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Is It Still Mis-Education in Black Face? A Resounding Yes!

As the dawn of a new year and decade is on the horizon, I am so fortunate for the months of reflection and the meaningful catharsis that this blog has been in my life. Even during tumultuous periods of my life, when writing and maintaining this blog has felt like a selfish indulgence unwanted by my attention, rather than an outlet to share my heartfelt truths – I have always found affirmation in the thought that despite the noise of life and all of the many obligations involved in honoring God, family, work and community – I have done my level best in continuing to speaking truth to power re: my lifelong passion to dismantle the mis-education of Black students, wherever it exists and by any means necessary; and to consciously Educate to Liberate as a matter of urgency.

In this vein, I pen what will undoubtedly stand as a novel contribution to my always ready critique of white supremacy (and its willing co-conspirators), in the promulgation of institutionalized oppression in the hallowed halls of education. Rather, I am motivated to address head-on, during my annual observation of Kwanzaa and embrace of Nia (purpose) no less, the prominence of internalized oppression and Black self loathing in countless educators who are equally complicit, if not even more culpable, for their pivotal role in the mis-education of marginalized people and in particular their own Black students/children and young adults who comprise the next generation. But sadly, because it is not an enigma and does indeed exist as an embarrassing testament to all things unholy and vile within our condemnable system of education oppression . . . This post is dedicated to all the knee bending, head scratching, foot shuffling, self hating, racist apologists and feet don’t fail me now negropean or mentally enslaved brothers and sisters, who willfully propagate mis-education in Blackface.

In exposing the self righteous yet self hating bards of powerful position and lowly stature of mis-educating Black teachers, I don’t have to look too far back into my own personal history to lift up an egregious case study. This fact, in and of itself, speaks volumes of the prevalence of “hurt people, hurting people” and of the danger of Black teachers willing to use their proximity to Blackness and access to positions of power to dish out harm, in large doses, to countless classrooms comprised of malleable Black genius minds. In any case, about 5 years ago my daughter was enrolled in a popular, high performing magnet high school which requires all academically advanced students to be tested to obtain enrollment and to maintain above a ‘B’ average to retain one’s seat. The particular institution in question, Cass Technical High School is especially near and dear to my own heart, as it is my own beloved alma mater and until my family relocated to the East Coast during my teens, was the site of so many meaningful coming-of-age lessons. In fact, full disclosure, it was because of my own testimony of experience that I made little secret of my own personal preference when Jendayi had her choice of several accelerated local high schools when we relocated back from Brooklyn, NY to Detroit at the culmination of her middle school years.

Because of her history of academic high performance and love of school in general, it was no surprise (and in fact expected), that she would soon be enrolled in Baccalaureate or AP (advanced placement) courses in one, or more, of her core subject areas. Well, there was an instant love affair of mutual respect and high academic expectations cultivated in her language arts course, which assigned a seemingly limitless roster of required reading. But enrollment in her AP math course proved to be less rigorous. In fact, the course syllabus was rarely adhered to and the effeminate, Black male teacher reportedly spent the bulk of class time on his own cell phone while the gifted students were rather mindlessly engaged in silent, independent work. Having just moved from NYC and after being immersed in vibrant, rigorous Common Core aligned classrooms where teaching was reflective of active modeling, purposeful mini lessons and students had multiple opportunities to engage in practice, discussion and evaluative feedback – Mr. H’s classroom felt like a foreign prison staffed with an animated warden who picked favorites and used instructional time to fulfill his own whimsical behavior quirks. Needless to say, my daughter’s math performance and grades soon plummeted and this only exacerbated a hostile class climate-because this teacher regularly picked on/teased the students who appeared not to fully understand the lessons (on their own with virtually NO direct instruction), whilst openly favoring those who could boast of a natural math genius.

My daughter’s struggle to master the AP math course objectives and assignments was the least of her worries however, because this self loathing, mis-education wielding Black man had lasting damages to one’s self esteem and cultural pride in store. Adding insult to injury to the already dreadful classroom environment: peppered with Mr. H’s flagrant cell phone use, his significant praise for the (primarily) Black male students who “got the gist of the lesson” with zero effort on his part and with the frequent, inappropriate commentary he would make on the high school students’ fashion choices – somehow, someway the situation only worsened thus prompting my immediate intervention and that of an entire team of school administrators. Namely, as the teacher sought to personalize his class experiences, he asked students to participate in wearing throwback clothing on an upcoming day of the week to show their school spirit. Then, this cultural and gender challenged fool of a teacher commenced to arming himself with self hatred and publicly berating my daughter about her choice of attire on the day in question.

Ultimately, this power wielding, dangerous teacher ridiculed Jendayi in front of all of her peers for wearing African garb to school on the ‘throwback gear’ day in question. He laughed uncontrollably at one sight of her colorful dashiki and asked whether she had mistaken the throwback day as Halloween. Never mind that this is the same school where she proudly maintained a 3.75-4.0 for all four years and graduated in the top 5% of her class. When Mr. H clowned her for wearing an African inspired dashiki on a day when many of her peers chose to adorn 80s inspired baggy clothing instead, he single handedly opened the door wide open for cultural ignorance, high school bullying and ridicule and for self doubt and potential shame from a young girl who had grown up in a household, where she had been specifically taught to know and love herself (and to be proud and knowledgeable of her history). Needless to say – this was/is an unforgivable offense. Of course when my entire family arrived to the school, unannounced and threatening legal recourse while demanding his resignation and/or formal reprimand-he promptly apologized and was even ultimately defended by school administration who acknowledged that though his comment had been in poor taste we must insist that this married man of teenage daughters of his own (relevance? Tuh..) was a tenured, valued member of staff and that we should merely excuse his minor error in judgment.

