An outpouring of public opinion has burst forth in the wake of grand jury decisions made regarding the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, in New York City, and perhaps none so piercing as the sentiments expressed by teachers, parents and students.
Here, we gather some of their thoughts. Feel free to add your own in the comments below, to continue the conversation.
On the Role of Educators to Honestly Discuss Race
As education advocates that say we serve students of color, we cannot ignore Eric’s death, Mike’s death and the deaths of countless others any longer. They are human beings, not hashtags.
As educators, we have to curb our own opinions and emotions to help students to process what happened in the most sensitive way.
The right response to institutional indifference of any kind—in our education system, our justice system, or in any other institution that is supposed to serve and protect us as citizens—is outrage.
But we need schools that give teachers wide latitude to tailor curricula to students’ needs. We need administrators who encourage teachers and students to work for social justice. And most of all, we need diverse networks of colleagues who support this work, people who share honest conversations, who help us to see our own blinders and who challenge us to think critically about race and pedagogy.
Our resolve is steadfast: We owe it to our students to raise our voices and to help them grapple with the messages that have been conveyed by these cases to our youth, particularly our students of color.
My heart…is heavy because many of the kids and communities our corps members serve may internalize the idea that they’re lives don’t matter to the majority of the country, that they or their loved ones are just a bullet or negative interaction away from becoming a hashtag.
On the surface, the tragic events in Ferguson and Cleveland concerned the police and the local communities. But ultimately, these are cases about how America’s institutions, including our schools, respect the rights, well-being and futures of all our young people.
That these unarmed men, children in some cases, were killed at the hands of those appointed to protect and serve is maddening. It’s a call to action for anyone who cares about equality or who believes that the ideals of this country must be demonstrated in actions as well as in words. It’s a source of anger across the country and profoundly felt by our black youth right here in Oakland. As educators, the challenge is to help our children direct this fear and anger in a way that helps them fight injustice—while remaining alive. We must give our students the knowledge, the support, and the tools to maximize their chance at that most basic of conditions, survival, so they can reform society to the point where these lessons are no longer necessary.
On the Responsibility of White Teachers to Address Racism
Because I know that we, white teachers of mostly white students, we don’t talk about race very much. We don’t talk about it partly because we don’t know what to say. We don’t talk about it partly because we fear the discomfort that the conversations might bring.
I want teachers to talk about Ferguson, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. But I fear that many white teachers aren’t really ready to do so.
— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) December 4, 2014
We need more teachers of color, yes, but we can’t put the weight of building anti-racist schools solely on the shoulders of people of color. We also need more white teachers willing to disrupt the white spaces of our schools, white spaces that are enforced constantly in our policies, our dress codes, our hyper-vigilance on the obedience of kids of color.
White teachers, imagine how angry and frustrated you feel when you are mistreated, or think you are being mistreated, by people in authority…Imagine if you were worried for your brother or son. I think then white teachers will start to have some sense of what it means to be black in America in the Age of Ferguson.
On Students Speaking Their Minds
“That’s the definition of white privilege. You get to look away while I, being African-American, have to live like this.”
“Mike Brown and the others, they were like branches to the whole problem. If law was a tree, it’s a tree with bad roots.”
“Seeing other kids, that not only were they able to organize a successful walk out but they got voices heard, it showed you can make your voice heard.”
— christina martinez (@christinaixchel) December 2, 2014
On the Danger of Inaction
As I write this, many are physically or civically having their potential choked out of them while the status quo struts and frets over “how much” change there should be to our education system. Or “how fast.” Or “who should” be the agent of that change. In a world of millions of potential Eric Garners, we must find the will to do everything in our means to educate our kids.
When we remain silent in the face of these injustices, students notice. They may mistake it for complicity. Pay attention. — Ilana Horn (@tchmathculture) December 4, 2014
Because the school reform movement should always be out front on all the issues that are impacted by the nation’s education crisis. Because the policies and practices that condemn the academic futures of our children end up spilling into our streets. Because you cannot proclaim yourself to be a champion for all kids if you are not championing them at all times.
There have been no rallies, no protests, no marches in the street to demand justice for the students turned away from the doors of accredited schoolhouses.
Perhaps white progressives have been so slow to make inequitable, violent policing of African-American communities a priority because they’ve struggled to accept that things could really be as bad as all that. And they’ve been loath to realize that this violence is symptomatic of enormous systemic injustice.
Today is another sad, sad day for mamas of black boys. Deeply demoralized and shaking scared, we keep on fiercely loving them, and wait and hope for the world to see them as we do.…
It doesn’t matter that they are gorgeous and charming and organically charismatic. It doesn’t matter that they are gifted and talented and have off-the-chart-IQs and that the world should be their oyster. It doesn’t matter. Still, they are followed, suspected, questioned, accused, judged, and—yes, already—feared. They are black. They are ten.
UPDATE (December 8, 2014): Added Oakland Superintendent Antwan Wilson.