Ways of Knowing: Dismantling Master’s House, Part 2 | Nick Dawkins

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Read Part 1 of this article here.


The struggle to arrive at the understanding of how deeply epistemologies and experiences shape educational organizations has taken my thoughts to a variety of experiences within Math spaces in my education. My mother’s math experiences and my experiences at home. My teachers and friends, math teachers I hired and observed, assistant principals and central office specialist we collaborated with designing and implementing math curricula. The central office math director and superintendents, the research and development department, and budget analyst, and my past school parents, who selected schools largely or solely based on math scores and ability to access advanced math courses. As I move outside of my home and into the organizational memories of faces that interacted and owned the math being utilized for decision-making, I can mostly see and remember white faces and spaces of employees and owners. This coupled with the black and brown faces of kids who we are constantly told need to catch up in mastering grade level mathematics standards. 

It is here that the ideas presented in Towards a framework for preparing leaders for social justice (Capper et al., 2006) most resonates. The exploration of a plethora of epistemologies, including Feminist Poststructural Epistemologies, Black Crit,  LatCrit, Tribal Crit, and Asian Crit Theories, Black Feminist and Disability Epistemologies, as well as Queer Theory, make clear a case for the expanded inclusion, understanding, and learning required to truly meet an organization’s diversity and equity goals—if truly desired for said organization. In leading for social justice and equity, an Educational leader must take into account the unseen structures that have created the need for social justice, and to ensure one is not replicating systems of oppression. The organization must understand how those systems of oppression have been built both unconsciously and consciously, and acknowledge the real harm done to many within the diversity of stakeholders the educational organization represents and serves. The bodies of literature we continue to explore, the practices we apply, the systems we interact with and the truth we see play out daily, reinforce unspoken ideas of white supremacy, white hegemony and otherness. In our own colleges while we are learning together, instances of racial conflict inspired by white supremacy currently surround our buildings and classrooms, with disturbing safety and security notifications sent electronically, informing us all of the constant attack on our singular and collective otherness, that is not the welcomed whiteness of this higher learning institutional setting. This further underscores the white supremacy inherent and intertwined in structural functionalism, and in the literal structures and tools surrounding what we hope to be our safest, most accepting and inspiring spaces for learning. What has emerged, pronounced more so than in any other time of my learning, is the attack and underscored invalidation diverse Americans face in their ways of knowing, ways people have learned, and the compromised position, suffering, and lack of coherence associated with this invalidation. 

Three recent encounters have continued to push my newest learnings forward. The images of my mother brought back by Capper’s writing on Black Feminist Epistemologies (2019, p. 157) filled me with warmth, reverie and the remembrance of my mother’s leadership after her work with the Black Panther Party and into her work with the Head Start organization. Capper’s examination of this particular epistemology resonated for me in the ideas of education as political liberation in connecting with the ethics of caring archetype of the nurturing mother (2019, p. 161).  “These leaders understand how educational inequities are not because of students, families, or communities but are a result of the structural, historical inequalities in society and schools” (Bloom et al., 2003). The continued discussion, documentation, reality and toxic impacts of macro-micro aggressions in this work as related to equity efforts and leading for social justice extends throughout the bodies of literature for educational leaders across diverse epistemologies and intersections; and I would argue designing, devising, and employing tools and tactics for educators to aggressively transform and dismantle inequitable educational spaces lays at the heart of the work of preparing school leaders for social justice. 

One of the most beautiful passages that I have come across was found in Capper’s description of indigenous knowledge systems: “A circular worldview that connects everything and everyone in the world to everything and everyone else, where there is no distinction between the physical and metaphysical and where ancestral knowledge guides contemporary practices and future possibilities. … This fundamental holistic perspective shapes all other understandings of the world.” (2019, p. 137).  This was also the passage that drove home my understanding of the concept of knowledge systems and how we know what we know, and what values are scribed to who knows what, and how they know. This is at the heart of equity work and reform. This is a central theme in how organizations are managed, operated, and led. In the past, this was nearly invisible to me. This understanding is now much more pronounced for me and reshapes a deficit frame of mind engrained since my childhood, one that continues to enact its own roadblocks in my mental models and deeply held beliefs about Black people and my own ability to learn in relation to mathematics and statistics, and by proxy my ability to find success in higher education. 

The truth is when the young student looked at me with tears in her eyes and stated she wasn’t good enough to find success in the upper level math course, inside my haunted unheard utterance and instinct replied, “I’m not good enough to help you out in learning math either. But I believe in you enough to believe that you can do it. The best I can do is coordinate some smarter white people in Math that will help you succeed. Not many of us are that good in math.” Deep inside me there was house built by “master,” where that belief lived and hid out. The house master had built inside of me is one of inferiority, doubt, and deep skepticism about what I know, how I know it, and the value of my collective knowledge and experiences. I am still fighting in my Introduction to Statistics course and taking in what I am learning in my Organizational Theory course. I am releasing the weight of past expectations and the invisible set of beliefs I’ve been conditioned to accept from various people, systems, and members who make up organizations I have learned in. I am continually learning that of all the tools that can be used to dismantle “master’s house,” belief may be the most powerful one.  


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A leader and catalyst for change in the current educational reform efforts, Nick Dawkin’s two decades of experience in working in schools and communities has given him a deep insight, inspiration, and commitment to the youth in our cities. As an educator and school leader, he has tirelessly worked to close achievement gaps and increase access and equity to experiences that create significant impacts in the lives of our students from various cultures and regions throughout our country. Nick is currently working on his Ed.D. at the University of Denver.