Yesterday E4E kicked off their racial inequity series. This week they are highlighting why we need to be having conversations about social injustice in and outside the classroom, even when it’s not making news headlines.
The cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown prompted mostly negative emotions, but for Tara Brancato, a music and human rights teacher in “a segregated Bronx school,” her students’ reactions inspired her:
As responses to the cases pour in from all corners, the thoughts of my students are perhaps not unusual. They are hurt by the decisions not to try the police officers, and they are bitterly resigned to a system that never seems to let them break even. Their worlds are still small: some are still only able to see the racial issue in terms of black and white, and others see it as a conflict just between police and minorities. Very few have spent time seriously considering systemic racism in our world.
But it’s the way they’re suddenly questioning that has me full of hope. I expected emotion, and I expected anger. What I didn’t expect was this response: “Don’t get me wrong, I like my skin color, but it’s not like people call me brown skinned, they call me black, the black label, the identity, the category that I now get to live under. They don’t see my skin color that is definitely not black, my nice, respectful personality, or my education, they see black, and they automatically know who I am, whether that’s me or not. It’s truly nothing but a label, it’s not even a shade that humans come in, it’s not a real anything.”
During that trying time, like many teachers, she put her curriculum aside to explore current events. She saw a new way her students needed to learn and think about these issues.
We need a generation of critical thinkers. We need activists, and we need analysts, and we need global citizens who care. We need to delve into real life, and the challenges therein. I’m thankful for every teacher who gave their students a larger voice in this issue—you are helping to make our future a better one, although perhaps not less interesting. But more than that, I’m thankful for the way we’re learning—and the ways our teaching changes for the better.