To Teachers Who Just Can’t Bring Themselves to Take a Stand
It distresses me to see teacher friends not supporting Black Lives Matter. They post memes on social media such as #AllLivesMatter, whose contribution to the discussion is to remind us of the police who have lost their lives in the line of duty, or who focus on the rioting and looting without trying to understand it. It distresses me no matter who shares them, but especially if they are teachers or who serve in any capacity interacting with children.
In the public schools, the teaching profession requires a bachelor’s degree and a professional license at the very least. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are all critical thinkers, which is a problem. At this pivotal moment as a country, unless we are in denial, we are examining our hearts, minds, and souls in pursuit of the truth regarding racism.
I write as a teacher in Hawaii. I started my career in Guam, but most of my service has been in Hawaii. I retired early, weary of the obsession with test scores. I still work as a substitute teacher to supplement my pension and because I love kid energy. I have always worked in schools that have a high rate of poverty, but I only remember one black student in my over twenty years teaching here. The demographics are different here for sure. But, we too need to embrace anti-racism as an essential part of our teaching philosophy. Why?
We work with vulnerable, impressionable humans, some smaller than others. We have opportunities to influence them positively or negatively. You may be happy with neutral, but chances are if you don’t care whether or not you are having a positive effect, you are having a negative effect. Teaching is not for the faint-hearted. It is a hard job, mainly because we want to be good. If we are honest, we know sometimes we screw up. But we want to be better because we know it is not good for the students, and not good for us. We keep trying to be better. Anti-racism is like that. We may have unconscious, unrecognized racist behavior, but we want to be better than that. Anti-racism is a way we can be better humans, better teachers, better able to be a positive influence on our students.
In a previous article, I wrote about Ibrim X. Kindi’s work How to be an Anti-Racist implores us to choose — are you a racist or anti-racist? If you say you are not a racist, then please, learn how to be an anti-racist.
Why don’t you want to be against racism? Please tell me. I want to know.
Is it because you think you think you are “above” this? More evolved?
I am an islander, born in Hawaii, raised in Guam, and returned to Hawaii as an adult. In the islands, we like to believe that we love everyone, that we are a melting pot, a blend of different cultures and that we all get along, for the most part. I could write for years on whether or not this is true, but the perception is real and the perception we have of ourselves as “above” this ugly business serves to delude us into thinking it doesn’t pertain to us.
And does it? Yes! Why? This is our country, even if how Hawaii got to be the fiftieth state is nothing to be proud of. A bunch of white businessmen descendants of missionaries who overthrew a sovereign nation so they could pursue their land-grabbing capitalist interests. This is not something to be proud of, America. Yet, it is what it is. And our country has a LOT to atone for — a lot of shameful, inhumane acts imposed on mostly non-white people, including the native people here and on the continent.
In Guam, the history of American colonialism is intertwined with World War 2 and the liberation of the people of Guam from brutal Japanese occupiers. Here, the intrusion of the US is less shameful and more celebrated, but their continued presence is pretty ripe for critique. But that’s another story.
To be a good citizen of one’s country means learning about it, warts and all. It doesn’t mean we are unpatriotic. It means we believe in what we have been told is the essence of America — Liberty and Justice for all.
You still don’t want to be on board? Is it because you don’t teach social studies?
The thing is, unless we examine ourselves for unconscious biases, we are at risk for transmitting them no matter what we teach. I remember a colleague who berated students for speaking their native tongue on campus, telling them we have a policy that they need to speak English on school grounds. There is no such policy and I wish I had organized a campaign back then about establishing a policy against this shaming and shameful abuse. We are not talking about subject area lesson plans. We are talking about obtaining a level of awareness that informs your whole being, so that you can identify racism and be able to call it out in yourself, in curriculum, and in others as it comes up.
Is it because you think that by siding with the movement, you are siding against the police?
I know it can appear that way because there has been so much emphasis on police brutality and its horrors. Also, the Defund the Police push might be alarming, especially if you have family members who are cops. I have also seen the memes and coverage in which the far-right forces are trying to make it about that dichotomy. Just like we know all lives matter, we know that blue lives matter. That is not the point. Focus. The point is that there is a history and practice of police brutality. If your husband, friend, or family member “honors the badge” (read about one here) as they say, then we love them. We really do. But if they are okay with their profession sullied by systemic racism, by the bad apples who can get away with murder, then they are not blameless. Just as teachers would love the bad apples in the teaching profession to find another profession, policemen should also want to police themselves, or at least be ashamed.
Is it because it’s all subjective and so truth is not knowable?
This is a huge problem. With a president known for his constant lying and hatred of journalists who call him on it, the press is seen as untrustworthy by his followers. Trump’s claims of fake news obscure the fact that there is a “real” fake news problem in this country, such as the conspiracy theories that abound. We are teachers. It is our responsibility to teach students how to evaluate propaganda, how to verify sources, how to identify bias, how to tell the difference between fact and opinion. There is room for difference of opinion and difference of policy based on sound judgement in a democracy. We don’t all have to think the same. As the saying goes, you have a right to your own opinion, but not a right to your own facts. We can take the same facts and form different opinions around them. Teachers are key in making a difference by cultivating thinking skills, which is not partisan or political. We don’t teach what to think, but how to think. Why wouldn’t you want to do this? Sadly, the focus in the public schools has been on testing, not on thinking. To save the soul of this country, we need to teach thinking. Before the focus on testing, I remember when this was a priority.
Is it because you see yourself as a conservative or a Republican or a Trump supporter and saying Black Lives Matter means that you are a traitor to your party, to your president? Do you think supporting Black Lives Matter is a slippery slope into liberalism?
This is such a phenomenal time. People on “your side” are starting to speak up. Yes, Mitt Romney was the lone Republican who voted for impeachment on one of the counts, and got lambasted for it. But he didn’t crawl into a hole in shame — he continues to walk his talk. He said the words Black Lives Matter and marched with the protestors. I listen to Left, Right, and Center on NPR and hear some reasonable Republicans. And then the generals spoke up, including the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, apologizing for his role in the Trump photo op. Well, these military men are not necessarily on “your side.” Gen. Milley apologized because the military represents the people and should not be political. Yet, your side claims to be the most supportive of the military, as opposed to us libs, who only care about welfare and free stuff. There are signs though — GOP Senator Murkowski says she agrees with the generals critical of Trump and is struggling with supporting him.
It is not a sin to be conservative, or a Republican, nor is it a sin for me to be a liberal or a Democrat. For me, it is a stance I take based on what I value. Because I value equality, I support Black Lives Matter and anti-racism. Do you value equality? It doesn’t have to mean that you are betraying your party. It means that you are anti-racist. I suppose it is possible that you don’t support equality. That would be kind of horrible.
Did I miss something? Please tell me, because I just don’t understand. Do you want to be against racism? For equality? Justice for all?
Then you should be able to say it — Black Lives Matter. It doesn’t require you to protest in the streets, to buy the t-shirts or the bumper stickers. One step at a time. An easy way in is through movies and podcasts. So much available now. I have suggestions, if you want them, but I’m not going to tell you what to do. Just don’t do anything racist. Unless you are okay with being a racist. Then you are not worthy of the profession.