Thanks to Horace Mann, an early champion of public education in America, education is viewed as “the great equalizer” and “the balance wheel of the social machinery.” It would be convenient and comforting to point to Mann’s famous declaration and conclude that we are doing enough in the struggle for racial equality.
But we’re not. And few of us are. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost. But it’s a pointed reminder that we cannot claim victory.
CAEL (the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning) exists to increase access to lifelong learning pathways. In turn, these pathways empower adult learners with the skills and knowledge needed to advance in rewarding careers. That’s what powers social mobility and the economic wellbeing of communities, regions, states - - and our entire country.
But these pathways will never be truly accessible while racism and other forms of discrimination persist. In 40+ years of advocacy for adult learners, we have seen the impact when stakeholders evolve from passive acceptance (or worse) to active support. Building and maintaining momentum in a positive direction starts with admitting you always can do more.
The CAEL community has done much. Our partners in workforce, economic development, postsecondary, and business have helped progress perceptions of adult learners. They are not simply “nontraditional” students. They are post-traditional students vital to the success of postsecondary institutions in the age of continuous upskilling and work-relevant learning.
But in that same spirit of doing more, we must have the humility to realize our work will never be complete while racism and the inequities it perpetuates exist. Recent events are the latest symptoms of longstanding societal ills that leave the vulnerable exposed to the violence, oppression, and other injustices of systemic racism. We must seize every opportunity to make concrete and emphatic connections between our everyday work and the cause of ending racism in all its manifestations.
Having honest conversations about racism can be difficult. They require courage, respect, and compassion. Those very qualities are good reasons to encourage them. But they also are important to continually appraising – and improving – our impact in increasing equality and equity.
As we have these conversations – internally and externally – we will use the dialogue to hold us true to the following commitments:
- CAEL is committed to working harder at being an unequivocally and unapologetically inclusive organization.
- We will look for opportunities to assertively communicate the link between our nonprofit mission and systemic inequity that affects adult learners and their communities.
- We acknowledge the challenges facing our team, partners, neighbors, family members, and friends of diverse backgrounds. These individuals matter greatly to us and to our daily work.
- We stand in solidarity with disadvantaged and underrepresented groups, including movements such as Black Lives Matter, in support of justice for these communities.
- CAEL does not accept or condone racism in any form--either internally or with external partners, clients, and others.
- We believe firmly in the pursuit of justice and are committing individual and corporate resources to this endeavor. For example, CAEL has selected the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) as the recipient of its Strada Education Network directed giving grant, a $10,000 contribution.
- CAEL will require recurrent employee training to foster increased awareness and effectiveness for maintaining an inclusive culture. Topics will include racial equality, microaggressions, and unconscious bias.
- We are creating a library of recommended media and organizational resources to improve our team’s understanding of racial inequality.
- CAEL plans to ensure language is present in our business agreements to help us better lead by example and reinforce our anti-racism stance.
Because adult learners are the lifeblood of our economy, we sincerely believe that to uplift adult learners is to uplift our community. By uniting in the commitment to empower diverse adult learners of all backgrounds, we are working toward a better future for all of us. And by taking this clear stand on racial equality we are ensuring that we are united in our values. We invite you to join us.
Let’s “do more.”