Friday, May 29, 2020

Don’t Wait for February

My fellow Well-Meaning White Lady teachers out there…there are so damn many of us, it’s downright embarrassing. Isn’t it? The best of us recognize how marinated in white privilege we are, no matter who we voted for, no matter what the percentage of pesticide-free organic produce filling up our reusable shopping bags.

That’s…a start, I guess. But even in our awkward state of alliance, we kind of suck. The high-achieving Hermiones among us miss the point completely, tripping over each other to earn the most house points for woke-ness. And don’t even get me started on the Mean Girls among us who’ve managed to weaponize anti-racism against each other – couching pettiness in equity jargon to get the edge in an argument, looking for weakness everywhere but the mirror.

We speak in terms of “gaps,” and how to “close” them, rarely if ever acknowledging that the so-called achievement gap itself is a cultural construction. It’s not random. Somebody had to decide what counts as “achievement” in the first place. Somebody had to decide what tools we were going to use to measure said achievement. Somebody – despite piles of research that quantifies teacher-student relationships and student voice as crucial for equitable success – somebody helps us teachers feel justified in pushing those things aside because “There’s just so much to cover!” to get our students ready for those achievement-measuring tests.

And somebody – in the name of providing The Best educators for public school students – decided that you can’t get through the door without a battery of expensive degrees, internships, and piles of standardized tests. Somebody put up locked gates instead of windows. Those of us who got in are smart, talented, and passionate…but those qualities alone wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere. We needed money and time and more money – we needed privilege, in other words – to truly unlock those gates. And here we are, disproportionately white.

Many of us are grappling with how to be anti-racist while knowing that we got here in the first place through a labyrinth of racist systems – and we continue to run through the hamster wheels of inherently racist systems that built our city and our state and our entire nation and the demographics of every Seattle school. Folks…it’s messed up. And I won’t attempt to resolve it here beyond acknowledging the stark, messed-up, racist reality of it all. There’s no way to reconcile or justify the cognitive dissonance and inequities that got us here.

But…here we are anyway. And what now?

I don’t know, man. I’m no expert. But here are a few little baby steps toward anti-racist practice that I think we white teachers can take:

Let’s stop telling our students of color how to feel about…anything. If they want to exclaim that George Washington was racist, let’s engage that, or at least give them room to rant it.

Let’s lean in to tangents and off-topic questions. If we don’t know, let’s be honest about that and maybe model how to find an answer, or have an answer ready for them the next day.

Let’s make a point of speaking respectfully to and about their parents and grandparents – to the students and when we’re talking with colleagues.

Let’s own our mistakes and apologize to our students with sincerity and grace.

Let’s acknowledge when things are terrible, and that we care. “Yes, I did hear about that lady with the dog in Central Park. Isn’t in awful?”

Let’s really work as hard as we can to NEVER flipping be that lady with the dog in Central Park. I’m looking at you, Nextdoor.

And speaking of Nextdoor, let’s also work hard to not be NIMBYs. Our ancestors either stole this land from indigenous people or benefitted from the co-option of that land. I think we can all put on our big girl pants and be okay with some new building that’s going to block our view of downtown and bring in more renters.

Let’s spend a lot of careful, intentional time planning our lessons for Black Lives Matter at School: Week of Action. And if our school doesn’t participate in that…let’s advocate for participating in it next year.  
Let’s not wait for MLK’s birthday and Black History Month to put this stuff at the forefront. The resources are there. It is completely possible to put intentional anti-racist focus into all subjects, all lessons. Because we can’t afford to wait until February. 

Please don’t wait for February.

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