Recently I’ve been forcing myself to take a news fast but earlier this week, while out socializing with some members of my new education family at the Education Post Blogger Summit, I learned about the murder of a pregnant Black woman in Seattle at the hands of two White police officers in front of her children. I then read the news article to apprise myself more fully with the published account of what had happened
Afterwards, I felt physically sick. Matt Halvorson, an education blogger from Seattle who happens to be a White man who has two beautiful children with his partner, a Black woman, noticed my visceral reaction and empathetically consoled me with a pat on my back and a look of equal frustration and bewilderment. Matt gets the plight of Black people in America as much as any White man can and, like me, fights our institutionalized racist systems through education. There’s just something about a White man who recognizes his privilege and uses it to fight for equity and equality for Blacks in America that I respect so much. Our plight, at its core, in not a Black or a White one — it is a human one.
American Black and Brown children, especially those in poor urban areas, need a higher and more specific degree of protection than White children. There are few other groups of children who are so disproportionately exposed to a parent or loved one murdered right in front of them. Usually the presence of a child causes adults to be more mindful of their actions because there is an understanding about the long-lasting impact of trauma on young psyches. But often their presence — and subsequent trauma — is merely collateral damage.
How do I continue to stand before my Black and Brown students every day, look them in the eye, encourage them to do their best to get ahead and achieve the American Dream that they all desire, while looming in the back of my mind is the very real potential that they could be gunned down, not even on the street while minding their business but in their very own homes? How do I do that without being the most disingenuous and fraudulent educator on the planet?
The changes that I am seeking in education are heavily policy-driven and, as former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reminded me earlier this week at the Summit, are certainly achievable but not easily accomplished. I realize now more than ever that it’s going to require me to shift my servitude on America’s education plantation from my current status in the classroom, aka “the field,” to inside the offices of local, State and Federal legislators who make decisions that directly impact education policy, aka “the house.” I need to get closer to “master” and her overseers so that I can learn her ways, study her mindset, and ultimately infiltrate and overtake her camp where needed with my agenda and the agenda of the Black and Brown children I’ve valiantly served for the past seven years. In order to have a seat at the table, however, I need to get into the house first.
As Catherine E. Brown so aptly puts it, “The reality is many teachers don’t feel engaged or listened to when it comes to decisions that affect their classrooms.”
I have felt this way for a long time and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of feeding my students’ hope in a way that is devoid of something more concrete. They deserve more than that, especially given the racial climate in our country. It’s past time that my teacher voice brings a more constructive tone to the current cacophony of education policy in America.