What Can I do About This?

The absolute best thing about working in PK-12 education is getting to believe that you are surrounded by young people who will make the world a better place.  When I visit a classroom, I am always struck by a sense that these are humans who will know better, and do better than generations who have come before them.

As I watch the world around me this weekend, I am disheartened knowing our schools play an integral role in maintaining the status quo of privilege and oppression fueling this sadness, pain, fear, rage, violence, apathy, and hate.

In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire wrote, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

I read this quote, and I can see both the reality of the system in which I work, and the dreams of the people with whom I work.

I work with people filled with empathy, but our institution feels cold and uncaring.  I work with people who just want to serve students, but our system labels, sorts, and ranks.  I work with people who believe each child has capacity for greatness, but I work in a system that says, no child left behind out of one side of it’s mouth, and then funds and supports public education in a way that clearly says we are comfortable with this not working out for a certain percentage of children out of the other.

I have been in a mental struggle with these issues my entire educational career.  I see that our system is part of the problem, which causes me to believe that we have to look to our system as the solution.  The murder of George Floyd, and the peaceful protests and angry riots that have followed have brought me back to the question, what can I do about this.

I believe the answer is learn, learn to be better, learn to continually recognize privilege, oppression, marginalization, bias and hate. Learn to point it out, and to take action to stop it.

When I woke up this morning, I reread James Baldwin’s A Letter to my Nephew.  If you’ve never read it, I hope you will today, and if you have read it, I hope you will read it again.

As I read today, the line that struck me the deepest was, “They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it” (Baldwin, 1962).

More than 30 years after Baldwin’s letter, Dr. Roberta Harro produced graphic representations of exactly what Baldwin was saying in this quote, the Cycle of Socialization, and the Cycle of Liberation.

In the article The Cycle of Socialization, Harro explains that we are born into a specific set of social identities, and that they predispose us to unequal roles in the system of oppression. “We are then socialized by powerful sources in our worlds to play the roles prescribed by an inequitable social system” (Harro, 1997).

In the article The Cycle of Liberation, Harro explains we have the power to make a conscious break from the cycle of socialization, and to engage in a new path. “As people come to a critical level of understanding of the nature of oppression and their roles in this systemic phenomenon, they seek new paths for creating social change and taking themselves toward empowerment and liberation” (Harro, 1997).

I feel lucky to live and work in a community where so many have made the conscious decision to make a break from the churn of the Cycle of Socialization.  Yet, I know hate, marginalization, and oppression happen in our schools, and in our town.

My favorite singer/songwriter, Jason Isbell, recently released a new album, and one of the songs on the album is called What’ve I Done to Help.  The third verse of the song states:

Climb to safety, you and me and the baby
Send our thoughts and prayers to loved ones on the ground
And as the days went by we just stopped looking down, down, down
The world’s on fire and we just climb higher
‘Til we’re no longer bothered by the smoke and sound
Good people suffer and the heart gets tougher
Nothing given, nothing found

What’ve I done to help?

Today, I reaffirm my pledge to do something to help.  I will recognize my privilege, I will recognize my biases, I will be an anti-racist, I will be anti-homophobic, I will strive for equity and access, and I will make the educational system better than it has been.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you will take some time to examine the Cycles of Socialization and Liberation below, and to ask yourself the question, how might I see my life reflected in these cycles.


43 thoughts on “What Can I do About This?”

  1. Thank you for your wise words and thoughtful guidance; we are grateful for your sound leadership every day.

  2. As a parent, educator, and citizen, I appreciate that you recognize the issues that we face as a society and community as well as your commitment towards making change for the better.

  3. Thank you so much for these words and thoughts – and the general leadership at this time. Can you please have this message shared through the entire DCSD messaging system? This is by far the best local response I have seen to the current uprising in our country and region. Thank you for your work and leadership.

    1. I too would like to see your blog posted to the newsletter is that goes out to everyone.

  4. Thanks for you words and leadership. I really appreciate your time, energy, and thoughtful approach to our district and your role as a leader. Hopefully others spend some time analyzing the two models and reflecting, we can all do better.

