Transcript

Judy Woodruff: As a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School in Cobb County, Georgia, John Nwosu works to equip his students with the tools to succeed in and out of the classroom.

Tonight, he gives us his Brief But Spectacular take on advocating for equity in the school system.

John Ockechukwu Nwosu, Guidance Counselor: I’m a school counselor at a middle school.

I have a ton of students who enter into the school system behind. From slavery, onto Jim Crow, onto redlining and the G.I. Bill only being given to certain groups and not others, and then, if you fast-forward to now, we have mass incarceration, we have the war on drugs that’s disproportionately impacting other communities.

And instead of kind of looking at that storyline leading up to now, we kind of just say sometimes that they just don’t have it, or those kids can’t behave, or those kids don’t have people who care about them.

And I think it’s so much deeper and more complex than that.

You can’t just talk about school in school, because people show up. Sometimes, they didn’t eat, or, sometimes, they got into an argument with their parents before they get to school, and that’s impacting how they perform in the classroom.

So, we’re trying to have a conversation about grades, but now this person is talking about, oh, I don’t get along with my brother and sister, or I had an issue with my friend.

If you look at the data, you see situations where some groups end up doing better than others. And it’s, a lot of times, at least in part, because people of color or people from other marginalized groups have to go through some of the same issues of proving that they belong in the space.

There are teachers who identify things in Black children that they don’t in white children who are exhibiting the same behaviors. These are the same teachers who are writing referrals that lead to some students getting in trouble for things that others do not.

I have had challenging conversations with the principal in the building. But then I have also worked to be in a position where I can come up with suggestions, or bring people in who can come up with suggestions that can create that change. And I try to sit on committees and work in groups where policy is created.

What I found is that, when we talk about implicit bias, we compare that to the things that we intentionally do vs. the things that we have been automatically conditioned to do. And we can create some dissonance to where people can really begin to question whether or not the things that they say they want to do are in line with the things they’re actually doing.

And then, after we kind of dig into implicit bias, I bring up the explicit stuff, because the part that is often left out is the Critical Race Theory part, the part about the fact that our country was built on racism, and the fact that that stuff still exists today and is perpetuating in really interesting ways.

It’s like a social faux pas to bring this stuff up. People look uncomfortable. People start fidgeting a little bit when you bring this stuff up.

The biggest thing is acknowledging there’s a problem. And, especially if you’re a white person, it’s OK to be uncomfortable. We’re all consuming these stereotypes and attitudes about race, and you’re not a terrible person for having experienced that.

My name is John Okechukwu Nwosu Jr., and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on advocating for equity in the school system.

Judy Woodruff: And it is a valuable take.