More Than a Correction
When Striving for Equity We Need to Recognize Mistakes, Apologize to Those Harmed, Fix the Harm Swiftly and Provide Education to All
Working to achieve equity — faith, racial or social — is challenging and hard work. Undoubtedly, each of us will make mistakes as we embark on our individual equity learning journey. Mistakes are simply inevitable. Especially for those of us who are employees of big systems — schools, governments, business. Our systems are set up with inherent inequity and privilege in place. Therefore, we have to individually work that much harder and intentionally to counterbalance the inequities at play. As we learn and grow, our mistakes will be prolific.
Yet, how we respond to each mistake should also be prolific.
When inequitable mistakes or missteps happen by educators or administrators in our children’s schools, I see it as part of the job of our administrators and educators to recognize mistakes, apologize to those harmed, fix the harm swiftly and provide education to all as part of the process. Remedying mistakes with swift change, of course, is important to be more inclusive. However, to truly work toward a more equitable school community and ultimately a more equitable world, we need to provide the education and the tools to all our students and community members along with making a change.
The apology and education pieces are essential components of working toward equity.
Without question, this has been a hard year as a parent of two proud Jewish students in our local school community. This past spring, I was heartbroken to see the faces drop of my then 8- and 10-year-old children when they learned the devastating outcome of the School Board calendar vote that did not move faith equity forward like all of our neighboring jurisdictions. I couldn’t find the words to explain to them why the calendar couldn’t simply start winter break four days later than proposed on December 24, Christmas Eve, instead of December 20, so that the four most important minority faith holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid and Diwali, could also be days off of school for educators and students.
Today, after the hardest year I’ve faced as a minority faith parent of children in public school, my rug of comfort was again pulled out from under my feet. Our school principal sent an email to save the date for Back to School Night on Wednesday, September 15, the night Yom Kippur begins. Yom Kippur. The holiest of all Jewish holidays. Today, I felt my heart shatter once more.
True, within two hours, the school issued a “CORRECTION” email. Sadly, that email simply changed the date to a few weeks later. Also on a Jewish holiday. A lesser known one, but another Jewish holiday nonetheless. While I appreciate the administration’s prompt attention to the inappropriately scheduled school event, this was a missed opportunity.
I’ve come to realize in this country, our culture expects our administrators, our business leaders, our politicians to be leaders in a misguided way. Somewhere along the way it seems “leadership” became synonymous with ignoring mistakes, brushing them under a rug and just moving forward. That’s the wrong approach.
With equity in particular, people need to hear the acknowledgement of the mistake. People need the apology.
Only after the acknowledgement and true apology can communities move forward together. I know it’s awkward. Yet, as humans, we need to do this for healing. We also need this for learning and growth.
In the case of my childrens’ school, the administration needs to figure out a way to bring it up and apologize at an upcoming staff meeting as well as include it in an email to families for two reasons. First, it is important to apologize to staff members and families who felt excluded and hurt by the original date. Second, they must provide that important educational piece. The instructive component needs to model the public apology and provide the educational opportunity for educators, families and students to learn about another religious faith community.
It’s more than a correction. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of interacting with one another. Where we engage. Apologize. Learn. Grow. Together.
Judith Cabelli is a passionate leader committed to advancing housing affordability, social justice and racial equity. She is motivated by fairness and equity for all and the belief that access to food, housing and health care are human rights. She is a voracious reader and an aspiring writer. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia with her husband, daughter, son and their crazy dog Lila.