“WHITE MALE LEADERSHIP FOR EQUITY AND DIVERSITY: THE EXAMPLE OF DR. JOHN CHUBB”

December 3, 2015
The Independent Curriculum Group is honored to launch its Blog page with this powerful appreciation of late National Association of Independent Schools president Dr. John Chubb by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., founder of the White Privilege Conference, and Chris Thinnes, a board member of the Progressive Education Network, an ICG Partner Organization. Opening as it does with a focus on events at last year’s NAIS People of Color Conference, it seems appropriate to have this post going up concurrently with the 2015 People of Color Conference in Tampa, Florida — Peter Gow, ICG executive director

White Male Leadership for Equity and Diversity: The Example of Dr. John Chubb

Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and Chris Thinnes
Together with the Independent Curriculum Group, NAIS, and their member school communities, the authors — both members of Call to Action, NAIS’s think tank on equity and diversity — mourn the passing and honor the legacy of Dr. John Chubb.

On Wednesday afternoon, December 3rd, 2014 — as thousands of students and educators of color and their allies gathered in Indianapolis for the beginning of 27th annual NAIS People of Color Conference — a Staten Island grand jury announced that it refused to seek the criminal indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Mr. Eric Garner. We had all, by that point, seen with our own eyes the video footage documenting Mr. Garner’s death in a protracted chokehold; we had all, by that point, heard with our own ears Mr. Garner’s haunting incantation of three simple words forever etched in our nation’s memory: I can’t breathe…

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 9.45.14 PMAs the news of the grand jury’s decision spread among gathering conference participants that evening, as protests were sparked across the country, as we fielded calls and text messages from our colleagues, friends, and families back home, and as we struggled to make sense of the unthinkable ourselves, a small group of us honored to be part of Call to Action, NAIS’s think tank for issues of equity and diversity, gathered with Dr. John Chubb in a circle of chairs outside the conference hall. Dr. Chubb leaned into his own and our collective discomfort, confessed his own anguished inability to reconcile the jury’s decision with what we had seen and heard ourselves, and listened — as he prepared to take the stage in front of thousands of students and educators of color the next morning, in the first general session of the conference — to the voices of educators of color and their allies as they explained the kind of leadership that they needed from him.

An emotional, vulnerable, difficult, and sometimes painful dialogue followed as we struggled, together, with yet another demonstration of the systemic inequity and oppression that persist in our society, as in our schools, through to the present day — and as we imagined, together, the kind of leadership that is required in the face of them. All that is important is this: the very next morning at the start of that general session, responding to the input he sought and heard the night before , Dr. John Chubb used the privilege of his position of power to say out loud, from the lectern of a national conference — and therefore to affirm and to amplify, for the purposes of our collective welfare and solidarity — three other simple words that have come to mean so much: Black lives matter.

Other voices have memorialized Dr. John Chubb, and his long and distinguished career, more eloquently and comprehensively than we might dare attempt. As educators who disagreed, publicly and privately, with many of the ideas John Chubb brought to the broader discourse on the future of American schooling, and as people who do not presume that we really knew John or that he really knew us, we understand precisely why our tribute to his memory might seem disingenuous. However, as colleagues who collaborated with Dr. Chubb across our ideological and philosophical differences on more than one occasion, who engaged in personal and professional dialogue with Dr. Chubb about those differences over time, and who confided with each other what we each discovered in our exchanges with Dr. Chubb and learned about ourselves, we feel uniquely qualified and compelled to offer a few thoughts remembering John’s approach to transformative leadership as an example for us all.

Dr. John Chubb was among the rarest of white male leaders in positions of institutional power. He interrogated his own personal and professional privilege. He acknowledged the limitations of his own knowledge and experience. He pushed himself to become more culturally competent. He not only listened to, but also heard, the voices of folks whose experiences and insights differed from his own. And he responded to the needs and interests of people of color as he came to associate them with the moral and ethical obligations attendant to his position of power. He continually leaned in, invited guidance and suggestions, and opened his mind and heart both to an evolving vision of equity and justice, and to a deeper sense of its priority: a vision that might not have become fully visible to him, were it not for his fierce determination to actively listen and courageously hear.

As John wrote in one of the many blog posts he explicitly earmarked to explore these issues, personally and professionally:

We need leaders who can facilitate both consensus and change on matters of diversity and inclusion… To accomplish this, we should also recognize, as I certainly have, that our personal cultural competence is far from perfect. The cultural differences that we think we appreciate, we likely do not understand accurately or completely. We are all evolving, learning, and we can always improve.

