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Attempts to create more equitable education through policy initiatives sometimes fail because these attempts do not take the voices of all the stakeholders into consideration. This essay argues for a process-oriented approach to equity issues that can address this problem. A process-oriented approach offers a voice to those who are not traditionally part of the equity policy discourse. The approach is grounded on the concept that policy makers can avoid value imposition on the communities that will be directly affected by the policies when they seek input from these communities during the policy-making process. This approach is in line with our democratic values to protect minorities from gross injustices.
Value imposition occurs when an individual or a group imposes their own ideas and beliefs on others. Programs aimed to address equity issues that affect any marginalized or minority community can be a form of value imposition on these communities for the following reasons. First, policy makers and other experts who assist in the policymaking process design these programs under their own assumptions about these communities. Second, they often use their expertise to define the vision and end goal of the programs. Third, they choose the best means to achieve these goals. In sum, policy makers and other experts who participate in the policy making process often design these programs with their own ideas of what is right and ought to be with minimal input from the communities they seek to serve.
In contrast, a process-oriented approach to policy making facilitates participation from the community members. Participation during policymaking gives the community an opportunity to critique, offer input, and help shape the end policies. More voices in a democratic policy-making scheme are likely to be chaotic from some vantage points. But, it allows marginalized communities the opportunity to learn to navigate the system, voice their concerns, and continually participate in crafting policies that benefit them on their own terms. In essence, increased participation gives them a seat at the table.
Equity in education should not be left to the few who, though expert in their fields, could benefit from direct input in policy design and advocacy. Opening up the channels of access is in line with our spirit of equity and our democratic values encased in our Constitution.
Opening the channels of access is necessary in policymaking because, for one reason or another, marginalized communities are among those who least participate in our democratic processes. For example, a study in 2006 found that Hispanics and other groups with low educational attainment and low economic status were less likely to vote than White and more-affluent groups (Pew Research Center, 2005). This is unfortunate because a participant’s voice represented in the discourse gives that participant an opportunity to be heard and may sway decisions in his or her favor. Participating in the process is empowering.
To be clear, I do not argue that current programs and policies aimed at equity in education are completely problematic and should be eradicated. In fact, value imposition can be appropriate in some cases. Historical examples include abolishing slavery even though resistance remained, U.S. Constitutional Amendment XIII, and the Supreme Court’s school de-segregation ruling even though whole communities opposed this, see Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Both examples were important, necessary steps toward equality and equity. Contemporary equity programs and policies have also contributed to equity. These programs and policies have likely assisted many who would otherwise not have exposure and access to opportunities in education. We have come a long way in education and could only benefit from process-oriented approaches to education equity issues.
Current programs should remain in place, but we should begin to make way for increased participation from the very same communities we aim to assist. Equity in education should not be left to the few who, though expert in their fields, could benefit from direct input in policy design and advocacy. Opening up the channels of access is in line with our spirit of equity and our democratic values encased in our Constitution. In fact, increased research on how to best listen to and incorporate voices in educational decision-making in an efficient way is necessary for educational researchers interested in equitable policy and leadership.
The Pew Research Center, For The People & The Press. (2006). Regular voters, intermittent voters, and those who don’t: Who votes, who doesn’t, and why. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/rum232/Downloads/292.pdf
Raquel Muñiz is currently pursuing a joint doctorate and law degree. She is a rising 2L at Penn State Law School while entering the second year of the doctoral program at Penn State’s College of Education. Her research agenda relates to the intended and unintended consequences of education policies on maltreated and other vulnerable youth in our school systems. She is interested in exploring how shifts in current practices might propel underrepresented populations into safer and more successful futures. Upon graduation, she intends to become a child advocate to improve the life chances of vulnerable youth and derail the school-to-prison pipeline.