Needless to say, the formal complaint was escalated beyond the school level to include personnel documentation at the district level. But alas, the damage was still done. My 15 year old daughter? Was in tears and inconsolable (as well as essentially untrusting of academic professionals from that point forward). Her 16 year old peers (my daughter was always a year younger than her classmates because of an early elementary double promotion), reacted with laughter and nervous, unspoken consensus that yes, cultural garb of any kind and the audacity of knowledge of self and pride in the same was worthy of general scorn and disrespect. No wonder an entire generation now sees fit to misuse cultural terminology like Hotep, a common Pan-African greeting meaning peace and regarded as a sign of respect to legendary genius God Imhotep, and the word has assumed a wholly negative connotation on all social media platforms and wherever it is used in modern context. The title is now almost universally regarded as a derogatory euphemism for being pro-Black. I guess this means it’s fair to say that one of the by products of Black teachers enthusiastically propagating mis-education in Blackface, is that self hatred is the norm and expected ideal for those under the age of 35. Sigh… So now that such palpable forms of internalized oppression have taken up residence in our cultural AAVE lexicon – it would appear that the die has been cast; the damage to our collective psyche-done and the conclusion re: mis-education-universal.

No matter the source, form or fashion . . . education as a tool of oppression leaves irreversible damage upon the Black, Indigenous and all other marginalized students it regularly impacts. Sadly, no demographic is unscathed from the effects of institutionalized oppression and as such, we are all equally obliged to engage in the conscious act of liberation. As for my daughter and her status you might ask? She is entering the final semester of her undergraduate tenure, soon to emerge as a well adjusted, spiritually and socially conscious environmental activist committed to engage in her life’s passion of averting the climate crisis and ensuring clean water sustainability for the people who are most at risk of oppression. She was irrecoverably shaped by overwhelmingly positive and a notable, few negative educational experiences as the one just described. Our family jokingly concluded that she would soon either be an attorney (as is her aunt, Godmother and several mentors; or a change maker, in her desired field of choice). Based upon her life trajectory, it would seem we weren’t too far from the mark. As for the inept teacher referenced in this blog post? Last I checked, and trust me I’m keeping tabs, he is undoubtedly still employed at the same exemplary institution, armed with the same soul crushing power in an AP Geometry or Calculus course filled to the brim with eager, idealistic and brilliant minds within his treacherous grasp. Trust me, the literal thought of this moves me from the stark emotions of profound sadness to violent aggression and neither outcome has dissipated with time. This only means that our Educate to Liberate efforts are all the more urgent in 2020 and beyond. Asé ✊🏿

#ArrivedInFullGarbLikeMeetMeOutside #ClownStillWorksAtTheSchool #EducateToLiberateIdeologyMakesAllTheDifference

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Leveraging Teachable Moments

My daughter teases me for being so impassioned about life experiences, current events, and especially about injustice far and wide. I am the literal Queen of taking advantage of life’s teachable moments. I wear this honor proudly, because I realize that the penchant for turning any situation into an opportunity to engage critical thinking, debate or inform a logical opinion is what makes me such a natural born teacher. In my opinion, a teacher can teach about any subject, in any place and at anytime. So when I launch into an impromptu lecture on self-love and African history or the importance of a healthy knowledge of self, whenever someone around me questions my heritage because of my Pan-African name – Jendayi just laughs, shakes her head and typically walks away because she’s heard it all before and would rather skip the repeat lesson (lol). For the record, this example is not just blog content, but this actually happened a few weeks ago when I met someone in Chicago and the young woman inquired why I had an African name since I was apparently, from Detroit and not the continent . . . Baby! Let me tell you, I launched full throttle into a lesson to rival any history course on Africa as the birthplace of all humanity. I was admittedly in my element as a teacher and as for the young woman? Well, she was the recipient (albeit unwillingly), of an unscripted mini lesson on that day.

Likewise, we should all leverage relevant current events as viable opportunities to engage teachable moments. As a pertinent example, I am perfectly capable and willing to employ the rigorous literacy shifts of complexity, grounded/objective evidence and building knowledge through context rich nonfiction by exploring daily news events, as they happen in real time, with unsuspecting “students” of life. So as to avoid the mindless folly of watching television or obsessing about the stresses of daily life – I am apt to turning the overwhelmingly negative occurrences of daily life in America into teachable moments. Educators should ideally welcome an opportunity to cover the basics of Trump’s looming impeachment as a lesson in integrity and to explore timely themes of anti-corruption in government. Another option is to encourage our families, friends and social media contacts to process, respond to and grieve the tragic school shooting in Santa Clarita from the often disregarded perspective of those most acutely affected by this harsh, but all too common reality: teachers and students. And for the sports buffs in our midst, why not motivate a social justice inspired discussion of Kaepernick’s potential return to the NFL by asking them to consider combing the persuasive evidence that his widely touted workout opportunity is curiously subject to an entirely different set of rules – thus rendering it suspect. Lastly, though this lesson is admittedly out of my reach as an old-school Hip-Hop head who has little respect for the music and trash-adjacent artists of today, one could scarcely argue how motivated our children or other young people in our lives might be to do more than mourn the temporary loss of a young man who has fallen prey to the penal system, but rather to gather evidence as a means to compare and contrast Kodak Black’s recent arrest and sentencing (who even is this young man? And wth are his songs?), to that of equally irresponsible yet white, privileged entertainers who are similarly guilty of doing “Stupid things since they were 15” to quote the judge in Black’s case. Certainly, a critical analysis approach to daily news has universal benefits in rendering us all more discerning and research oriented as opposed to accepting stories at face value. Ultimately, each aforementioned topic frames a unique opportunity to leverage a teachable moment and to potentially explore relevant, cross-curricular themes of civics, school safety, human rights and the currency of white privilege v. the presumption of Black guilt in the criminal justice system. Just some thoughts to consider.

