For My Fellow Educators as We Move Forward Together
Dear Fellow and Beloved Solebury Educators,
I hope you are well as we begin the summer season... A big thank you to those who are leading and those who are participating in the group discussions about race, racism, and other related topics. I am excited to be in touch with many of you as we figure out moving forward in this historic moment. I think it is historic not because it presents something new, but because of the scale of global visibility and context. With the recent murder of George Floyd, captured quite vividly on video amid a world pandemic, the whole world is watching. In our group discussions, I have been encouraged by people’s courage to be authentic and intentional as we reflect and figure out forward movement, building the world/ the school community we all want for our students, our daughters, our sons, ourselves, and the other people we love. I am looking forward to making the most of this moment I describe as raised consciousness and attention.
To this end, many of us are talking and learning about things like anti-racism... For me, this is so much about our focused intentionality toward ending racism. It is a response to an arguably well-intended but highly ineffective “not being racist” narrative. Aside from its passivity, this narrative has been clearly demonstrated to have little to no meaning in our human struggle to end racism. If anything, it has functioned to hold it in place. How is that for irony? The racism, aka systemic racism, that has profoundly shaped our lives is a system we were all born into. It is the very bedrock from which our entire nation was built, with anti-Black racism as a kind of backdrop to the system as a whole.
We were all shaped by this system from the day we opened our eyes at birth. This includes me... I am a Black man, by the way, in case you don’t know me... From an early age, I remember many of the messages I got from multiple institutions surrounding me: lighter skin and straighter hair were more beautiful. Growing up “Southern Black Baptist,” I was taught at every turn that God was an old white man with a long white beard and a long white robe. All the textbooks in my school were authored by white and presumably heterosexual men. I could go on, and on, and on. This reinforced, for me, a clear and relentless narrative that white, and usually male, voices were the voices of authority and superiority that I must listen to and be ruled by or... ( well you can fill in the blank). This was true whether I was learning Science, English/ Literature, Mathematics, US/ World History (all taught from a perspective that normalized a European/white perspective and making it the quintessential human perspective) and even Music. Sure, I was told that Black folks contributed to America’s popular music: Blues, Jazz, Rock, and Rap, for example. As a child, I was not taught that Black folks invented these music genres. In the case of Jazz, they did so well before it was called Jazz by mainstream aka white America. Ever heard the phrase, ”race music”? Many of the earliest Jazz sounds were dismissively called that by white Americans. I imagine that much of my story is familiar to many of you as it was and is widespread and familiar to people around much of the world, even as we have our different versions of it.
In this moment, I think we educators have a powerful opportunity to impact the lives of our students, ourselves, and each other by creatively and thoughtful rethinking how and what we teach. Consider this: how can our course curriculums fully represent the diversity of human experiences and perspectives? In this moment, how can we make the Black voice more central? It is not enough to simply include Black voices as I know many of you do… For centuries, the Black voice has not merely been left out of most of our narratives, but has been deliberately manipulated to uphold systemic racism, and to be frank and more specific, “white supremacy.” I think this may seem very radical at first and maybe even over the top to some of us. This may be one of those “equity versus equality” scenarios.
Consider whether our curriculums support our students to have a nuanced and holistic view of this world in a way that liberates and empowers them across their different racial, gender, and cultural identities. This moment reminds me of how quickly our world is changing... Even with the divisiveness coming out of many of our institutions, we humans are in many ways more connected than ever across the world via social media, cross-cultural organizations, and other relationships. I think this means that if we really want to prepare our beloved students to flourish in this multicultural world of collapsing socio-economic systems, climate change, pandemics, and other oppressive conditions, we need to guide them toward a deeper understanding of our world even more than we have been taught previously.
This past spring, we have so powerfully demonstrated to each other and to ourselves that we are quite good and capable of learning and adapting to what is needed in a given moment. In my mind, this is another one of those moments!
Talk to me...!