  5. Thank you. Thank you for being a voice. It comforts me to know my children will be well looked after.

  6. We can all continue to learn. I thank you, Mark, for your lesson as many of us struggle with how to best make use of our privilege while protecting, serving, educating and healing.

  7. Thank you so much for these honest words and for your willingness to lead with both strength and vulnerability. These are the kinds of leaders we need right now to effect change.

  8. Thank you, Mr. Lane, for the guidance as we try to work though this with our kids at home as well.

  9. Wow, what a thought-provoking message! I really appreciate learning about this – thank you Superintendent Lane!

  10. I appreciate these comments so much. I hope the district will commit to bringing in outside trainers to facilitate this work. Moving towards inclusivity and equity are hard in the best of circumstances, but without expert guidance probably will not move beyond “best intentions” without much impact. I’m really excited to read your post and hope this means that the district will commit funding to bringing in outside professionals to help train staff and create a plan/framework for the district to use as we work towards these ideals of equity and inclusion. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing more about this.

  11. Thank you. Please know you have a large group of people supporting the schools that are willing and wanting to take further action alongside of you. Thank you for your leadership in this.

  12. Thank you for your thoughts and words. I believe you should seek for outside help / outside eyes to come in, evaluate/observe, and propose changes to the curriculum of both students AND teachers, as well as lead your faculty in some exercises that will expose them to some of the harsh realities that exist in our schools (ie. racist treatment of students, bullying).

  13. That’s great! What are the next steps? How are we teaching faculty, administrators, and our students to be anti-racists? How are we supporting parents so they are having anti-racist conversations at home with their children and families? If we aren’t taking action, we are contributing to the problem. There are many opportunities for learning and many community members interested in working with you to help identify solutions for Decorah.

  14. Thank you Mr. Lane. This kind of thoughtful reflection and vulnerable response to a national tragedy shows our community that we all have to participate in learning and growing together in order to affect change. I so appreciate your leadership.

  15. Thank you Mark Lane. Our family encourages Decorah Schools to bring in outside help to begin the process of understanding how to do this essential work.

  16. Thank you for your words Superintendent Lane. It is understandable that our district and community is our primary focus as it should be. But let us not forgot our surrounding school districts and how we support and respond to them. Decorah is a pretty privileged community with a lack of affordable housing so many lower income families reside in the surrounding communities/districts. We have one of the best school districts in the state and we need to make sure our students, athletes, teachers, and community members respond with love and respect to all including “rival” schools and also recognize how we got to where we are and who we are excluding from our community and schools whether intentionally or unintentionally.

  17. Thank you for addressing the very real issues within the educational system at large and within our own. I echo the call to action of inviting outside experts to train us to build inclusivity and equity, and combat racism within our school system.

  18. Thank you, Mr. Lane. Your wisdom and perspective continue to give me lots to reflect on. I appreciate your thoughts, guidance, and continued leadership.

  19. Very good read. Thank you for your personal reflection. It’s a great reminder that we can all do better.
    Thank you for your leadership!

  20. I very grateful that these honest and informed reflections are that of our school’s leadership. Thank you!

  21. Yes. Let’s teach antiracism.

    But who can teach this to our children?

    Decorah’s entirely white staff regularly fails to see harassment and bullying.

    We cannot begin to fix what we can’t even see.

    As a parent of children of color, I want to empower the school to do better.

    I hope the school will bring in outside consultants who can help us.

    Undoing racism is complicated and emotional work and one thing I’m confident of is that we cannot do this with good intentions alone.

    I believe in you, Mr. Lane.

    1. Thank you, Superintendent Lane, for expressing where your heart is and that you are seeing the need for education about racism and for change in our school system. I, too, encourage you to seek outside expertise in making and implementing a plan. We need to learn from the people most affected by racism.
      And I will actively support you in every way.
      Julie Fischer

  22. Thanks for sharing these thoughts Mr Lane. I am encouraged to hear your response to this moment. I hear your heart in what you write, and your commitment to being part of the change. I, too, would encourage Decorah schools to bring in outside consultants. None of us can do this work alone, or even through self-education though that is important too, it has to be in relationship. And there are so many great and skilled people who could help real shifts to happen. Thanks so much for this post.

