Find out how we dismantle white supremacy culture from Michael Essien, inventor of the Push-in Support Services Method to Antiracist Discipline.
Michale Essien is one our dope workshop presenters at the upcoming Dismantling White Supremacy Culture in Schools 2021 Conference June 14-18th.
Read all the other presenter interviews here: Shane Safir & Jamila Dugan, Matthew Kay, Luz Yadira Herrera & Carla España.
Register for the DismantleWSC Conference here learn about our presenters below.
Interview with Michael Essien
What type of student were you and where did you find joy?
My K-12 experience in the Los Angeles Unified School District was good. School provided an opportunity for me to escape the responsibilities of being the oldest child and grandchild in our extended family. Attending school allowed me to enter a world where reading, writing, and mathematics became a place of freedom and exploration. And, I found most of my freedom in the subject of mathematics. Mathematics was/is the one subject that possessed a logic that interested me. It gave me the greatest freedom from adult biases and control often found in grading practices. If your problem solving strategies were sound, the teacher could not use their biases, often found in interpretive grading policies for essays in English, to lessen your grade. The immediacy of the feedback about your success reflected the soundness of your reasoning and not so much on any particular biases of the teacher. As I got older, mathematics gave me even greater comfort as it was the most “objective” subject and least impacted by a teacher’s preferences and/or biases. This gave me great joy as a student!
What is the most destructive force in schools?
There are so many destructive forces in school, especially in communities with a significant number of BIPOC students. I would say the most destructive force in schools would be a lack of high quality instruction in content classes. A lack of access to high quality instruction impacts a student’s worldview, problem solving strategies, future employment possibilities, and more importantly it shapes the internal dialogue that will either strengthen or weaken their self-image. Unfortunately, this lack of access to high quality instruction is occurring all across this nation. It is captured in the language we use in education. For example, opportunity gap, school to prison pipeline, adultification, systems of oppression, and disproportionality.
As we return back to in-person learning, what should we prioritize?
We’ve heard a lot of chatter about “learning loss” during this pandemic. The conversation on learning loss should not force us to lose focus on who we are as people. We are social animals who learn through social interaction. Once we return to in-person learning, there should be a heavy emphasis on reconnecting students with their peers and with the adults who are responsible for teaching them. School sites should spend an inordinate amount of time supporting “Sense of Belonging,” reconnecting frayed social bonds, and reestablishing a safe social emotional and physical learning environment for students — we need to do the same for staff too.
When it gets hard, where do you find inspiration to continue fighting for justice?
Dealing with the bureaucracy of public education makes my job as an educational leader difficult. The constant changes in district initiatives that do not address identified educational concerns at school sites and the annual crisis funding “game” create bureaucratic nightmares for school sites to be flexible enough to develop systems to address inequities identified at individual school sites. When the bureaucratic nightmare increases the urge to quit fighting for equity and social justice, I draw on the real student experiences from my 21 years as a teacher in the classroom. Those student experiences made me realize they need adults in the building who are advocates for them and them alone.
I pull on the protest at McClymonds High School where the student body walked out of class to share their dissatisfaction with the school environment; I recall the joy on the faces of students who were allowed to interrupt my math lesson on probabilities to teach me how to shoot dice and demonstrate the assets they possessed while sitting in my class. I call on the student Ahjanee Watts who embraced the classroom rules that allowed students the freedom to make independent choices around their needs. And she fought for her rights when an adult tried to take those rights away. There is a saying that states, “And a child shall lead them.” Well, when times get difficult for me in the bureaucracy of public education, the children are the ones that lead me back into the fight for equity and social justice.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
Addressing instructional equity issues inside of the classroom setting is the most exciting aspect of my work as principal and as an education consultant. Most of our equity challenges can fall into two categories:
- Teacher preparation to meet the instructional needs of heterogeneous classrooms
- Creating safe social emotional learning environments for all students.
Outdated canned curriculum is provided to teachers and it can not capture the imagination of students, engage them in meaningful ways, nor take advantage of the assets students bring into the classroom setting. An extra layer of concern is added to a boring curriculum. It comes in the form of implicit and explicit biases of adults. Adult biases invalidate the opinions of students through racist discipline practices.
Addressing the equity issues in teacher preparation to meet the instructional needs of diverse populations and the best methods for implementing anti-racist discipline is what I LOVE about my work.
What is your favorite book, song or movie of all time? Why?
Stolen Legacy by George G.M. James
This book changed my worldview, improved my internal dialogue about who I am as a person in the overall scheme of world development, and provided the clearest example that hostility towards the African people is waged at the highest levels of academia where thought, creativity, and all that can be possible in the future reside.
About Michael Essien
Michael Essien is an equity and social justice educational leader located in the Bay Area. His extensive experience as a classroom teacher in West and East Oakland provide him with a unique perspective on the bureaucracy and systems of oppression (institutional and structural) impacting students, parents, and educators. Michael’s unique experiences allowed him to create “Push-In Services,” a high leverage strategy interrupting the systems of oppression by significantly reducing office discipline referrals and suspensions for African American students. Push-In Services is part of his overall anti-racist discipline curriculum designed to improve outcomes for students and teachers.
Michael is the founder and CEO of Essien Education Group, an education consulting firm designed to coach and support students, parents, educators and organizations with addressing equity issues and improving outcomes for our most marginalized students. He is a proponent of the Community Schools Strategy, Project Based Learning, Restorative Practices, and Push-In Services.
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