In many ways as educators, it is our natural inclination to “school people” or to model the depths of critical thought and expression to the less inspired, mere mortals around us – so we should regularly and in my humble opinion, must increasingly make our indelible marks upon ensuring a better world for ALL, by leveraging our skills as educators in embracing the teachable moments in life. One of the ways we shine our innate light in our profession is to spark the longing to know more and to motivate discussion, deep thought and a quest for knowledge on a wide range of subjects and concepts. Of course, there might be some who say, perhaps rightfully, “Hey I don’t get paid to enlighten people 24-7 so why should I educate for free?” And certainly we have a right to unplug, take a day off or just veg at as the spirit moves. However, let’s not forget the wisdom in the scholarly quote of our revered elder and honored ancestor, Dr. John Henrik Clarke who profoundly stated: “I only debate my equals. All others, I teach.” #MicDrop. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly and as in all things in life, I choose my battles wisely and opt to drop knowledge in arenas where I know my gift will be appreciated and valued. Let’s consider for a moment that fine tuning our craft on our own unsuspecting family members, friends and strangers/acquaintances, is a benefit to us as well. Who can argue with the notion that in this age where ignorance is regarded as a virtue and knowledge sharing is officially a 21st Century relic. So, since people are far too dependent on technology, preoccupied with pedestrian presidential musings via Twitter and reliant upon others to do their thinking for them as they monotonously advance through the cycle of life – I say we have a moral obligation to raise our collective level of consciousness.

Here’s a thought: What if the dearth of the universal value of teaching as a career choice and our disrespectful pay overall is as easily attributed to our own unwillingness to perpetually shine our lights upon the world as a manifestation of our deepest fear as it is the fault of society’s inequity? I submit, later for playing down our pivotal role in propagating intelligence as a universal theme and it is high time for us to cash in on our relative goldmine as a value-added resource to all of humanity. Forget all the second job hustles we are forced to engage in as a means to make ends meet, and let’s agree to retire exploitative, pennies on the dollar profits from entities like teachers pay teachers, as beneath our pay grade. Let us embrace the teachable moments of life both for our own enjoyment and for the tangible benefits derived from our growth mindsets expanding the public’s regard for our incalculable worth. By virtue of our own self-fulfilling prophecy of our worth and esteem, let us admonish others that we are more valuable than pro athletes, entertainers, and Fortune 500 executives combined – and remind them that they (like each of the aforementioned stakeholders), would truly have nothing, if it were not for dynamic teachers like us, who give so unselfishly of ourselves in this noble profession. Each of us has the creative and divine power to dispel the universal notion that teaching is an unwanted, dreaded or dishonorable profession by honoring ourselves and using our skill set and powers to change the minds of the world. Many of you, like me, were born to teach. We have a literal, non-transferable gift and for those who have tried this profession and failed, they learned the hard way that pimping ain’t easy . . . but somebody’s got to do it. Indeed, the satisfaction and rewards associated with being an educator will only begin to outweigh the liabilities to the extent that we share willingly of our gifts, while at the same time compel others to sustain the future of our fine profession by rewarding us, accordingly.

Leveraging the teachable moment offers two-fold benefits: the first part is akin to ego tripping and taking stock of our own gifts, because truly ain’t nobody bad like teachers baby. The other part is to inform the wealth of documented evidence that as others have their own level of consciousness raised and begin to consider the sum value of our ability to teach spontaneously on a wide variety of topics, they will be more readily inclined to both recognize and honor the marketability of our unique set of skills. As a collective bonus, the more educators increasingly embrace the virtues of #anti-racism, #equity and #inclusion and their pivotal role in developing the intellect, at all levels – others around us will increasingly realize that though we are admittedly knowledgeable, capable and wise, there is truly so much more for us to learn. I have faith that as educators seize the opportunity to relieve others of their ignorance, racism and apathy; we accept our anointment as those uniquely gifted to be a part of the solution, as opposed to the problem. In many instances, if people knew better . . . they would do better. So, teachable moments are not merely reserved for those ideal occasions in our own classrooms where poignant lessons can hit home, but should be our literal calling cards as educators, social activists and change makers throughout the diaspora. Granted, perhaps this suggestion is not for everyone. Undoubtedly, this message will resonate most with those who regard this profession as a calling rather than a career and for those like me, who have such a passion for the continuous cycle of teaching, learning and repeating – that we do it all day anyway. On a personal note, early on in my teaching career, when I would get home, seemingly ready to decompress and engage in my beloved evening rituals of cooking, listening to music and cleaning or spending time with family; during conversations about any given topic, my husband would sometimes feel the urge to remind me “Girl, I ain’t one of your students.” Instinctively, I would become conscious of my use of some innate educator behavior (I would have otherwise been blind to because its truly second nature) and I would always lovingly, verbally affirm “I know hun. I guess old habits die hard.” Secretly, deep down inside I am almost certain that I would really be smiling and thinking: “But in a way, you are my student dear husband . . . don’t fight it (smile), just learn”.

