On Valentine’s Day when we celebrate love, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around where the love could have possibly been in the hearts and minds of the teachers who allowed nooses to be displayed in their Long Island middle school classrooms.
According to The Grio and several other news source outlets, “Three Long Island middle school teachers from Roosevelt Middle School are currently on paid administrative leave for displaying images of nooses in their classroom…Alfred T. Taylor, school board president of the Roosevelt Union Free School District said the three white female teachers have been ‘reassigned home’ pending an investigation.”
If it’s not blackface, it’s nooses? Is this what Black children must endure in environments where they are supposed to feel safe, to be educated and nurtured? These are hate crimes and need to be handled as such! Clearly things are going from bad to worse. There’s nothing new under the sun and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that anti-Black, pro-KKK sentiments are on the rise in all facets of mainstream American society. The field of education is no exception.
Just about every day I’m either reading stories online — not fake news, either — or hearing of stories on reputable news outlets that describe Black children being terrorized — yes I said terrorized! – in classrooms taught by ineffective and racist White teachers who spew hateful MAGA-rooted rhetoric either overtly or subtly. Last year alone, I can vividly recall writing about a senior at a prominent Catholic high school in Queens who was denied the right to bear his name of his senior hoodie because his name is Malcolm X, a teacher who had Black students lie on the floor of her classroom very closely together in rows in a simulation of how closely packed enslaved Africans were on slave ships during the holocaust known as the Middle Passage, and a Black teacher who was continuously reprimanded by her White principal for teaching her Black and Brown students African-American history that her principal deemed irrelevant.
I’m in a place of warranted outrage, but I know I can’t stay there. Dwelling in outrage won’t help our students. I’m struggling to stay solutions-oriented because the only solutions I see are to fire teachers who engage in such traumatizing practices and to ultimately create our own schools – for us, by us. It appears to me that we’ve integrated ourselves into oblivion and given up the significant opportunities we had as Black educators — a.k.a. warm demanders — in segregated all-Black classrooms to teach our children not just reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also teach them how to successfully navigate being Black in America.
I think we may have lost more than we gained with integration. With integration we lost the strong presence of Black teachers. With integration we lost safe community schools for our Black students. With integration we gained teachers ill-equipped to teach Black students through a lack of experience, exposure, and a lack of understanding of the way Black children experience the world.
Let’s face it: School systems, 55 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that mandated integration, schools are still extremely segregated and Black students are often trapped in lower-performing schools than White students. These disparities can be found all over Long Island. Perhaps it’s time for a revisitation of the Freedom Schools model.
Jon Hale, in this article in The Atlantic, reminds us that,
Mississippi reluctantly desegregated its schools in 1964, becoming the last state in the country to do so. Yet activists were critical of the assumption that integration guaranteed quality. Activist, and later Algebra Project founder, Bob Moses asked in the fall of 1964, “Why can’t we set up our own schools? What students really need to learn is how to be organized to work on the society to change it.” To civil rights leaders like Moses and Dave Dennis, an instrumental organizer from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), quality education did not necessarily mean seating a black student next to a white student. It meant making sure every school adopted a rigorous curriculum, hired excellent teachers, and provided an opportunity for economic mobility.
It is simply not right to expose Black students to hostile teachers and emotionally unsafe learning environments and then blame them for the achievement gap and their perceived underperformance. When are we going to honestly address the opportunity gap that strategically ensures that Black children stay on the bottom while their White counterparts achieve the American Dream? How long are we going to allow Black children to be taught by people who don’t have their best interest at heart or at hand? When are we going to stop being insane by doing the same thing repeatedly, all the while expecting different results? When will we implement models of education – like the Freedom Schools model – that rattles our false perception of a post-racial America but keeps Black children safe by putting Black educators before them who are not only well-trained but also academically and emotionally invested in them as they strive to achieve in a world that is designed to beat them down?
I can wait no longer? Can you?