We’re Wrong [Reflecting on Spring Valley High]

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose, Race

One more thing about the teachers of color panel went awry from a couple of weeks ago: we too embody white supremacy as agents of the state.

Yesterday, a cop assaulted a black girl in the middle of class for refusing to leave the class when a teacher, an administrator, then the school resource officer told her to step out. The easy part for my colleagues is to say that, if the student just complied, then none of this would have happened. If the student had simply gotten up on her own accord and done exactly as the overseers had told her, Spring Valley High School would not be a trending topic in all the worst ways.

But that’s not how students work. They’re not 100% complaint. Neither are adults. Our laws and their executors thrive on this.

That’s what shocked me most as the videos pan to who was in the room watching the incident take place. Unlike the plethora of videos on WorldStar or YouTube with black kids walloping each other (and their teacher getting out of the way), this video captured students sitting like oil paintings, and a black male educator with hands clasped. I excuse the students because the police officer looked like he had at least 150 lbs. on the other students in the room. I excuse the orderly room, with its white walls, arrayed desks, and sparsely decorated bulletin board.

I don’t excuse the other adults in the room who allowed that.

In my career, I’ve seen and heard things about and through students that strip the sanctimonious, sanitized conversations about the future of education to a bitter marrow. I’ve had no less than 12 students openly insult me and perhaps a dozen more mumble something under their breath. I’ve separated boys and girls whose adrenaline was already on 10 by the time I got to the scene. I’ve never been in a situation where I saw a police officer used his executive will to throw a student halfway across the room with desk intact. I want to say I would never stand by and watch that happen, though it’s much less likely after having seen that video.

If I’m the black male educator who’s seeing that and I don’t react, the first words out of my mouth ought to be “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”

No excuses. No railing against the evils of government, the privateers and hedge fund billionaires making money off the false narratives, or the Republican-led House and Senate in the state. No prefacing my apology with the state of American’s children and how they need to take off the bandanas, pull their pants up, or get off the social media because it’s rotting their brains. In a time when I and so many of us advocate for the best of and in us, we must also stare reflectively at the worst of and in us.

We as educators could have been him. Some of us have been him. The fact that we’re not him at this instance means we either have a chance to lead with love or stagnate in fear. But first, apologize. Clasping our hands is not an option.