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Living and Learning While Black, Without Armor

One could scarcely imagine the Black Panther, whether it be King T’Chaka, T’Challa or even the brief reign of Erik Killmonger without the obligatory accompaniment of the indestructible Vibranium suit of armor. Needless to say, without donning the bulletproof, deftly Shuri enhanced, nanotechnology infused and upgraded Black Panther habit, or protective suit of armor, the proud tradition of being the warrior protector of Wakanda would have been virtually inconceivable. Mere Hollywood fantasy you may argue? Perhaps. But there’s still so much which powerfully resonates and is historically correct in the relevant concepts of African royalty; a Rites of Passage inspired tradition of passing the honored elder leadership mantle from one generation to the next; and of wisely, preemptively adorning oneself in armor as an essential and salient means of self preservation when at war. Perhaps Black people heavily identified and invested in the Black Panther film’s success not only because of the visceral pride we felt in the all Black director, cast and design team but because it overwhelmingly stoked our preoccupation with realizing a revolutionary reality. We can relate on a deeply spiritual level to an affirming narrative of our own shining, revolutionary representation. We nod in agreement at the delicate, unstable, complicated and warring juxtaposition of our African and American identities and relish in a depiction of a thriving Black on Black future unfettered by white supremacist oppression. The film is like our own personal imagination and was glowingly emblematic of how regal, genius, beautiful and incorruptible we see ourselves as distinct from the white gaze of who we are. We will always and forever stan the multifaceted beauty of our Blackness and have rousing appreciation for any /all art showcasing the unmitigated Black excellence of our narrative from our own unique point of view.

Black Panther the Marvel character, long believed to have been inspired by white creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in order to capitalize upon the Black imagination and conjure a fantasy version of the Black Power unapologetically coined in Kwame Toure’s uncompromising demand for Black freedom in the late 60s; was very much like The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the seminal grassroots movement, in that it normalized the concept of Black people being sufficiently armed for warfare. Ultimately there’s a salient argument for the fact that, in every meaningful iteration of authentic Black Power – both imaginary and true to life soldiers must be fully armed as a prerequisite to knowingly entering into battle or warfare. Given the general assumption that as a Black people, we collectively place supreme value on education and maintain that our genius intellect is our most viable weapon and significant attribute in our suits of armor in fighting against our own oppression; then too, our education must be a refreshing, liberation fueled and all-inclusive immersive experience, designed to wholly prepare us for a glorious future in which Black royalty, wealth, technological advancements and our intellectual prowess are nurtured and flourish without limits.

In the same way that a skilled warrior would essentially embark upon a suicide mission to even remotely consider engaging in battle while unarmed . . . So it is incumbent upon each of us to consider the ultimate sacrifice we instinctively bear by living in a contentious society, in which we are duly unarmed. Since we are neither sufficiently armed nor equally yoked with the oppressive forces against us – as a result, we continue to perish at alarming rates, not just for being physically subdued and slaughtered, but rather we perish because of a profound lack of knowledge. There’s little disagreement about the fact that it is the unique calling of Blacks in America to be the universal casualties of the literal war against us, that sadly many of us scarcely even acknowledge that we are fighting. As a Black people we must of necessity, navigate a grenade strewn terrain of living in an American society hellbent on our annihilation, via a white supremacist waged genocide. Certainly, our people the world over understand the unwritten, and all too palpable rules of engagement in a society, which still benefits from our forced labor, intellectual property, material wealth and creative contributions; but which incredulously harbors a neurotic “Fear of a Black Planet” and demands universal compliance to white male, female privilege in every conceivable form. We are therefore resigned to acknowledging that our very existence, in our own bodies/spaces/homes, are everyday subject to being unlawfully permeated by the murderous intrusion of white, unlawful enforcement officers and begrudgingly accept that we WILL unequivocally lose our lives for merely BEING Black in America. As a means of normalizing our oppressive existence, we methodically tiptoe on eggshells when navigating the mundane tasks in our everyday lives. And we attempt to unsuccessfully mask the most prevalent by product of our systemic oppression: internalized self-hatred. “We wear the mask” as poet Paul Laurence Dunbar brilliantly described, all while politically correctly diluting the harmful impact of systemic oppression’s unwanted gift, by casually referencing the symptoms of our inevitable self loathing as the “pop culture approved” phenomena of having imposter syndrome. Yeah right! Try PTSD for being the zombie like survivors of a 400-years long war, without the benefits of Reparations. Meanwhile, we walk around aimlessly and unarmed as the soon to be martyred casualties of an all-out warfare being waged against us. And even as we are subject to the barrage of the enemy’s unrelenting attacks, we somehow turn our disgust and rage inwardly towards one another and routinely send our most beloved and revered treasures and resources: our children, to oppressive schools which we naively regard as “safe zones”. Tuh! For a proper contextual framework we should consider that: Black students come to schools innocently armed with hopeful optimism and school supplies; Meanwhile teachers, administrators, staff, and policy makers equip schools to be armed to the teeth and dangerous. Educators and lawmakers are flush with degrees, certifications, racism, bias, prejudices, personal/political agendas and rampant white privilege or Black self hatred (or a unique combination of each of these potent power dynamics). Left untouched, an inescapable inheritance of these weapons of mass destruction, all but guarantees that mis-education is the universal inheritance and sole deliverable of the K-16 trajectory.

