I love my hometown.
I love being surrounded by trees and lakes. I love how I can pick up groceries and get three more errands done over my lunch hours without a hint of traffic. I love the feeling of community I get at local parades and school football games. I love knowing that our public school system and the education it provides is top-notch, and that our teachers are caring and approachable.
In fact, I love my hometown so much that I moved back here seven years ago, after more than twenty years away, to raise my then 2-year-old son.
But loving a place, being proud of it, and cherishing memories there doesn’t equate to believing it’s without flaws. While my experience growing up in Pequot Lakes was a warm and encouraging one, I know that hasn’t been the case for every student – especially students of color, LGBTQIA students, and students from low-income households.
There was very limited racial diversity when I grew up here, and few openly LGBTQIA folks in the community. While I knew that diversity in race, sexuality, and gender identities had grown during my time away, I feared acceptance, inclusion and equity may not have.
As you’ve read in DyAnna’s previous blogs for TakeAction’s series on honesty in education, right-wing operatives in the U.S. have been stoking fears around open and honest discussions of race, racism, and equity in our schools. That fearmongering laid the kindling for the recent conflict in Pequot Lakes around the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) program, an optional professional development program for Pequot Lakes teachers.
The spark that ignited the kindling was a video by the former Pequot Lakes School District superintendent that described the SEED program. When I first saw the video on social media, the superintendent’s concerns really resonated with me. He said he could see how lonely it could be here for children of color, LGBTQIA kids, or children living in poverty. I was excited to learn about this initiative to help children who feel different feel included, welcomed, and valued instead.
The National SEED Project partners with communities, institutions, and schools to train leaders who facilitate discussions that drive personal, institutional, and societal change toward social justice.
In our local SEED classes, participants listen to and read about the experiences of people who have had a more difficult time navigating the systems in place in our society due to their race, income level, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. They reflect on the systems they’re a part of and those that they helped create (such as their own classrooms). They practice recognizing when those systems by design, can create barriers for some people but not for others. SEED is an optional staff development opportunity; students are not taught through the SEED program.
Sadly, that same video that I felt highlighted the good work being done by SEED seemed to trigger the opposite response as well. I began reading about fellow community members and parents lashing out in hate and sharing misinformation on social media about the nature and intent of SEED. Community members shared misleading or false claims about our superintendent, school board, and individual teachers. I also saw many comments from people who were either shocked to think there was any form of racism or discrimination taking place here, or who didn’t want anything to do with a change from the old ways, or both.
Stories from so many youths and families about their painful experiences in school here saddened me deeply, and contrasted sharply with the hateful reactions I was reading on social media.
I also noticed mentions of Critical Race Theory (CRT) starting to pop up in these local online comments. People spread misinformation about CRT, including that it’s taught in Pequot Schools (it’s not). Before long, I noticed a similar situation unfolding in a school district in outstate New York, and soon after that, conflicts over honesty in education seemed to be popping up across the nation.
Our children and teachers should get an accurate perspective on our history and understand current barriers that still marginalize Black and brown people, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, and other groups. As you’ve read in DyAnna’s blogs, stoking fear over honest discussions around race, class, and sexuality is part of a far-right agenda that tries to divide communities and mobilize voters to support candidates who play into fear-based narratives. These efforts attempt to distract our communities from what should be the most important campaign topic for candidates: investments in our children and our public schools.
After a couple weeks of feeling increasingly distressed about the cruel messages running rampant online (especially in a Facebook group claiming to promote unity but clearly dedicated to pushing an anti-equity agenda), several parents and community members felt we needed to do something.
We wanted to provide a space for Pequot Lakes parents, residents and Lakes Area communities to come together to unite and mobilize in support of inclusion, equity and diversity in our schools and communities. Through robust discussions, we started Pequot Parents for Kindness (PP4K). As the group grows, we are strengthening our connections and doubling down on our commitment to inclusion and honesty in education. We understand that we are all in different places in our understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion; but we encourage openness, respect, and kindness as we learn together.
PP4K has been a cathartic experience for me, and I’ve seen and heard great feedback about the value of being part of such a group. Sharing concerns and ideas with each other has been comforting, and we support each other to speak out for what we believe in, countering fear-based rhetoric.
I am far from a natural organizer, so I’m thankful for the people in our group with those kinds of skills. Each of us brings something special to the table. Since we all have full plates outside of this important organizing, it’s really helped to pool our time and talents, too. Right now, we’re growing our movement by creating a toolkit parents can use to host house parties, talk about our values, and listen with compassion. We hope it can be a resource to other communities across Minnesota wrestling with the impacts of fear-based rhetoric.
In a small town, it can be scary to speak out. Most of all you worry that your child could be impacted negatively by your choice to stand up for what you believe in. But it can be so rewarding – especially when you know that what you believe in will create a better school – not just for your child, but for all the children there.
I think about what I love about my hometown of Pequot Lakes. I dream about how, if every child here felt included and valued, they’d grow up loving it just as much as I do.
Next week, DyAnna will share resources for action (some of which have already been useful to PP4K) along with an invitation to show the strong, statewide support for honesty in education. I’m excited to grow our movement of parents, teachers, and community members who value kindness and inclusion over fear and division.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Does my experience resonate with you or remind you of something that’s happening in your hometown? Send me an email.