Debate is raging across the country on how to return to school in the fall.
The Trump administration, considering their abject disregard for the health of the American people during the pandemic, deserves absolutely zero trust or faith from parents, families or students.
But regardless of how or when schools reopen their doors, there is an uncomfortable, yet undeniable truth that all teachers must face.
While In Minneapolis, racial violence took the form of a police officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck, in schools, the truth is too many teachers have their knees on their students’ necks each and every day.
Every time a student of color or a student with disabilities is multiple times for likely to be restrained, suspended and expelled, we have our knees on our students’ necks.
Every time we call a dean or send a child out of the classroom without having first built relationships with those students, we have our knees on our students’ necks.
Every time we take away a child’s recess, we have our knees on our students’ necks.
Every time we choose to skim a student’s IEP or doubt a students’ accommodations, we have our knees on our students’ necks.
Every time we assume that our students who are poor can’t learn, we have our knees on our students’ necks.
Every time our eyes focus on the off-task behaviors of our Black and brown students and overlook those of their white classmates, we have our knees our on students necks.
Every time we start our school year without investigating and reflecting on our own deeply entrenched biases and racisms, we have our knees on our students’ necks
The educational status quo across the country has students of color and students with disabilities suffocating under the knee of the American education system.
Marching is easy. Yard signs are easy. Chanting is easy. Liking, sharing and re-tweeting are easy.
But what will we do when the change that is needed cuts into the privileges of the powerful?
Every teacher has the opportunity, the obligation, to inspect their own classroom as a microcosm of that now hallowed Minneapolis sidewalk.
Here are some steps every teacher and school leader can take:
- Build the Equity Literacy of teachers in your schools by utilizing the works of Paul Gorski, in particular, Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education. Each case study gets teachers to investigate true to life classroom scenarios, reflect on the inequities that are often overlooked and develop action plans to bring justice to these scenarios.
- Every teacher, particularly white teachers, needs to use this summer to read and educate themselves. This list is by no means exhaustive, but teachers need to read “White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo, “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, “How To Be An Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi and “We Want To Do More Than Survive” by Bettina L. Love. School leaders should assign these books for their teachers and begin the school year with guided discussions on key takeaways from these texts.
- Teachers, grab a clipboard, and track what students you call on, redirect or straight up overlook. Who do your eyes see? Why? This audit can illuminate some uncomfortable truths.
Teachers, now that the marches have largely ceased and social media timelines have returned to normal; now that it is no longer a fashionable necessity to post self-aggrandizing pics of righteous banner waving, what will we do?
Will our knees stay on our students’ necks, or will we stand up for justice?