A Commitment to Confronting Our Bias and Privileges

A Commitment to Confronting Our Bias and Privileges

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Update, 7/20/2016: Last week, the editorial team at EdSurge chose to write (shown below) about issues in which we are hardly experts—namely issues of social justice. We stumbled in that effort—and are owning up to where we went wrong. Here’s what happened.

“We educators do the work not just in the classroom, but also with our feet and voices. We move in unison with our folks on the street.”
—Jose Vilson

On July 10, New York teacher and #EduColor founder Jose Vilson tweeted the above message after noticing that more of his fellow educators were endeavoring to be more “socially aware and vocal about oppression,” whether they were teachers of color or otherwise. Vilson hit on a vital point: Given the recent increase in the visibility of shootings and violence against black individuals, as well as the impact that news inevitably has on students, no American can ignore what's happening in country. And we'll go one step further: silence is no option. Instead silence risks compliance. It smacks of “business as usual.”

This means all of us: students, teachers and administrations—and yes, entrepreneurs and investors in edtech products used every day. And that certainly includes us, here at EdSurge.

Like many, the violence surfaced in recent weeks left us with a paralyzing mix of anger, grief and numbness.

At first, we planned to compile a list of resources that offer readers ways to discuss these issues with kids and peers. But after talking to Texas school administrator Rafranz Davis, she reminded us of something important: sharing these collections isn’t enough. That’s business as usual. Instead, we as an organization have to to analyze our own biases. Here at EdSurge, and across Silicon Valley at large, we’ve been slow to make a conscious choice to examine the root of the issues and their impact on our colleagues, family and friends.

Admitting to our confusion, vulnerability and naivety is the first step toward engaging in a proactive conversation. But here are some guidelines that we at EdSurge will follow on this journey of exploring the concept of privilege, recognizing “white blindness,” and moving from conversations on listicles and Tweets, into practice in our office and in our work.

Guideline #1: Recognize the implicit biases in our own work.

Everyone is biased in some way, shape, or form. The musical Avenue Q parodied this concept with the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” back in 2003. Sure, it may have been sardonic and poking fun—but that doesn’t make the title of the song any less true.

So what privileges do we enjoy—as individuals and as an organization—and how can we be thoughtful about how that shapes our work? What do our races afford us? What about our socioeconomic statuses?

Like many education technology companies in the Silicon Valley, our demographic makeup does not reflect the education system that we report on. Many of us grew up in stable communities and had the privileges of a well-rounded education. We have many Stanford and Ivy League degrees. We have over-represented minorities (Asian) and severely under-represented ones (both Latino and black).

As reporters, we have always tried to be mindful about bias in our reporting—and to be open with readers about where conflicts may lurk. But we need to go further: We need to regularly ask ourselves whether or not we emphasize one set of voices over others in our writing.

Among the questions we have to ask ourselves:

  • When it comes to our stories, are we asking about the inequities in how edtech tools get used?
  • How do our own backgrounds as writers, editors, and developers influence our stories?
  • How do the images that accompany these articles reinforce or reject assumptions and biases?
  • Who do we quote in stories? Do those voices reflect relevant demographics, including those of schools and teaching communities?
  • Do we actively seek contributors and columnists that represent different—and at times opposing—viewpoints?

We have been critiqued for falling short on these standards and take the comments seriously. And we’re renewing our commitment to asking these questions of our own work.

Guideline #2: Educate ourselves on bias and privilege, and learn how to turn them into a force for positive change.

What can we do to better understand how our prejudices affect and are perceived by others?

In a recent blogpost, Georgia educator Shana White exemplifies the concept of turning privilege into a positive when she writes, “You have privilege, whether you want to recognize or not. What each of us decides to do with our privilege is the real issue in my mind.” Instead of “excusing actions,” “dismissing, and “blaming others,” White makes a conscious effort instead to “be more selfless” and “actively love people unlike me.”

We at EdSurge need to do a better job of acknowledging what’s happening outside of our laptops and office walls—and actively involving ourselves in using our voices and our convenings for positive impact.

Guideline #3: Start the conversation—in the office, at home, with your neighbors...

In her recent article, Mandela Schumacher-Hodge describes how just acknowledging the pain and frustration that our colleagues are experiencing matters. “You don’t have to have all the right words or all the perfect answers, but just saying something to the Black and White people you work with—acknowledging that this atrocity happened and that you’re hurt by it—that really is a start to making a difference,” she writes.

These talks are uncomfortable. But we can’t pretend that the violence that has wracked our country is somebody else’s problem. Instead, we have to seek to create an atmosphere of openness and trust where we can admit and accept each other’s misunderstandings and vulnerabilities. Share your pain, confusion or frustration with your kids, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Write a letter to your family.

As an organization, we are trying to have these conversations—and having them now—with our colleagues, with people we write about, and yes, with you, readers.

Here’s our promise to you: We will hold ourselves accountable. We hope you will help and let us know when we fail. And we’ll share our reflections, in a few months’ time, as we follow these guidelines—and perhaps discover more along the journey.

We will stumble, and we’ll be uncomfortable, and we won’t be perfect. But we will try.

And you?

Mary Jo Madda (@MJMadda) is Senior Editor at EdSurge, as well as a former STEM teacher and administrator. In 2016, Mary Jo was named to the Forbes “30 Under 30” list in education.

Tony Wan (@tonywan) is the Managing Editor at EdSurge. He was also on that Forbes list but has since turned 30.

EdSurge writers Leonard Medlock and Betsy Corcoran contributed to this piece.

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