January 15, 2020

Education Q & A

Janel A. George, Co-Chair, CRSJ Education Committee

Janel A. George, Co-Chair, CRSJ Education Committee

 Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?

I grew up in Seattle, Washington, and attended schools with strong social justice missions. Being exposed to social justice leaders and the work that they were engaged in while attending these schools really sparked my interest in and passion for social justice. And while I knew that I wanted to work on social justice issues, I wasn’t sure exactly what that work would look like. I came to see the law as a way to advance justice. I also came to realize that making the legal process more accessible and understandable for more people—particularly those most impacted by the law—could be transformative. 

What drives you?

I’m driven by hope and the dedication, sacrifices, and commitment of civil rights leaders—like Harry T. Moore, an educator who is considered the first civil rights martyr—who had to imagine a world that did not yet exist. That encourages me to hold onto the belief that, as Professor Rucker Johnson says in his book “Children of the Dream,”: “Hope is justified. Time and again, Americans of all races, colors, and creeds have shown themselves to be willing to fight for equality in the schoolhouse, at the lunch counter, and on the public bus. They are proof positive that while the movement toward social justice and equality is slow, it is also inexorable.”

What is one thing most people do not know about you that you feel they should?

I believe that issues of educational inequity are deeply rooted in our nation’s history of slavery and racial apartheid—particularly segregated education. I’m also an educator—I currently teach a course on racial justice in K-12 education as an adjunct professor—and I believe that teaching and learning more about the past can inform our policy approaches for addressing educational inequities. 

When you look back, what is it that you want your advocacy and professional career to stand for?

I hope that my work represents a commitment to unity and justice and that it demonstrates the importance of focused work and relationship-building that centers individuals who are most adversely impacted by unjust policies and practices. 

Which issue(s) do you care about or work most on and why?

I work deeply on the issue of educational equity and access, which encompasses other issues like school integration, resource equity, and education as a civil right. I believe that, without foundational access to quality education, many students’ futures will continue to be compromised. And without recognizing the systemic racism that fuels educational inequity, we’re doomed to continue to perpetuate it—we have to transform an education system that was inequitable by design.

What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing these issues today?

The idea that we live in a “post-racial” society and that issues of racial injustice are a thing of the past threatens not only our ability to effectively address educational inequities, but our ability to address other issues of injustice as well. Without naming racism, and recognizing its insidious and systemic nature, we will not be effective in eradicating it. 

Where do you find the greatest support in propelling the issue(s) you work on? Who are your most frequent allies?

I find community members who have been impacted by these issues to be key allies. Particularly, parents of children who have been marginalized are strong allies. However, they are often excluded from legal or policy efforts and sometimes even exploited by legal organizations that use them as plaintiffs to advance their own agendas to undermine key civil rights wins, like magnet programs that have successfully promoted school diversity. That’s why I think it’s important to center their voices and to work with them to develop legal and policy strategies to address educational inequities. 

What project(s) has the Education Committee undertaken that you found most rewarding to have worked on? Are there any upcoming events you want us all to know about?

I’m relatively new to the Education Committee, but I’m really excited about our webinar series that launches this month, “Education and Democracy,” which will feature experts who will share why strong civics education is foundational to participating fully in American society. It also addresses how and why so many students are being (and have been denied) access to quality civics education. The series is based on Chief Justice Warren’s statement in Brown v. Board of Education that education is the “very foundation of good citizenship.” 

SPOTLIGHT: EDUCATION COMMITTEE
The CRSJ Education Committee's mission is to protect and advance:

  1. the right of equal access to  quality K-12 public education for all children;
  2. the civil rights of students, parents, teachers and administrators within the public school system; and
  3. understanding of civic responsibility and social justice within the public education system.