0028: Bullshit. Why don’t my kids get what the white kids get?
I’ve taught in predominately black schools. I attended a predominately black high school. As a teacher, I’ve had the privilege to take my black students to events that are reserved mainly for white schools, thus white kids. My students have always been good competitors and even thrive in this foreign environment whether the events were academic or artistic. I’m always shocked back into a brutal reality of on-going segregation and inequality when I am transported from my usual school environment that functions more closely to a prison than a place of learning. Being that the schools where I’ve taught have been in the south, in black communities, they have been poor. Every interviewer with whom I’ve interviewed has been more concerned with my classroom management skills, and shows great concern about my ability to “handle these kids”. I’ve taught in places where order was never expected because the kids were “those kids” or “criminals”. It’s easy to adapt to that setting, or to become numb to it. But, when I stand in a room full of thriving white children and watch my few black children thrive in the framework of the upper middle class white child I have to stop. The difference is not in behavior. It’s in perception. The schools where I have taught and teach are punitive by nature. The children, mostly black, are treated as if they have great potential— to be harsh criminals. They’re expected to misbehave. The schools and classes are concerned with the children staying in line and sitting quietly. They are not trusted. The white kids on the other hand are treated like future leaders. They engage in problem solving activities and hands-on learning. They are trusted with technology, and are allowed to thrive. The teachers I’ve worked with have been eager to help our students thrive, but the system won’t allow for it. We, at the poorer schools, are constantly falling behind where testing is concerned. And, it starts early. Kindergarten quickly becomes a place to prepare for the first grade test. Recess is eliminated. Experiential learning activities are eliminated. This continues all the way through school for my students. They start out in a deficit situation that follows them all the way to graduation, or when they drop out from absolute boredom. They drill and kill where the kids across the tracks discuss and collaborate. My kids sit in schools that look like prisons, run down prisons at that. The across the track kids sit in schools with nice grounds, and colorful classrooms and hallways. They’re being groomed for success. My students are being groomed for prison and welfare. It’s wrong.
My students looked confused this morning when they were shocked back into their prison reality. The field trip was nice, but it was only a field trip. It was only a dream, and that is bullshit.
0020: Time to Talk Race, Class, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in Middle School
Time has to be made for relevant discussion in classrooms. We’re all fast away making sure curriculum is being learned in a timely manner, and it’s easy to forget to involve the students. Sometimes it’s frowned upon. Students have issues that need to be heard, and they’re not all pretty. But, they need help dealing with emotions, fears, and so forth. They need help putting words to what they’re experiencing, and that help comes from someone listening.
I had the chance to engage a class in good conversation this morning. I’ve heard quite a few of my students (and many others) outside of class calling each other “gay” or “fag” along with a slew of other terms. This has been an issue in every school I’ve taught. It was when I was in school and quite possibly will continue to be until people stop to talk about it. The discussion got to go beyond “don’t say that” and turned into a discussion lead mostly by the students about homophobia and the cultural acceptability of people who identify as gay in their community. I’ve always been impressed by students’ willingness to engage in these conversations an voice their opinions. Furthermore, their ability to examine themselves honestly during these discussions in amazing. I find myself drawn in and pensive during these, as they always move me into self-examination. The conversation continued into matters of race and class when a student expressed a desire to be white. A few students got mildly hostile at first, but when prompted to listen to her understood better what she meant . We discussed the importance of finding peace with who you are regardless of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation.
This discussion will be ongoing, and many things weren’t remedied, but we entered into the dialogue. We walked away from the discussion today a with a little more self-awareness and a better understanding of each other. I relish these moments as a teacher as the most important part of the job.