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  • Writer's pictureAdelaide Fuller

Friday Reflection on a MYAN Training

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

This past Tuesday I participated in my first Maine Youth Action Network training. In short, it was fantastic. The theme was "Uprooting Inequity," and it included discussions of vocabulary as well as group activities (more on that in a minute). Here's the vocabulary we went over and why using the correct language leads to a stronger understanding of systemic issues. EQUALITY vs EQUITY These terms are often used interchangeably, but in fact they describe two different things. The difference is between equal and fair. For example, what is equal access to resources as opposed to fair access? Equal access means everyone gets the same tools (in a classroom, every student getting the same amount of time to complete a standardized test). This is equal. But is it fair? Will all of your students with varying needs be able to complete this task within the same time constraints? The answer is likely no. What is fair? Fair is customized tools based on the needs of the individual student (such as, in the case of a student with a learning disability being given extra time to complete the task, perhaps with an adult present to keep them on track). Here is a helpful visual aid to use when discussing the difference between equality and equity:

Finally, there's JUSTICE, in which we've achieved the goal of restructuring the very system that created inequality.

The use of trees for this lesson ended up being central to the group activity that came next. It's called The Change Tree. In this exercise we split off into small groups with an assigned facilitator. We examined the following graphic and discussed its meaning.

It's pretty self explanatory! Let's look at an example. In my group, we decided to dissect the topic "COVID Hardships." As this training is primarily (but not exclusively!) targeted towards educators, we specifically looked at COVID Hardships related to school and kids. It was easy to pick out the symptoms: they're what you see every day, what you immediately recognize. Let's say the symptom is "lack of consistent student attendance during virtual learning." We know this is an issue. But what caused it? What are the root causes? First, we identified "unequal access to childcare." Caretakers are working, and some (most?) of them can't afford a nanny or babysitter. We thought we were done! And then our facilitator pressed us with the most important question: Why? She encouraged us to dig deeper, to think more critically. And that's when we figured it out! A person working 40 hours for the current minimum wage in Maine can barely afford the essentials, let alone childcare. And there's the why. The current minimum wage causes unequal access to childcare. And that causes poor student attendance in virtual classrooms. And guess what? We could go so much further with the why. We could discuss the gender pay gap between men and women. We could discuss the pay gap between white women and women of color. We could discuss the pay gap between Hispanic women and Black women. We could discuss the pay gap between Black women and Indigenous women. You get the point. There's a LOT to unpack. Now we get to the branches. The branches are the policies (or lack thereof) that connect the roots to the leaves. With this particular example it wasn't too hard to identify. Minimum wage laws must be shifted to reflect modern-day living costs. The gender and racial pay gap must be eradicated through stricter policies. Etc. I loved this exercise not only because it is a way to connect with and challenge your peers, but because it is a useful tool for discussing big issues of inequity with young people. The biggest takeaway for me from this training was that children must be treated as collaborators when we approach these topics. "From the mouths of babes..." We must create a space and share the power for everyone, including our kiddos, to voice their concerns and opinions. This visual aid can help. For the full "Uprooting Inequity" presentation and tools, please click here. To learn more about The Maine Youth Action Network, click here. Upcoming workshops can be found on our home page. Thank you! Keep an eye out for blog post updates by subscribing to our newsletter.

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