White Educators, we need to do better.
The sweet scent of our colorful pack of Mr. Sketch is open. Bulletin boards are being hung. Desks are being rearranged. Books are being organized, colorized, and alphabetized.
This is the educator's intro to the new school year. The prep, the coffee, the care. The back to school feels (because, yes, I get nervous meeting my new kiddos for the first time). There is a lot to plan and think on including curriculum and the community in the classroom.
I write this piece to you as a white educator. We, at this moment, make up 70-80% of the educator workforce. And we need to do better.
I don't mean do better making pretty things, putting together cute bulletin boards, or creating spaces for ideal flexible seating. We need to take a step back from that and look at curriculum and ourselves.
First, we want to do the best. But how do we determine the "best"? If we are to fight for equity, we must take a look at ourselves, our past, and what we are pushing against. We have to understand that there is privilege guaranteed us because of our race, and that this privilege is NOT granted to others.
We are standing in front of a population of learners that we have failed to include in our history, libraries, and curriculum. There is a gaping chasm in our books and authors. There is a lack of representation in our curriculum and in our own educators (80% white?!).
We refuse to see our own bias and discriminatory practices when it comes to clothing, disciplinary actions, suspensions, tone policing, speaking, and culture.
We are allowing ourselves to remain comfortable and silent because we can. We need to do better.
First, understand we are living in a systemic racist society. Our history is founded, built on, and rooted in white supremacy. It is consistently perpetuated within our systems of education, our communities, our speech, our entertainment, and our government.
Here are some articles to break these concepts down more:
We cannot dive into these conversations without first understanding our role in history and current society, and acknowledging that we can't ignore it anymore. We have to place our selves in discomfort. In this discomfort, we will learn and grow. We will come to a better understanding of ourselves so that we can be better educators for ALL learners.
Before we dive into what we can do now, here are examples of how white supremacy has caused harm and trauma to our learners:
When Schools Cause Trauma, Policing in Schools, School Policing, Criminalization of Black Girls, No More Classroom Slavery Reenactments, Slave Auction Reenactment, When School Dress Codes Discriminate, How Dress Codes Criminalize, When Black Hair Violates the Dress Code
What can we do now?
1. Step back, and listen. This is crucial. Do not jump into conversations. Stay in your space, and listen to BIPOC voices, experiences, and history. If it makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself "Why am I uncomfortable?" This will lead to new realizations, understandings, and unpacking of your own bias and privilege. I have to do this all the time. If I feel the 'need' to respond to something, I quickly check in with myself and ask "Why? Is what I have to say helpful or harmful? Am I staying in my lane or crossing into others?". Do not seek out BIPOC voices to ask these complex questions or help you answer them. Find other white educators to discuss and learn from if you need to. Do not take up time from BIPOC folx. They do not need to do your work.
2. Check your bias. Why are you assuming certain things about a student, family, or colleague? When you catch yourself making snap judgements, stop yourself and ask, "Why?". Check yourself. What is it rooted in? Is it a stereotype that is perpetuated by society? Is it something we were taught by entertainment or news? By stopping and checking your bias and critically thinking about why we view people and race the way we do, we are doing the work to break down and rework our worldview. We are unpacking and checking our biases.
3. Check that curriculum. This is where some of the biggest work can be done as educators. Grab that curriculum and check it. What is it missing? Whose voices are lacking? Do the pictures represent all learners? This is a critical step as a white educator.
There is a lack of acknowledgement of the history of colonization, lack of truth of the vile practice of slavery, Jim Crow era, segregation, and the modern prison system. We do not discuss the kidnapping and cultural wiping of the indigenous people. There is no reason to celebrate Christopher Columbus but there are multiple reasons to celebrate indigenous people and learn about them. Black history is American history and should not be saved for February. When we break down who is in our classroom libraries, who are we lacking representation of? Who do the authors look like? Representation in all forms matter.
When you begin to plan, what do you need to start including and how do you need to include it? A cute art project isn't learning. A one time reading of Martin Luther King Jr. is not adequate to say you taught black history. As white educators, we have to step up and do the work. We shouldn't be waiting to talk about race, history, stereotypes, and pride until we feel comfortable. It is going to be uncomfortable. We need to step up and be uncomfortable so that we can create space for all our learners. In discomfort, we will learn and grow.
As you create, build, and plan for the next year and years to come, begin to incorporate. Begin to challenge and change. Our curriculum is missing the voices of our learners. We have the power to create spaces to have complex, critical, difficult conversations. We need to change this. We have to be uncomfortable and put in the time to do better.
I am here with you, learning and growing. The work is not complete, and I am still on my journey (and will be on it for my life). Let's continue to learn, grow, and sit in discomfort together.
Resources to do the work:
*Check my resource page for more including educators doing the work that you can support and then learn from.