The distinguishing quality of the human rights work that I participated in, and what separates it from many mainstream professional fields, is that I worked with communities that lived in conflict or post conflict settings. Through partnership, analysis, documentation and creativity, we worked collectively to formulate actions and responses to solve problems. The further I get from that work and the more I delve deeper into my present work in the education field, I’m struck by the similarities between the two fields. Below are three foundational elements I see overarching systemic change work in education and elsewhere. I offer these as starting points for reflection, in the hopes that the wisdom or our collective experiences will ultimately create the future in which all children receive the educational supports they need.
By analyzing educational systems, we inevitably find patterns and links to other societal structures: politics, business, the environment, culture, media. The more we learn, the more complex an issue becomes. Challenges are adaptive and the path forward is never clear. Embracing this complexity brings the awareness that no one action, method or organization will have significant impact alone. Rather, networking and cross collaborative efforts involving multiple sectors, experiences and disciplines will achieve more together.
Data, facts, documentation and experiential knowledge.
With each conference or trip, international partners were asked to write reports documenting where we went, who we met with, what we saw and any conclusive thoughts. This was one method of recording and sharing out the experiential knowledge from discussions with the community members with logical fact. Given that the lived experience of the communities I met with were not covered in mainstream media, advocating on behalf of the community could easily be met with distrust, doubt and sometimes anger at any suggestion that such a situation could exist. Being able to point back to fact was a helpful grounding point. Recording data, fact and the experiences of those directly impacted serves not only as an accurate accounting of events but also a starting point for conversation to uncover patterns of inequity across geographical and cultural boundaries as well as ways to move forward.