News flash American public: Black students are collectively unarmed! Indigenous students and other students of color are disproportionately unarmed! Black, Indigenous students of color are victimized first by systemic oppression within the culture at large and then acutely so in your failing, underfunded and total misfit factory producing school institutions. How else could this country have produced a Donald Trump, or assault weapon armed white males who commit mass murders in schools, churches, mosques and synagogues as if for recreation?! Marginalized students and their families are admittedly at fault for still, overwhelmingly regarding schools as a welcome refuge from the inescapable oppressive realities we face everyday by just living, breathing existing in the same space as those otherwise privileged with power. So in schools across the country, our children and the stewards of our collective future are being forced to defend themselves against enemies as formidable as Ulysses Klaue, Black Panther’s evil and bigoted arch nemesis, without so much as a ceremonial necklace, assegai or shield to be used as an ingenious tool to defend themselves or to effortlessly activate their suits of armor when they find themselves in danger. Our students are admittedly at war and instead of being armed with knowledge of self, or critical thinking abilities or technological survival tactics and solutions to the world’s problems – they are outfitted with an outdated and inherently racist reading canon and nightly reading logs, a meaningless collection of high stakes test prep notes and wooden pencils (and let’s be honest, it’s October and by this time of year many of them don’t even have a pencil). I promise you that their insufficient weapons are no match for the intimidating, Vibranium laced armored suits seemingly worn by those accountable for their academic success.

Mis-education is not rocket science. And though it certainly serves as an imagery rich, useful analogy in this frustratingly real asf blog post – mis-education is admittedly no #WakandaForever style fantasy with even the slightest prediction of a happy ending. On the contrary, the powerlessness that Black students and other marginalized students wield is 100% Factssss and all too painfully real in an educational system ill-prepared to duly arm them for the actual battles they face. Though Black, Indigenous students of color are clearly unarmed, they are behind enemy lines and suffer from an educational system designed to bolster white supremacy and keep them in chains. Far too many of the power brokers determining their academic and social realities are resigned to categorizing them as low-performing, irreparably damaged goods who are ultimately expendable in the collective vision of a New World Order. Black students are defenseless while their teachers are akin to the rest of the world, armed and dangerous. This works as a perfect complement to systemic oppression which prescribes a nonexistent future, in which the universal low expectation of Black students, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. This is a vicious cycle to be sure – but one which must be valiantly thwarted by an Educate to Liberate ideology . Thankfully, our innocent, unarmed students are not alone. As divine providence would have it (and has always dictated), each generation is uniquely gifted with a small number but a nonetheless impressive cadre of warriors. I am one and have actualized my unique purpose since my teaching career began in 1994.

We are the parents, educators and even decision making legislative and executive bodies who battle alongside our innocently, unarmed students. We are wholly well intentioned, thoroughly burnt out, admittedly cash strapped and materially tapped out and yet, we manage to fiercely and courageously infuse passion, equity, anti-racism, diversity, inclusion and social justice into our professional repertoire as we live and breathe. We labor to ensure a tangible means to actively counteract the collective mis-education of Black students. We recognize that the education system is merely a microcosm of society and we know that to merely call the world dysfunctional is, well, an understatement. We accept the reality that we are at war, and we take our dues-paying earned positions on the front lines. We are in the system, but not of the system and as for me? I’m fully strapped, locked and loaded as I eschew cushy six figure salaries in highly perched positions in which my impact is if no consequence. Those who fight on behalf of our people acknowledge that the very same white supremacist ideology which wholeheartedly infects the rest of society has an indelible imprint upon the educational system. So we work tirelessly to overtly dismantle systemic oppression wherever it manifests from within the dysfunctional fabric of the pedagogical community and on many fronts, we win. For lack of a better term and as a final, albeit prophetic Black Panther reference: we are acutely conscious of the self-destructive armor we instinctively wield and so we are mindful and ever vigilant to engage in the necessary study and reflective practice which empowers us to disarm our weapons of mass destruction from behind enemy lines. We endeavor to be like the Dora Milaje in that we are the indestructible, first line of defense willing to be fired upon knowing that our own Vibranium infused assegai’s and shields can withstand the onslaught of oppression’s blows.

It is not fiction that Africa is the cradle of civilization. There is scientific evidence and widespread consensus that the Black Woman is the progenitor of the earth and irrefutably the continent of Africa is the most mineral rich land in the universe. So an afro-futuristic, African Diaspora reality with technological advancements throughout and warrior women no longer shackled by Korean, or Malaysian weaves but embracing our natural, beautiful Black selves is warmly welcomed. For me: a Black woman, mother, sister, educator, scholar, warrior and Queen innately imbued with magic and fashioned in the image of God, it is not inconceivable that I could accompany my other sister and brother warriors as the highest ranking force in the military. Without exception, it is the obligation of every Black man, woman and child to assume the protective armor of rigorously engaging our innate, African genius as a means to be free from oppression. As a closing note, in a comprehensive review of the long awaited Marvel film, prior to its release, Time Magazine had this to say of the applicability of art imitating life “The revolutionary thing about Black Panther is that it envisions a world not devoid of racism but one in which black people have the wealth, technology and military might to level the playing field—a scenario applicable not only to the predominantly white landscape of Hollywood but, more important, to the world at large.”

