Today, I finally saw some of my cockamamie student groupings come to a screeching halt when some of my best students started clashing with each other over how to approach their scientific notation project. My 280 lbs frame usually settles disagreements if I’m in proximity, but this was not one of those days. As I listened to their grievances, I picked apart the major contents and helped them work out the minor details without me.
In my younger days, I might have had a conniption, shifted a few students to different groups, or rolled my eyes hard. Today, I decided to lead with love.
Visions of seeing black teenagers dragged and flung halfway across a room still lay uncomfortably under my eyelids, along with other visions of incidents I’ve seen as a student and teacher. I’m not completely desensitized to this violence, I’ve had to resensitize myself to remind of the awesome work I undertake. I do mean awesome in the truest sense of the word. At any given moment, the thirty children in my care can flip and rebel against me, leaving me and the other adults powerless in their wake. Yet they’ve entrusted me to move them forward, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
This underlying awe is what gives me the authority to apologize unequivocally for my colleague’s indecision and subterfuge in the midst of this.
Incidents like the one that happened at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina should give us pause not simply for its outward reflection of the school-to-prison pipeline built over the last century (yes, long before No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top). It should remind us that, without the presence of a cell phone, all of us could continue pretending incidents like this never happen. With so much resistance to the specter of police officers as the unjust executioners of unjust policy, my job is transformational only if I don’t serve my students a similar injustice.
The lessons inside our own classrooms are not enough. None of us are absolved. We must work in this space collectively.
Because the uglier truth is that the Spring Valley High School incident is just the first time it was videotaped in that school, not the first time it happened. Thus, policy notwithstanding, they’re all culpable, and yes, so are we.