“He deserves to have been shot.”
When I logged into Facebook for the umpteenth time last week, I should have expected to read this. At any given moment, I’m reminded that we shouldn’t ever be desensitized to injustice and inhumanity, yet, I’ve grown so used to it that I deflect it, block it, or respond to it swiftly and concisely in the hopes that I don’t drain my energies that I could be using to lift up so many others doing great work. But I didn’t do any of that, but instead kept reading the thread, exalting the virtues of former officer Darren Wilson. Because the person who typed it wasn’t a random troll trying to spark vitriol with weird memes or FOX News talking points.
It was an educator, and (s)he’s going to carry that feeling to a classroom.
It’s important to say that there’s no one school of thought from where educators learn their craft, nor a standard set of beliefs education schools ascribe to that make the “perfect educator.” For many of us, the word “passion” and “love” create the foundation of our classrooms and the things we do. Even in our toughest moments, the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” mantra fits. Students will try their best to get on our last nerve, but we’re consistently in the business of building and re-building these relationships, putting our person aside for hours at a time and pulling our students into our lessons and into learning itself.
In some educators’ minds, that’s license to say whatever they want about kids without repercussions. An activist / unionist educator has worked for decades on anti-standardized testing and corporate reform. An art teacher who had to pay for all their supplies just to keep their class going. A teacher who came into teaching after working with children in India, Ethiopia, and Brazil. A teacher who gets the highest test scores for their students in the entire district. A teacher who uses civil rights leaders in their classes frequently as models for students to see. A nationally recognized educator with plaudits from organizations across the spectrum.
None of their qualifications disqualifies their versions of racism. None of it.
I’m not given to calling people racists on the fly, either. Yet, at this point, I’ve had hundreds of educators confide in me about all sorts of drama / trauma in their own school where they left with mouth agape, hoping that someone else might have heard the same thing come out of that one teacher’s mouth. Because of the nature of our business, we’re not quick enough to call each other in or out when they habitually line-step. How could the word of an educator of color trump the word of any white educator in a profession where educators of color only make up roughly 20% of educators overall? That’s maybe one or two for every school in the country it seems.
“YOU DON’T KNOW ME OR MY HEART!” I’ll hear. No, but, when given the chance to present themselves, some educators choose to present the worst, the ugliest, and the most malignant in us, and the rest of us stand by too often with our hands under our butts and our eyes to the clock.
How many adults do we know call kids a piece of crap and tell them so to their faces, but wouldn’t so much as utter that if they taught in an affluent neighborhood? How many adults expect less than nothing from children of color, or call them students of poverty a la Ruby Payne instead of students in poverty? How many adults made a joke about watermelons, turbans, or dogs in Chinese food and consistently degrade students in spite of the fact that they told the offended student “Oh don’t take things so seriously?” How many administrators make a teacher or student of color do something because they know they’ll be outnumbered, out-voiced, or out of a job if they don’t? How many of those administrators consider certain cultures subservient, model, quiet? How many anti-racists educators have taken a prep period to console a new white teacher to explain something about the children of color they’re working with only to get thrown under the bus the very next year by that very teacher?
How many of our students drop out not because they’re not capable, but because they don’t feel welcome in the school? And can we blame [insert favorite pundits from the left or right] for all of it somehow?
I have this school ID which says that I supposedly belong to this large network of educators across the country, who are sworn to love and protect the students in the building. We all have a mission and vision statement in our school buildings that say so. We say a pledge of allegiance every morning that secures liberty and justice for all.
Except I don’t believe everyone wants the same for all of our students. It’s one thing to try one’s best given the circumstances and working conditions and quite another to not see everyone in the classroom as worthy of the same love and care as is wont for students on the more affluent side of town.
Currently, the only education that’s currently the same across the country seems to be the status of race relations in our country. I don’t need everyone to hear me, but I need them please do take a listen to the stories of educators whose life experiences match the students most oppressed by our system. Our Trayvons, Aiyanas, and Michaels. If these educators won’t hear it from their fellow teachers, exemplary and confident and qualified, too, then the kids will speak.
If the stewards of this education carry out exactly what America does, then they are indeed doing exactly what their job is, and the rest of us standing up against racism are subversive.
How dare us.