Rema Reynolds, associate professor of leadership and counseling at Eastern Michigan University, discussed disparities in the education system and explored ways to address these issues utilizing policies, practices and pedagogical choices March 17 via Webex during her lecture “Reimagining Schools for Justice.” The talk was held for over 70 community members.
Reynold’s talk was hosted by the LaFetra College of Education and the Center for Educational Equity and Intercultural Research. Reynolds focused her talk on critiquing and analyzing the U.S. education system and challenging common thinking on schools and society.
“They don’t really teach you how to imagine and create. They teach you how to regurgitate and memorize,” Reynolds said. “I’ve been trying to challenge educators to do this work of rethinking schools.”
Reynolds talked about her experience in Detroit where she started a leadership program that teaches students moral courage, transformative leadership, social justice leadership and culturally responsive leadership through practicing principles.
“We want you to figure out a different way to lead,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds described most critical leadership theories as inadequate, “vanilla” and reflecting older male viewpoints.
“Most of the leadership theories that are taught in our leadership programs really don’t translate anywhere but certainly can’t matriculate into Black and brown schools,” Reynolds said.
Her program adds more leaders every year, learning what she calls the critical tripartite of social justice, transformative leadership and cultural response to leadership.
“It’s literally changing my department,” Reynolds said. “It’s changing how we teach, what we teach, our pedagogical and ideological practices and beliefs.”
Reynolds discussed working with Donya Odom, a high school principal from Detroit who was one of the first to immerse herself in the program.
She explained how restrictive Odom’s policies were on students, giving the example that in her school students were only allowed 10 bathroom passes a year and every time they would go over would be an automatic detention.
Reynolds said the kids at the school were really good kids who followed all of the rules, and tried to get good grades while they still had restrictive codes placed upon them.
“Miss Odom thought, ‘Well, these are good kids because I’m policing them,’ and I thought, ‘No you’re policing good kids’,” Reynolds said.
Reyonolds went on to explain that a reframing needed to happen. She said Odom was a warden and school was a prison.
“This was a prison; they had metal detectors when you walked in, they had overseers and RSOs and police,” Reynolds said. “When you came in you entered a carceral state and Miss Odom ran it like that.”
Reynolds said that Odom wanted to change and wanted to stop being an oppressor. She wanted to be an emancipatory leader, and decided to engage the youth to help her make changes.
“I’ve never seen a principal ask students to help her change her policy and practice in her building,” Reynolds said.
From March through July of that school year, the students rewrote the whole discipline policy, eliminating dress code, detention, Friday night school and in-school suspensions.
“Schools are sites of suffering for Black students,” Reynolds said. “If you hold race constant Black children have not reached parity on any metric, so it’s not as if these restrictions and punishments work they have not worked for us.”
Reynolds encouraged the audience to activate, get involved, make demands, and love one another.
”I’m tired of y’all having dialogue about how you have maligned children and how you want to do better. I don’t want to hear any of the talk anymore,” Reynolds said. “All I want are outcomes.”
“Everyone can identify the challenges but her approaches are solution focused,” said Kristan Venegas, associate dean of the LaFetra College of Education.
Yvette Latunde, co-director of the Center for Educational Equity and Intercultural Research, said she was most impressed by Reynolds working inside the community.
“It’s one thing to write about what should be done, but it’s another to actually get into the streets and schools and communities and do the work,” Latunde said.
Jonathan Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.