  23. Thank you so much Mr. Lane. Please let’s provide support and training for teachers and staff in antiracism work. Please let’s bring in outside help for this work. We need to deepen both awareness and action.

  24. Thank you so much Mr. Lane for your thoughtful words and leadership. I ask our district to make this a top priority and commit funding towards bringing in outside help. Thank you!

  25. Superintendent Lane, your blog brought me to tears. Thank you for acknowledging what is happening around our country at this moment and in our community. I greatly appreciate your words of support, the need for change, and understanding for equality.

  26. Thank you. I would like to do anything to help, especially through embodied practice — where students begin to understand themselves within the environmental, social, cultural, spiritual, economical, intellectual, and emotional experiences they encounter.

  27. I join others in thanking you Mr. Lane for this post. I also thank all the teachers and administration who have worked in this direction over the years, and continue to do so.

    I agree on the importance of the district bringing in skilled, non-white, anti-racism facilitators to help break the cycle of socialization your diagram outlines.

    As a parent, I would also suggest another more immediate answer to “what can I do”: listen to and empower our students.

    Our schools (like pretty much all schools) emphasize responsibility and leadership from students, but of the conforming kind. They do not, by and large, encourage students to “interrupt .. take a stand .. name and dismantle injustice”, as the cycle diagrams demand.

    Creating an environment and structure/s that empowers students to do just that, to speak out, to challenge injustice and racism among peers and even staff, and to pursue restorative justice would be messy. It would be painful. It would rock the boat, big time.

    It may also begin to break the cycle of socialization and open the cycle of liberation for all students. Our young adults are capable of great things. Are we?

    Food for thought, nothing more. Thx for opening the dialogue, Mr. Lane.

  28. Thank you for this. Outside resources are definitely needed. The “subtle” midwestern racism can be even more insidious, because when people genuinely believe they aren’t racist, it can be harder to affect change. I’ve been shocked by some of the “well-meaning” comments I’ve heard in the last week, as well as blatantly ignorant social media posts by our students. The dynamic of a proudly progressive yet virtually all-white community has a unique set of challenges when it comes to being part of the solution. It’s not enough to be not racist, we need to teach active anti-racism.

  29. Thank you, Mr. Lane for your continued communication with the community via this blog. I appreciate this post and your thoughts, and I’m thankful that as our district’s superintendent you are asking yourself the hard questions of what you can do. These are tough times and tough questions. Hard work is upon us all to make these changes. Again, thank you.

  30. Thanks for this post Mr Lane. I am encouraged to hear your thoughts and grateful that you are asking these questions for our school district. I’m sure you are thinking about next steps to take, and I want to add my voice to the chorus here saying that I too would really support you to bring in outside consultants to help with this work. It is so big and so important as you so eloquently stated above, and if change is to happen the schools will need all the help they can get.

    1. Oops! Sorry to leave two comments, I didn’t see mine show up above so I wrote another 🙂 Thank you!

  31. Your poignant reflections are powerful! We must do better to end racism. Yes, let’s make our school system part of the solution. I support you 100%.

  32. Thank you, Superintendent Lane. As a DHS student, I am very glad to see you taking this stance. Like many have already said in the comments, I hope this means our schools are committed to taking action. A very important part of that is student leadership. Teachers and staff do not know the majority of what goes on between students. Only the students experiencing the bullying and racism in our schools know the full extent of it, and they need to have a voice. Students, especially students of color, need to be included in this discussion. As DHS seniors, we are very interested in helping the administration and staff understand the real issues in our schools and work on creating solutions.

    Thank you,
    Leila Johnson
    Amber Hussain
    Kaia Neal
    Asha Merritt
    Amanda Kavan
    Anja Madsen

  33. Thank you, Superintendent Lane, for opening up this conversation with strong words about racism and your commitment to change through our education system!

    Moving into action it’s very important to consult and work with local people of color, mixed families, etc. since they have a view from the inside of racism that we white people usually don’t have.

    Also crucial to involve Decorah students in these discussions, plans, and actions. They are the focus of our school system, and know more about what is really happening among students (as Leila and friends have written). They can be active and effective partners in working toward change on this issue.

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