We couldn’t agree more. Asé.

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Black Students And The Myth of School Choice

The current model of school choice is fashioned upon an assumption that Black students and other marginalized students of color have an unlimited range of exemplary choices to have their academic needs uniquely met in privately operated, for profit school institutions, when it is glaringly apparent that these students are not being equitably served in the traditional public school system. The problem with this general assumption is that there are actually a scant few options of excellence in accessible schools of choice nationwide and there is no existing, widespread precedent within which Black students are universally afforded a liberation infused, anti-racist, inclusive, minimally invasive, free and appropriate educational ideal in any significant educational model that is replicated on large scale. This means that in spite of our best efforts and for all the technological advances of the 21st Century; the reality is that for Black students, (those who most acutely suffer the deleterious effects of mis-education in a combined K-12 and post-graduate educational system which mimics the same exclusionary and oppressive power dynamics of larger society); we are simply not represented in the few, innovative schools touting (and more importantly), implementing nontraditional best practices by offering authentic student choice, rigor or those sharing alternative, counter normative instructional methods which are universally culturally responsive. It bears repeating the common mantra that indeed #RepresentationMatters.

In America’s pervasive system of white supremacy and institutionalized oppression, exceptional school performance is an anomaly and appears inextricably linked to racial and class divisions. Those residing in affluent residential areas have both the privilege and financial means to guarantee the quality of every, fully resourced public school in their area and still have the privilege to exercise school choice in that they have purchased homes in communities where high performing schools (public and private) abound. Supposedly, school choice programs are designed to break the link between housing and access to a quality education with the goal of expanding educational opportunity to all children, especially the most disadvantaged. Except that this is not exactly the reality for the vast majority of marginalized groups. Far too often, our “choices” reflect the same degree of ineptitude and poor track record as do the most unfit public schools and given the sporadic data and lack of evidence to prove otherwise, many charter schools fare much worse as their public school counterparts. The highest performing charter schools I have ever encountered working exclusively in large, Black and Brown communities were both founded, funded and wholly encompassed the admirable vision and clear priorities of the veteran educator and deeply invested leadership which reflected the majority Black student of color population. These schools are far preferable and always seemed to effortlessly provide a more wholistic and rigorous academic program than do their conservative, Christian or Fortune 500 business model charter schools counterparts. On the contrary, I have also witnessed first hand the stark contradictions or what Kozol refers to as the Savage Inequalities of Charter schools, which grossly mis-educate through a combination of outsourced mis-management, underpaid and poorly resourced staff/schools and which overtly value profits over academics or student productivity. You hate to see it, but the struggle is real and many of those students would be infinitely better served in their local public schools.

Even as we consider the dangers of the underrepresentation of marginalized students in accessible, high performing “schools of choice” paradigms, there’s a tendency to blame the victims of mis-education or to advance the notion that we, Black people, are not duly taking advantage of all of the school choice environments which might more readily and completely meet our academic and social needs. Except that when many of us do test the odds of exploring local charter school option (and the options are seemingly endless), it’s often a roll of the dice as to whether the school of choice will even be a neat fit for our children. On the other hand because of the aforementioned expansive tax base, affluent Whites don’t even need to exercise school choice, but can simply attend their local public-private schools and benefit from the elite academic foundation which otherwise affords them to a lifetime of privilege. We simply can’t ignore the potential double standards inherent in the overrepresentation of the white, privileged demographic (who overwhelmingly comprise the persons already in power) in the most affluent, high performing, public, charter and private schools across the globe.

In the current era of Trump and DeVos policies in favor of the carte blanche expansion of school choice options, The Washington Post reports that their priority “ is ultimately aimed at privatizing the most important civic institution in the country.” Despite the fact that, “More than 80 percent of U.S. schoolchildren attend traditional public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, which uses the latest data available, (and) about 10 percent of schoolchildren in the United States go to private schools, about 5 to 6 percent attend charter schools, according to 2013-14 data, and a little more than 3 percent are home-schooled, according to 2012 data.” The school choice movement is on the rise, with no end in sight. Whole communities like that in New Orleans, have no public school alternatives whatsoever, and the degree of mis-education in their unimpressive roster of charter schools creates a monopoly which leaves much to be desired. The school choice movement is not monolithic however, and the wide array of choice options include: charter schools, vouchers, tax-credit programs, education scholarship accounts, home schooling and online schools. It is noteworthy that in a 2017 analysis, data journalists at The Associated Press found that charter schools were significantly overrepresented among the country’s most racially isolated schools. In other words, Black and Brown students have become the object of the re-segregation of schools from within charter schools, the very institutions that promised to “equalize” education. Because of the resegregation, under-resourced and underfunding injustices of charter schools (not to mention the sporadic, not necessarily improved academic performance of the so-called schools of choice), are now only overtly championed by wealthy, conservative and racist Republicans like Trump and DeVos. While public outcry increased from the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter movement which simultaneously called for a moratorium on all new separate and unequal schools of choice since 2017. Recent reports from Howard County, MD has White parents fighting against legislation aimed at desegregating the schools alongside written testimony that “We don’t want urbanized Blacks”. Wtf does that even mean? Is there an assimilated version available upon request?!

