According to CNN, “a Texas charter school is apologizing after a teacher gave an assignment to an eighth grade American History class, asking students to list the positive aspects of slavery.”
As outraged as I am, I wish I could write that what happened at Great Hearts Monte Vista School is an isolated incident — but it’s not. I personally don’t think that the phenomenon of teachers mocking the atrocities of slavery is new. Many teachers are racist. That’s a fact. What’s new is that this fact is being publicized and disseminated more widely due to social media.
Right here in New York, Black children are traumatized in their classrooms at the minds and hands of insensitive racist teachers who have the platform and support to do so without fear of negative consequence. A colleague of mine (who shall remain anonymous for fear of retribution) shared with me that in his school “two older white women have been removed from the classroom for racist harmful acts toward children just this year – only to be reassigned to other district schools. The White female principal refuses to address it.”
Since Mayor Di Blasio has allocated 125 million dollars to NYC DOE schools for principals to utilize as they see fit in an effort to attain excellence and equity in education, I suggest that those funds be use to hire Black teachers who have a genuine care and concern for our students and are dedicated to educating children about not just reading and arithmetic, but active citizenship — something of which our country is in desperate need.
The effects of Black children being traumatized in school run deep. School is supposed to be designed for students to learn and grow into their best selves. How can that happen in a hostile environment? School — hostile? Yes! School is a hostile environment for Black students!
Black, Hispanic and white children experience different realities at school…[when] asked if they had problems with profanity, truancy, fighting, weapons and drug abuse, minority kids were far more likely to say “yes.” Close to one-third of Black students say their teachers spend more time keeping order than teaching. This study says minority students face what amounts to a hostile work environment.
Would you go to a place of employment day in and day out if you were constantly being berated, belittled, and bad-mouthed? I know I wouldn’t — not for long, at least. Yet Black students are putting up with this treatment on a regular basis with little recourse. Changing schools can be an arduous task. As a Black teacher, school can feel like a hostile work environment as well when all too often we are one of a few like-minded teachers of color on staff. I’ve learned to toe the line of knowing when to speak, to whom to speak, and when to just shut my mouth and move along. There are just too many micro-aggression-fueled fires to put out to address them all. Expending that type and amount of energy is taxing. Black students feel the same way, but they don’t have the coping mechanisms and conflict resolution skills that professional adults (are supposed to) have. Their response to the hostile environment that teachers create most times leads to the student — in this case, the victim, receiving a punitive infraction.
The best remedy for this educational ill, simply put, is to hire teachers who are in tune with what Black children are experiencing and committed to bettering their lives’ circumstances. The only teachers I know who can effectively do that are African-American pedagogical experts. We are the only ones equipped to speak about what it means to be Black in America. The most well-intentioned White teacher can only go but so far where that’s concerned. Their inherent White privilege denies them access to the Black Experience. Only an African-American pedagogical expert can speak to the “mask” that African-Americans wear that poet Paul Laurence Dunbar writes so eloquently about and the “double consciousness” that W.E.B. DuBois brilliantly pens in The Souls of Black Folk. Only we, the African-American pedagogical experts, can exhume and esteem the life-or-death importance of Black excellence in the classroom. It may be the only example some of our children see, up close and personal.
If the goal of equity in education is what education systems in New York and the rest of America sincerely want to achieve, then they must intentionally hire more Black teachers.