10 Things You Can Do In School After The Trayvon Martin Tragedy

Jose VilsonJose4 Comments


Thanks to those of you who contributed awesome comments to my last post about Trayvon Martin. I’ve written some pieces (see here, here, and here) over the last few years about this topic, but by no means do I consider myself the sole expert on boys of color. I teach them, and I used to be one before I became a man of color. Yet, the things I knew as a former boy of color haven’t changed much. We need change. Here are some things anyone (specifically adults) can do to help our students do better both academically and socioemotionally.

  1. Value them. Give them a sense that they belong in whatever environment you’re in, especially if you control that environment.
  2. Listen to them. Many of them are so disaffected by America and all the illusions it brings. Let them tell their stories to you. You’d be surprised about what you hear.
  3. Show them other ways, but don’t force them. They say the only way that people change is if they do it on their own. However, if they don’t see another way besides the direction they’re going, then they won’t move. We have to work in that middle lane between forcing our kids and showing them they have better potential than what’s been shown to them. Speaking of which …
  4. Involve them. Don’t let them sit in the back, if you can. Instead, let them sit in the middle, and let them warm up to the idea of moving to the front.
  5. Say hello. It’s about making them feel like their humanity needs acknowledgment, which is what a “hello” is.
  6. Reflect on your attitudes towards them. Sometimes, our own biases about our children prevent us from doing the best job for them. We need to reflect harder about the choices we make when in their presence.
  7. Assume their culture may be different from yours, and nothing more, if you must. Generally, I don’t like assuming people’s way of life or morals unless I know enough about them. Having said that, if I know someone’s culture is different, I don’t assume it’s inferior or superior to mine.
  8. Demand more from them. 1-7 might make you think you should be softer on our kids, from the attitudes they have towards girls to the way they approach work in school. The answer is no. If anything, because you value them, heard them, and involved them, you have every right to expect them to do better because you believe in their potential.
  9. Expand your knowledge of history. One of my biggest issues with many teachers is the overemphasis on texts like Night and Diary of Anne Frank to teach children of color about their current situation when we already have texts like Miseducation of the Negro and The Bluest Eye. I do think children of color should have a wider set of sources from which to hear about others’ oppressions, I would also like to see teachers expand their own horizons on the text they choose for other people’s children.
  10. Start from Emmett Till and work your way up. Emmett Till is the perfect marker for this Trayvon Martin case for a few reasons: 1) it gives a historical context for this sort of aggression against Black boys and 2) it’s the perfect entryway for people to ask questions about institutionalized racism and the way it works against the success of any and everyone who is considered “of color.”

You can easily apply this to any child, but I have to place an emphasis on these because we all need reminders. As if Trayvon Martin wasn’t enough.

Comments 4

  1. I agree 100% with most of your points – yet it is important to read books like “the diary of Anne Frank”; my experience is that “minorities” tend to discriminate against other minorities. So we need to teach them about other “minorities” as well. For instance the German-Jewish community, German-Asian community or gay community.

  2. I love the last one. As someone with a social studies / history background, I am struck by the need to recover the voices and the stories of the history that has been robbed of people.

  3. 9 and 10: central to my teaching this last year with Roll of Thunder. We read from WEB DuBois to Malcom X, and yes, even had conversations around Trayvon and TJ and Stacey that the students initiated (I was very proud of the connections they were making). I’m already planning for next year’s unit. We owe nothing less to Emmitt and Trayvon (and all of us).

  4. I totally agree with the points you’ve made. As a black male teacher, I know that I have a responsibility to help my students realize their value as people but also how other entities perceive them within the greater context of American society. Looking back at the Zimmerman verdict and the aftermath of it, it would be irresponsible of me not to take this golden opportunity to initiate constructive dialogue with my students about the verdict when we return to the school next month.

    I also want my class to participate in a fundraiser and donate money to the Trayvon Martin foundation or another foundation in our city (Philadelphia, PA) that addresses the issues of racial profiling and other civil injustices. I’m still in the brainstorming process so any tips or advice will be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you! :o)

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