On Friday, April 21, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey forcibly removed from office Dr. Barbara Cooper, who was the secretary of early education in Alabama. The forced resignation of Secretary Dr. Cooper by Ivey over a resource book is an antiquated play, emblematic of the old South. This decision, like many made by our state leaders, is steeped in a political frame intent on the continual marginalization of Black women and children.
Ivey has sent a resounding message that anyone who seeks to operate in a manner that centers equity, will be met with harsh consequences. Such a move could only be intended to teach others a lesson; anyone seeking to empower those that have been perpetually disenfranchised will be punished. The idea that Alabama would reject a resource book entitled Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP), which has been accepted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), is nothing short of preposterous. NAEYC has been in existence for nearly 100 years, and its sole mission is to improve the well-being of young children.
To add insult to injury, DAP is a resource book that has been crafted by experienced educators, having the pedagogy to know what is best for children. And, while the seeming threat of DAP, a resource and not a curriculum, and the fear-based response of our governor may seem alarming to some, for those of us working daily in the trenches to level the playing field for Alabama’s marginalized women and children, we are in no way surprised by this willful act of defiance.
Ivey stated, “Let me be crystal clear: Woke concepts that have zero to do with a proper education and that are divisive at the core have no place in Alabama classrooms at any age level, let alone with our youngest learners. We want our children to be focused on the fundamentals, such as reading and math.” Such a statement speaks expansively to a seeming lack of understanding of the term “woke,” but what is worse is the tone that underscores the degree at which marginalized Alabamians are belligerently unseen, unheard, and uncared for in the things that matter to them, including, their children. Structural racism is an immutable fact and centering equity in our approach to education is, in fact, the way we should educate all children. To deny our children this right is unconscionable and undermines their ability to operate at their highest and best capacities.
According to Merriam-Webster, while chiefly used in the United States as slang, the term “woke” is defined as being “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Therefore, since Ivey decidedly used the language “woke agenda,” it would suggest that there is no interest in implementing resources that center awareness. To be clear, the opposite of “woke” is ignorance. Further, the lack of equity in education is an important societal issue, responsible for a litany of collective conditions that most distressingly impact Black children, women, and their families.
Secondly, the idea of “DAP” appearing “divisive at the core,” would only ring true if one were to accept the premise that to empathize with the historical implications of a system that can be quantified, in every measurable indicator, as being unfair, says more about such a lens versus this being a factual statement. Moreover, it should be seen as inhumane, even immoral, to not contemplate such a frame, when we consider how our own state ranks at the near bottom of every quality-of-life indicator, including the overall well-being of its children, where it is currently ranked at 46 out of 50 states.
And, thirdly, if our governor “…want[s] our children to be focused on the fundamentals, such as reading and math,” then she must understand that such a focus is best actualized when children are afforded a level playing field once they enter the classroom, which, those of us who are “aware” intimately understand, this has not been the case historically. However, NAECY is clearly “aware” and is not only aware, but doing what they can to support resources that could serve useful in ensuring that all children have a fair chance for success in life, which is further underscored in their position statement regarding DAP.
The governor’s act was a public lynching of Dr. Cooper, whose background, experience, professionalism and expertise have all been repetitively lauded by the governor herself, including in recognition of Dr. Cooper’s 2020 appointment to the board of NAEYC. As an organization with a more than 50-year history of working to advance child care for some of the most marginalized in our state, we keenly understand the value of DAP, and at a time when our state should be embracing all resources, including educational ones, that could offer a path to a better and more equitable society, we are sending the message that we have no interest in existing as a vessel of truth, fairness, or equity, but instead, we seek to keep the marginalized poor, disempowered, and without the full capacity and support to go further and move beyond those barriers that have historically hindered, in particular, Black children, women, and their families. And to this ridiculous end, it should be wholly noted that Dr. Cooper is a Black woman, and the entirety of this fiasco reeks of racism.
Lenice C. Emanual, MLA, is the executive director of the Alabama Institute for Social Justice and a member of the Raising Childcare Fund.
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