Last week, the nation watched as students from across the United States walked out of their school buildings and took their voices to loudspeakers and microphones as they spoke their truth about the negative ways gun violence in our schools affects them.
My building principal recognized early on that students were going to participate in this walk-out — whether she approved of it or not. In an effort to be proactive versus reactive, she held an open forum for all teachers who were interested in supporting the students in their advocacy and activism pursuits. I attended that meeting, but was concerned that more teachers were not in attendance. I tried to put it out of my mind and chalk it up to their schedules perhaps not allowing them to attend the meeting. But the way my mind is set up, that excuse just wasn’t plausible enough to let that idea rest there without further probing.
As I prepared to engage in the walk-out myself and then read about and listened to other educators doing the same, I noticed a rather disturbing trend: The teachers who were supportive of the walk-out were clearly separated along racial lines. Black and Brown teachers were for it. White teachers were not. I could not believe what I was witnessing. Teachers — in person and online – were actually complaining about students executing their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. What a civics lesson!
NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña sent out a clearance stating that all middle and high-schoolers who wanted to participate in the walk-out were free to do so without fear of getting suspended or any other form of disciplinary action being taken against them, as long as they adhered to the code of conduct rules. That was more than fair, yet many teachers were conjuring up additional assignments to give to students for their time missed in class. Complaints about missing valuable classroom time needed to review for the Regents exams were being thrown around flippantly. I was mortified. What good are Regents exams if students aren’t alive to take them because gun violence cut their lives short like it did for the students of Parkland in Florida?
I didn’t want to believe the racial divide that I was seeing in personal and online spaces with regard to which teachers were supporting students’ civic engagement and which ones weren’t. Why were Black teachers on board and White teachers not? Was it that cut and dried? Was there another common bond shared that wasn’t color — like perhaps political party affiliation? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but in my quest to find answers to this deeply troubling truth playing out before my eyes, I came across this article entitled “Why Seek the Living Among the Dead?” by Melanie Acosta, Michele Foster, and Diedre Houchen in the Journal of Teacher Education
In this article the authors state
We believe that AAPE [African American Pedagogical Excellence] is a plausible foundation from which to re-conceptualize pedagogies for social justice. In fact, it is this African American tradition which has inspired many contemporary movements and activist thought. AAPE reinserts the mechanisms that African American administrators, teachers, and communities use to institutionalize educational excellence. As we demonstrate in this article, were teacher education to reclaim these traditions and incorporate them into teacher preparation programs, along with a robust research agenda, the field could gain one more strategy to prepare teachers thereby tackling several intractable and intertwined educational issues, specifically, the declining numbers of African American teachers, teaching for social justice, and student achievement.
Black teachers were more for students being engaged in social activism than their White counterparts because that’s always what we’ve done, historically speaking. It’s part of our Black educator swag that we possess in abundance and that makes us an asset to all students — especially Black ones.
In a 2012 lecture, historian Vanessa Siddle Walker summarized the influence that southern African American educators had on the lives of African American children by saying,
Black educators took educating Black children seriously . . . Black educators were active and present throughout the educational equity agenda in this country and were more so equipped because they had an expansive child centered perspective—yet these are the voices we silence.
Black teachers, just as in times past, it is imperative that we join forces, step up, and support our students as they fight yet another American ill — that of gun violence in schools. If we don’t support our students in this quest, few others will. If we don’t support our students we send a damning message that neither their lives nor their voices matter. That narrative is the antithesis of any respectable teacher’s role in his/her students’ lives. African-American pedagogical experts know this and act accordingly. I’m proud to be amongst the ranks of such greatness and, now armed with such indisputable research about what I’ve known all along as a Black teacher, I vow to fight now more than ever to flood our schools with African-American pedagogical experts. The future of our students depends on us.