Like several people in my private chats, I reacted to the deceptively simple question asked in a new piece by Fordham senior fellow Robert Pondiscio.
He wonders aloud: “I believe ‘anti-racism’ is misguided. Can I still teach Black children?”
Speaking only for my family, and assuming some degree of choice exists for us in the matter that makes the question relevant, our answer is complementary in its simplicity.
It’s not personal. Robert and I are in harmonic agreement on some critical educational issues such as school choice, the importance of pedagogy and practice, and the need for high standards for all students.
And, we are also as energetically separated by other issues of equal import, such as race, culture, and social justice.
That separate togetherness between Robert and I isn’t ours alone. The so-called education reform movement has wrestled with it for as long as I’ve been watching. I wish there were a fix for the tension it creates about as much as I wish cake weren’t fattening, but thus far, the reality isn’t promising.
It’s probably important to survey the lived experiences that form our differences. In my nearly three decades as a Black parent of multiracial children, I’ve had to think deeply about what a humane education means for them. Our family’s goal is for them to grow into critically thinking people who are intellectually, spiritually, and racially self-confident. This means we must be vigilant about filtering the books they read, the media they consume, the social connections they make at school, and most importantly, who teaches them.
We aren’t interested in contributing to another generation of people of color who are treated as if their lives, their heritage, and their standing in the world is a subplot to the white norm. I intend on raising free people, and that begins with them understanding the many ways the world will attempt to curtail their freedom.
As I listen to the growing opposition against anti-racism efforts in schools and the convenient obsession with spotlighting its wackiest failings in an attempt to delegitimize those efforts, I hear echoes of the same white resistance that followed every racial justice movement in the past.
There was white resistance to emancipation after the Civil War, after Reconstruction, after Jim Crow, after desegregation, and after the Civil Rights movement. In each case calls to restructure society to support racial equality were lampooned as misguided or a bridge too far. In each instance, white racism was plausibly denied by its beneficiaries, and blame for racial strife was placed on the people fighting against racism.
And here we are again, another attempt to reclassify anti-racism as racism itself.
When I hear white educators and education reform advocates ask if they can refute anti-racism and still teach Black children, my ears quickly translate the query into a far more troubling question.
What I hear is “can I remain solidly within the status quo of the white chauvinism that has harmed nonwhite people throughout the ages, and still qualify to teach—on my terms, without challenge to my racial beliefs—the descendants of America’s formerly enslaved people?”
“Can I teach girls if I truly believe a woman’s place is in the home?”
“Can I teach Ojibwe children if I believe Indian boarding schools weren’t entirely bad?”
“Can I teach immigrants if I believe they hail from shithole countries?”
If nothing else, this exposes a difference of opinion on what a teacher is and what qualifies them to teach.
At a time when America’s historically marginalized peoples are renewing demands to be treated fairly in all areas of life and to be viewed as fully human, why would it be in our best interest to turn our kids over to the teachers who aren’t the least curious about the ways our nation’s major systems mistreat and devalue us?
If given the choice between teachers who acknowledge and address the well-documented racism in our major institutions, and conversely, other teachers who deflect, discount, and dismiss the valid claims of injustice we raise, why would we be so foolish as to say “give us the teacher who disregards our struggle to finally be free”?
Are we supposed to ignore the daily examples of white teachers caught on cameras going on racist rants, calling Black students niggers, arguing that “nigger” is just another word that we all can use, assailing Black parents for making excuses, and generally expressing frustration with Black students in stereotypical ways?
Don’t even get me started about the racially backward classroom assignments that miseducate our children about slavery, history, and race that seem to pop up in news with alarming regularity.
If you are a white parent or teacher or “reformer” reading this I can understand why you might not see the problem. For you, perhaps, the more urgent issue forced by progressive pedagogy on race is how it impacts your white children who must endure anti-racism ideals that you fear reduce them to “oppressors” based on their skin color alone. Given the work of right-wing outrage farmers who have successfully pushed that narrative into mass and niche media, I don’t blame you for your hysteria.
If you love your children like I love mine, I can see why you feel pushed into protective mode.
That said, I would ask you to consider what it says about who holds the power in America that when you fear your children will encounter ideas that make them uncomfortable, it doesn’t require mass demonstrations to rectify because presidents, governors, and legislators will move quickly to take up your cause and pass laws to ease your discomfort. It’s almost as if our systems of power are every bit as unlevel as Critical Race Theory says they are.
That’s real power. And it’s white. If you aren’t prepared to interrogate that, I understand. Ignorance is bliss and the dividends of injustice build wealth in nations. You are rational in your denials of racism and in your attempts to defeat efforts to end it.
But, are you a good teacher for anyone except white children who you wish to prepare for a world in which they still rule?
I doubt it.
As Black parents, we need to consider our interests as thoroughly as you all do yours. Our sole goal is to make sure that our young people achieve the equality that was denied to our ancestors for several centuries. I’d prefer we all work together as people of common cause who want a fair society that works for everyone, but in the absence of that preferred state of play, I’m willing to go as zero-sum as necessary to stop the continual degradation of my people.
That’s starts with my children.
No, you can’t teach them if you don’t understand all the ways your systems will attempt to block their freedom.