Among the small contingency of marginalized student “tokens”, able to access the heavily resourced educational opportunities of suburban or private schools as afforded by their own parents’ wealth and/or proximity to whiteness; there are egregious crimes committed under the guise of child’s play. For example, just this week at Immanuel Christian School in VA. an entire gang of racist, White boys pinned down a Black female student and forcibly cut her locs, while taunting her with names like “nappy” & “ugly.” Fairfax County Police are said to be investigating, yet who’s to account for the permanent damage to the psyche of the impressionable victim? As a pertinent point of reference, VP Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, teaches at this private, Christian school part time – so one would assume an exclusive school attracting such affluence would be somehow insulated from such an abject level of exposure to school choice failure. But such an assumption would be a grave mistake. Even in cases where the “token” students are not subjected to overt physical violence, the few Black students in these elite schools become exceptions to the average Black student norm and are celebrated for their “unique” cultural, academic or athletic prowess, rather than viewed in the context of their individual worth and genius as a representation of the whole. As such, in the same way that Malcolm X referenced his own degree of mis-education in his autobiography, as a “mascot” of sorts, rather than a valued partner/learner/contributor . . . So are Black students oftentimes symbolic of the abject tokenism which can only be understood as white people’s fascination and pre-occupation with all things Black from afar. In the tokenized mascot role, Blacks are valued solely for the expressed benefit of appropriation or for one’s attempts at feigning diversity and not at all for an abdication of generational White privilege. Not only are Blacks and marginalized people discriminated against or fetishized when we are either excluded or tokenized in majority white and affluent school settings, but the very power structure and design of these institutions ensure the perpetuation of the status quo. White students who are almost entirely educated in segregated groups, assume a centering power status in which their voices are always and overwhelmingly amplified. Whereas the powerful narrative of Blackness, Indigenous and other people of color are always, routinely ignored. This only exacerbates the oppressive paradigm played out in society.

As earlier referenced, in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, when he was (somewhat predictably), sent to reform school for being Black, the smartest in his class but otherwise irreverent for simply having worn a hat in the classroom; he wisely deduced his role as merely a tokenized mascot in the presence of white people. Of this demeaning experience he recalled: “They all liked my attitude, and it was out of their liking for me that I soon became accepted by them — as a mascot, I know now. . . They would even talk about me, or about “niggers,” as though I wasn’t there, as if I wouldn’t understand what the word meant. A hundred times a day, they used the word “nigger.” I suppose that in their own minds, they meant no harm; in fact they probably meant well.” Malcolm understandably bristled at the dehumanization of being forced to unsuccessfully navigate academic and domestic white spaces in recalling: “It was the same with the other white people, most of the local politicians, when they would come visiting the Swerlins. One of their favorite parlor topics was “niggers.” One of them was the judge who was in charge of me in Lansing. He was a close friend of the Swerlins. He would ask about me when he came, and they would call me in, and he would look me up and down, his expression approving, like he was examining a fine colt, or a pedigreed pup. I knew they must have told him how I acted and how I worked. What I am trying to say is that it just never dawned upon them that I could understand, that I wasn’t a pet, but a human being. They didn’t give me credit for having the same sensitivity, intellect, and understanding that they would have been ready and willing to recognize in a white boy in my position. But it has historically been the case with white people, in their regard for black people, that even though we might be with them, we weren’t considered of them. Even though they appeared to have opened the door, it was still closed. Thus they never did really see me. This is the sort of kindly condescension which I try to clarify today, to these integration-hungry Negroes, about their “liberal” white friends, these so-called “good white people” — most of them anyway. I don’t care how nice one is to you; the thing you must always remember is that almost never does he really see you as he sees himself, as he sees his own kind.” So there’s that. And arguably, not much has changed.

With charter schools leading the schools of choice movement and allowing for a vast selection of publicly funded schools-as-businesses models to reap private profits and provide virtually zero accountability for students’ performance; a palpable recipe for the mis-education of Black students flourishes. Personally, having worked for 14 years in traditional public school districts (in Detroit and New York) and for 8 years in both extremely high performing and persistently low performing charter schools (prior to my current pursuits in entrepreneurship and higher education); I have witnessed first hand what works and what constitutes an abysmal failure for Black students in both public and so-called schools of choice. Please refer at will, to the cited Washington Post article for a comprehensive overview of the bevy of school choice options but recognize that there is no panacea for Black students wishing to escape the degradation of mis-education via traditional or nontraditional school choices. Regardless to supposed benefits, it’s better to resign ourselves to the knowledge that our collective obligation is to ensure the implementation of an authentic, liberation based pedagogical model in all schools where our presence is predominant.

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Trauma Informed: How Performative Pedagogy Informs 21st Century Mis-education

A popular presence of trauma informed educational movements tout themselves as the literal gold standard of school reform. Many are led by “pedagogical gurus”, who claim to be capable of healing what ails America’s overwhelmingly traumatized students. Never mind that these modern movements deceptively compartmentalize their professional development offerings or product lines at cost. Oh yes and the gurus? Well, they are primarily non-educators who seek to capitalize off the most recent #schoolshooting or cash in on the latest ‘EduPimpology’ trend. The similar thread tying all such movements together is the incredulous claim that their innovation is capable of addressing the growing divide between Blacks (and other students of color), whose academic and social needs are not being met through traditional means. Really? Where’s the wealth of qualitative research and scientific, statistical evidence to support the veracity of the claim that students’ traumatic life experiences can be effectively diagnosed and treated in the classroom? Please insert the chorus of cricket sounds here . . . Because of course, no such tangible evidence exists. There does exist a body of emerging research over the past decade, on the inextricable impact of trauma on students, thus popularizing trauma informed classrooms as education’s next best thing. However, based upon its disproportionate implementation in schools’ who adopt a one-and-done PD model (sigh) or those who serve majority Black populations, the trauma based pedagogical reform model largely inculcates a “we” v. “them” mentality, oppressively framing impoverished Black students as victims; and clueless, White teachers as saviors. In fact, one need only read the first paragraph of a recent NEA article quoted here, to attest to the harmful deficit mindset of educators who believe “What does normal mean? What we consider normal [may not be] normal for them. How many of our students sleep in a bed?” Really?! Please insert the eye-rolling GIF here.