With his courage, compassion, considerateness, and consistency, John Chubb personally modeled the dispositions he encouraged in others: he welcomed each of us as leaders in our own right — and demonstrated a respect for us, rather than a fear of us, that helped catalyze authentic dialogue across our differences. He continually honored these personal commitments in his professional positionality as NAIS’s chief executive — not only earmarking a substantial proportion of his public writing to issues of diversity, equity, and cultural competency; not only consistently attending NAIS equity and diversity forums; and not only relentlessly supporting the work of NAIS’s Equity and Justice team; but also embedding “Equity” as one of the four forward-looking and perhaps aspirational values of NAIS’s institutional vision, no more or less prominently than the value of “Excellence” to which our schools have always aspired.

In a conceit more transformative than it might seem at first blush — and with a clarity and a certainty we both admired — John actually insisted that the “excellence” of the education in our schools was inseparably connected to and measured by the diversity they celebrate, the equity they ensure, and the inclusion they practice on a daily basis. As John explained early in his tenure:

Equity is not an extra, an add-on. We must all work actively to advance equity and justice, to be not just diverse, but inclusive, to be not just tolerant, but to actively nurture a climate of anti-bias. All of these things are good and right certainly, but they are also necessary for the future of our students and our schools.

As John put it in another post, perhaps more simply still: “Schools that hope to succeed in the future must be schools that serve a diverse student body… Not only must schools work to attract families from a broad range of backgrounds, they must ensure that their communities are truly inclusive.”

As a testament to John’s character, we also think it to be worth speculating that his increasingly fierce insistence on system-wide commitments to equity, diversity, and justice might very well have come at some risk to the personal and professional capital he had long since accumulated in the fields of education policy and reform. Leading voices in the neoliberal education reform movement celebrate his seminal contributions to the choice, voucher, privatization, and charter school movements in the United States. All of us remember his passionate and determined commitment to — and, on his own, bemused account, sometimes perseverative obsession with — the data-based measurement of student achievement, teacher proficiency, and school effectiveness. But these are not the schools of research, policy, or practice from which the conscientized advocacy of equity, access, or cultural responsiveness tends, broadly speaking, to emerge in these times.

Yet John came to all of us, listened, and then spoke fiercely to the truths he recognized as the result of his determined personal and professional inquiry: among them, that the historical failure of our country’s schools adequately to serve the needs of students, families, and communities of color is not the result of schools´ failed pursuit of “excellence,” but their ineffectual mitigation of the structural and systemic inequities they propagate. In a public discourse of education reform that reifies the so-called “achievement gap,” John consistently and reliably spoke to what he recognized — in independent schools, as in all school sectors — as an opportunity gap.

Perhaps the greatest secret, and certainly the greatest testament, to John’s relentless commitment to evidence-based practice was this: he was willing to explore issues deeply at odds with his ‘camp,’ and ideas that were uncomfortable or unfamiliar to him personally, when there was evidence to support that inquiry and to recommend the reexamination of his beliefs. And as a white man, crucially, John considered the lived and reported experience, perception, and beliefs of people of color to be credible, valid, and reliable evidence. This seems so simple a description of that disposition as to be mundane. Yet we believe this practice to be exceedingly rare and, thus, a testament to the transformative example of John Chubb’s leadership from which all of us can learn.

We hope other educational leaders — other white, male educational leaders, in particular — will take John Chubb’s example to heart as we all become fuller expressions of ourselves in the years to come. We know — not only as critics but, more importantly, as colleagues — that his example has deepened our own compulsion and capacity to bridge differences, and has thereby emboldened our radical hope that seemingly intractable structures of power and systems of oppression — in our schools, as in our society — may someday be transformed. We are grateful for John’s example of vulnerability, engagement, courage, and responsiveness — and also grateful, selfishly, that we each had the opportunity to thank him for it. We recognize now, as much in our own reflections as in our belief in his important legacy to all of us, the power of these most important of his words:

We all carry images of great students, teachers, and leaders. Non-conformists are sometimes difficult to value. But value we must. The evidence is in: even the very best benefit from differences.

Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., is the founder and program director for the White Privilege Conference (More: http://www.eddiemoorejr.com/). Chris Thinnes is an educator, facilitator, and consultant in Los Angeles. (More: http://about.me/ChrisThinnes). You can follow them on Twitter at @EddieKnowsMoore and @ChrisThinnes.

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