Our state has a long, rich history — Santa Fe was declared the capital in 1610 (roughly the same time Jamestown was established in 1607) — but people have inhabited this region as far back as 9200 B.C. It should come as no surprise then, that this long history sometimes brings controversy. That was especially clear last week with the removal of the Juan de Oñate statues.

Similar tensions abound in education; it’s time to talk about them. An understanding of our history and the current moment should prompt discussions about that past and the future of education for our state.

Ever since the book A Nation at Risk in 1983, America has pursued standards-based education and a focus on academic skills and knowledge. This has included standardized assessments and accountability. These changes were helpful in improving graduation rates and reducing the number of students performing below basic levels. It was a good start. And while this raised the bar for what every student deserves, it also effectively standardized education.

We have aligned our entire education system toward societal norms and values (for everything from how we use discipline to how we use time), content and curricula, instructional approaches, and measures in ways that are more likely to oppress young people’s self-expression and identity and further defeat the American ideal of a pluralistic society.

Just as European settlers colonized indigenous communities, just as our history books teach us about where America and our state began, we have colonized education. As a result, too many students of color and English-language learners say school is not for them: They don’t feel safe in school or feel like they belong, and they aren’t asked to do challenging or interesting work.

We have an opportunity to decolonize our education system and refocus it on ensuring that all students experience belonging as scholars in the intellectual community of school.

u First, empower students and families to inform every major decision post-COVID-19. Education leaders need to ask families and young people what they want from schools and need to give them the power and authority to make that true. This would be a significant shift from common approaches to working with families, which frequently include devaluing their expertise and perspective, asking them for feedback that is not taken, and getting their sign-off on decisions that have already been made.

u Second, fund and provide training on culturally and linguistically responsive education, instruction that centers students — their voices, questions, experiences, their full humanity — in the effort to create meaningful learning opportunities. CLRE is a process that involves considering race and culture (of adults and students) and reimagining instructional practices and materials. This is not something that can be picked up off a shelf and delivered to schools. This is a complex process that requires deep professional development.

u Third, embrace a whole-child approach. Anchored in long-standing research and new science on how the human brain processes information, this approach considers how the environment influences our ability to learn, how trauma, mental and physical health, and nutrition influence healthy development. Whole-child approaches to education also cannot be race-neutral, considering how mindsets about people of color influence approaches to serving and interacting with them.

We’re not just reckoning with the pandemic, but with generations of colonization and oppression. One thing is clear, the current approach to education is not working.

Danielle Gonzales, managing director for the Aspen Institute Education Program, was raised in Albuquerque and attended public schools before leaving New Mexico to work on national education issues in Washington, D.C. Residing in the state again, Gonzales seeks a better education for her three children and all New Mexico youth.

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(7) comments

Jeanne Diloreto

Empowering students & families by asking for their input on every major decision depends on HOW education leaders ask for this. If these education leaders are sitting in their air-conditioned offices with potted-plants and artwork on the walls and post 'open office hours' during regular 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM for students & families to come in to discuss major decisions, this won't work. Ditto for meetings set up at schools, during or after regular school hours. Ditto for online or hard copy questionnaires and surveys. It's critical that these education leaders GO TO the young people and their families rather than expecting that they come to scheduled meetings or sessions or that they will respond to surveys or questionnaires. Go to their homes if possible. Education leaders get paid for the jobs they do. Will the students and their families be paid for their input? If not, why would you expect them to provide it for free, especially if it's so valuable? Provide incentives for their input. Start by convening focus groups that are made up of the these students & families to develop incentive plans.

"Ask families and young people what they want from schools" is simplistic at best.

'CLRE': unless this is an error by an editor, this is a no-no. Especially for anyone who has spent time in Washington, DC you know to never, never, never use an abbreviation without including what it stands for the first time it's used. I read this more than once trying to figure it out but was stumped. Check the Chicago Manual of Style.

Jim Klukkert

Thank you Danielle Gonzales, for a thoughtful essay, and especially for returning to live and work in New Mexico.

It is not an easy path you have chosen, but you know already how rewarding it can be!

Pay no mind to the curmudgeons who fail so miserably in their misguided critique [and that is putting their comment in the kindest of terms] of your work. You and your colleagues are the future; those nay sayers are busy consigning themselves to the past.

Matthew Brooks

Unlike Mr. Lucero, I found no signs of victimhood or ideology in this essay. Thinking about how to make education relevant, useful, responsive, and both humanistic and science-based seems like wisdom to me. Why not support this approach, and the critically-thinking young person who wrote it?

Jim Klukkert


Andrew Lucero

What a bunch of Bovine Scatology! It’s because of fruit loops like this who perpetuate this false narrative of victimhood that kids can’t read and write worth a darn or do basic math anymore. They are not educating kids; they are indoctrinating them! Filling their heads with a bunch of Neo-Marxist garbage.

David Brown

Exactly right.

Jim Klukkert

Andrew Lucero- Shame on you for such a juvenile and insulting response. Really a great way to greet the young folks who will soon assume their rightful place restructuring our society.

Your just desserts will follow shortly....

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