As teachers, there are few things more inspiring and gratifying than seeing the success of students who have left our classrooms and ventured off into the world beyond. In my nearly 10 years of teaching high school seniors in West Philadelphia, I’ve seen former students become nurses, social workers, teachers, entrepreneurs, cooks, dancers, artists, airport workers, graduate students, project managers, business associates, and dozens upon dozens of other admirable professions.
Such is the beauty of teaching: Seeing the tree emerge from the seed that was planted years before in our classrooms.
But there are a few students who have a special place in my teacher heart; those that have become activists and agitators for social change.
Austin, Rasheen, and Nyeelah started a mentoring program that purposefully sought out those students who struggled in school, who felt disengaged from academically driven curricula, and who felt misunderstood by teachers and deans. They saw the struggle so many of the young people face in their communities, and they heeded the call to action.
Nyria, Phylicia, Julio, and Bri have brought revolution to their PWI University (Predominantly White Institution), leading sit-ins and demonstrations to demand greater cultural awareness on their nearly all-White campus. They saw the implicit bias and the microaggressions in the world around them, and they heeded the call to action.
Tatiana, Sharif, Nate, Milan, Perla, Kyra, Amaya, and Ahmad are founding members of Raised Woke, a student-run activist group, intent on having their voices heard both in school, on the local news, and in Philadelphia’s City Hall. They saw the injustice in their native city as a microcosm of the injustice present all over the United States, and they heeded the call to action.
There are many other students I could name who fit the mold of those who are dissatisfied with our society’s status quo and, most importantly, understand their own inherent power to change the world around them, and have also heeded the call.
As I’ve argued time and again, education is about social justice. To argue otherwise is naive to the social realities of the world we live in. As such, we cannot limit our educational scope to our given curricula. We need to empower the next generation of rebels and revolutionaries.
We cannot preach the honor and wisdom of those who stood up to Great Britain in the 18th century, those who stood up to slavery in the 19th century, those who stood up to Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, fascism, gender inequality, and homophobia in the 20th century, and not then empower, or even worse punish, our students to stand up to injustice in the 21st century.