Sometimes we need to get off the beaten path.
In Black History Month there is a temptation to do the easy thing, to recycle the stories about the notable heroes we’ve heard many times. Those stories are important, but we risk making black history static if we don’t renew our canon. New voices with timely messages are raising our collective consciousness and leading us to think deeply about the world we’ve inherited. We should honor that as much as anything in history because it keeps us growing.
In education the debate is stale and stunted. Black voices are available, but not valued nearly as much as they ought to be. Education discussion panels still suffer from “we need more diversity” syndrome. Rooms where decisions are made supposedly to save children of color can’t save themselves from chronic aversion of being inclusive.
Having no interest in repeating that problem, Education Post presents a few relevant voices that are piercing the bubble and raising questions in education worth answering.
Jonathan Stith, national director at the Alliance for Educational Justice, writes about education as a source of liberation for black youth. He digs in on how “mentacide” diminishes black lives and how it lives in public schools:
State violence is government power that hurts, government power that harms. It is the violent indoctrination that in America, for Black children, learning means learning to stay in your place. The same lesson the Little Rock Nine learned when trying to integrate Central High School almost over half century ago is the same one youth learn today. The national guard of yesterday has been replaced with a school-to-prison pipeline that suspends Black youth at three times the rate of their White peers, but the end result is the same: immediate annihilation or compulsory assimilation to teach Black youth their place.
Cara McClellan, a former Teach For America teacher and current Yale law student, writes about the complexity of being a privileged black teacher in urban settings. She wrestles with the labeling of “proper”-speaking African Americans and the need for children to see a range of black personalities to make sense of a diverse world.
Our kids need diverse teachers. They need to have more teachers who look like them and more teachers who come from their communities.
But that isn’t the whole story. Kids need also need to see diversity:
Our kids need teachers whose identities are complex. While I looked like my kids, I could not say I came from their community; I was from about 30 minutes further up the expressway, and our moments of disconnect were a reminder of both how big Philadelphia is, and how isolated the inner-city is. But most importantly, our kids need to see authentic adults, who are comfortable in their own skin.
Melinda Anderson writes about how “culturally relevant teaching helps students develop critical-thinking and analytical skills.”
In Awakening a Black Child’s Consciousness and Curiosity, she writes:
The link between police in schools and overcriminalization of Black youth is about social justice. It’s also about whether my son could be next. Suspending Black boys at a disproportionate rate for non-violent infractions is the symptom of a racist and unjust system. It’s also a real thing that happens in public schools to students who look like my son. The importance of culturally relevant materials and diverse books is a prized educational value that moves from theoretical to concrete when my son is presented with a summer reading list with not one author of color.
Dr. Andre Perry reminds us “there is nothing wrong with black and brown children.” We so often want to fix them without considering how the systems meant to serve them are broken.
Black and brown students need good schools, great teachers and professional opportunities—not personality mechanics. We should place more energy in fixing what makes schools unattractive rather than creating mentoring programs that attempt to bang square pegs into round holes…
The notion that race shouldn’t matter when it comes to teaching limits the number of cultural access points into a field. Teacher prep programs must be evaluated on the diversity of their yearly cohorts. Chemistry doesn’t have a bias per se, but the gatekeepers to the field do. Diversity removes some doubts of teacher bias.
The list could go on. Many more black voices are out there for those who care to listen before making major designs on schooling. There’s no future in ignoring them.