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Lenses and Blind Spots

In October of 2014, several classmates and I visited the New York Family Court to observe its Transition Planning Court (also known as Part 90). This is where foster care cases are first processed. During our visit, we observed voluntary cases in which parents were bringing their children (biological and fostered) back to the court due to a variety of circumstances.

This is an obviously emotional place, and I could write at length about any number of thoughts I had that day. By its nature, a courthouse can be an imposing thing, pinning those who walk within it under a powerful thumb of law and institutionalized order. Observing the strikingly disproportionate number of black and Latino folks arriving for their court hearings also heightened my melancholy and frustration with how deeply institutionalized the connection between race and court involvement is.

In the spirit of inquiry though, I want to share just a few questions that I ended up asking myself as I observed the intake cases that day. I listened to a variety of stakeholders describe the circumstances that led them to return to the Family Court, from case workers and parents to the children themselves. While listening, I realized that I had what we’ve called in our seminar a type of “blind spot” – I was heavily favoring what the children themselves said about their situations. It made me reflect on the blind spots that I may have when working with students and parents in a school setting. So, I leave these questions here for you and I to each ponder:

Through what lenses am I viewing my students and their parents/caretakers? Do those lenses change when I am in a classroom? When I am in a courtroom?

How am I valuing my students’ narratives and their parents’/caretakers’ narratives, both in and outside of the classroom? How am I transferring or referring to those narratives to the classroom?

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