community forum?

    By what criteria were the student survey, and the way it was administered, selected? We would like to discuss whether or not the survey results can be considered valid…”

    Let’s also acknowledge that this group, through its actions, demonstrated a stronger interest on how a middle-aged white male was treated versus vulnerable students. The actions of this group effectively shut down any opportunity for meaningful dialogue and a safe space for families, particularly families of color, to speak their truth. It shut down a real opportunity for growth and change within the school community.

    Talking about the pandemic of white supremacy and racism is incredibly important. Challenging our thinking and understanding of privilege are critical to change. But, it also starts with recognizing our own shortcomings on this issue and apologizing for those actions. This includes apologizing to families of color in the community and the impact these actions had on their lives. Until that happens, your efforts on this issue will appear superficial.

  • June 5, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you for your comment. I agree that the situation you’re referencing was confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating, and was absolutely influenced by systemic racism. I do apologize for the harm and impacts caused by that situation. To move forward, I want to encourage us both to take more time to analyze this situation in hindsight, from an intersectional lens with openness and vulnerability. How could we both — I’m unsure of who you are at this point — learn from this situation and apply ourselves to anticipating a more equitable solution for the next time it occurs. Because unfortunately situations like these are going to re-occur, and they’re going to be incredibly difficult for everyone to navigate, so hearing more about your perspective would be valuable, and I invite you to work with me on looking more deeply at situations of these kind with a focus on solutions. Please be in touch at this email ( to move this conversation forward.

  • June 5, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    I appreciate being part of this organization. Thank you to Katy and Audrey for this powerful post. You encouraged me to make my feedback public as a way to model transparency and de-stigmatize that we all need to be mutually accountable, humble, and growth oriented when it comes to our learning and discourse related to race and racism.

    In that vein, please consider:
    -The Equity Literacy framework from Paul Gorski – Could we include something developed by Black or POC educators instead? Or in addition? I greatly admire Gorski but there are amazing resources from so many other scholars and organizations. For example, Liberatory Design or other resources from the National Equity Institute could get a nod here.
    -Curriculum scan – Scan feels a bit less deep than we need to go in terms of curriculum. Perhaps in addition should we mention/advocate for the possibility of overhauling curriculum, perhaps along the lines of Teaching Tolerance Social Justice standards? I can’t wait to see what the Coalition for Ethnic and Equity Studies of VT comes up with in this regard.
    – The phrase “we will harm Black educators” – it might read strangely to people who don’t have the context of having come to the understanding that impact always trumps intent. I wonder whether noting something like “regardless of our intentions, we know that we will inevitably do harm because of our own implicit biases (or internalized white supremacy) as well as our complicity with systems of oppression as they currently exist”.

    I look forward to contributing in any way possible to the work ahead.

    • June 8, 2020 at 6:55 pm

      Hi Life, thanks for your comment. I love the suggestion about consistently and thoroughly examining whose voices we bring to the table as experts, especially on equity work. It’s something I’ve added to our editorial guidelines, which we’ll post on the blog once they’re finalized. Could you link to Liberatory Design or the specific resources you’re referencing at the National Equity Institute?

      Tell me more about what you’re thinking in terms of changes to the curriculum.

      And I absolutely hear you about the phrasing around harm. Impact always, always, always trumps intent.

      Thanks again.

    June 5, 2020 at 8:46 pm

    I’m not sensing authentic accountability in your response. And I’m intentionally being anonymous because I saw how people who spoke out against this a few years ago were treated by many in the community.


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