Despite the absence of sound, intergenerational and cross-cultural scholarship and data to support the widespread implementation of #TraumaInformedPractices, this movement has taken hold of school districts and classrooms across the country, and in some cases with disastrous implications for Black students. According to a recent Education Week article “Federal laws on special education and poverty now encourage schools to use trauma-informed practices, and more than a dozen states have passed laws or created grants designed to encourage schools to explore the approach” (Sparks, 2019). All such reforms, schools of thought and mass movements are easily identifiable under a popular umbrella of catchy names “Trauma Informed Practices” “Social Emotional Learning” or creating “Trauma Sensitive Schools”. However, for all conscientious teachers committed to infusing anti-racism, social justice and culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy (#AntiRacism, #SocialJustice, #CRSP) please be duly warned to exercise with extreme caution in embracing any/all ideologies which potentially exacerbate harm, especially for marginalized students, by reinforcing a #DeficitMindset about a phenomena which is, as yet untested and otherwise unproven to have currency and value to the population most at-risk of #Miseducation. The very existence of life in America for Blacks and other students of color is of itself #TraumaInformed. So overt racism, forms of bias and subtle microaggressions from teachers, masked as trauma informed practices, only serves to compound the systemic oppression of marginalized students.

Please do not misinterpret my suspicion as unfounded or without merit for the mere sake of disagreeing with a popular educational norm. Rather, my argument is not whether trauma actually exists or has a profoundly negative impact upon the Black, Indigenous, Latinx or Asian students upon which the pedagogical movement has been uniquely geared. On the contrary, I concede that traumatic incidents do in fact exist and can even be statistically proven to be intensified in the racially hostile and school-violence ridden era, which we are all forced to endure. My particular critique regarding the prevalence of the trauma movement is that it is experimental. I interrogate the value of any movement which imagines our teachers, easily the most overworked and underpaid of all career professionals, as mental health professionals capable of successfully navigating the myriad of professional obligations related to: teaching, learning, professional development, behavior management, curriculum, assessment and authentic evaluation; with the added responsibility of assuming UNQUALIFIED roles as psychologists equipped to deal w/ #TraumaInformed #SEL trends that effectively arms scores of uninformed, biased or racist teachers to further #miseducate and harm their Black (and other) students of color. Sheesh . . .

In the earlier cited Education Week article, “Howard Adelman, a psychology professor and co-director of the Center for Mental Health in Schools, said he’s skeptical that schools can provide enough training and resources to create effective supports for students with a history of trauma. For example…the journal of School Mental Health concludes that few models of trauma-sensitive schooling have been evaluated rigorously enough to prove they are effective” (Sparks, 2019). As a pertinent case in point, what if a students’ trauma-inducing triggers exist not at home (as commonly believed and reinforced by the deficit mindset), but at school or in society at large only when interacting with people outside their culture who fancy themselves liberal or empathetic, but nevertheless foster savior-complex beliefs and racist, classist, sexist behaviors which only serve to reinforce oppression? Please don’t assume that trauma is universal for all students of color. And even in cases in which trauma is a factor of a student’s prior experience, oft-times that trauma can be expressly linked to the living in America which boasts of a codified system of institutionalized oppression. As such, there is no illusion of trauma training as capable of engendering a “safe learning environment”, especially when schools are notorious for adopting every reform except that which addresses #AntiRacism and bridges the cultural divide existing between teachers and students.

As addressed in a previous blog post, because of the sheer demographics of America’s schools, i.e. the dearth of diversity, inclusion and representation amongst Black and all other teachers of color; reforms dependent upon fueling the savior mentality of White teachers while reinforcing the grave deficits of students of color is Hella problematic. In fact, the power dynamics of White women teachers and Black, Indigenous students of color are so skewed, that the prevalence of White, non-educator led innovations like the trauma informed movement is staggering and offensive, at best. At worst, this movement only serves to exacerbate the harm imposed from poorly run schools, wherein classrooms are individual islands of oppressive zones which otherwise perpetuate White supremacy and systemic oppression in every imaginable form. Implementation of the flawed and admittedly emerging trauma reform movement, does not empower teachers to more readily empathize with or build relationships with their students (as it seeks to do). In fact, once trauma informed practices are centered from the vital perspective of the students’ point of view, rather than that of the teachers’ trying to mitigate increasing behavior problems – one recognizes the potential implications of harm for Black students being asked to “unpack their trauma” at the behest of White teachers who are at the opposite end of the spectrum of oppression by virtue of their inherent White privilege. If continued to be implemented in such an irresponsible and roughshod manner, this movement will only ensure that teachers are even more conditioned to oppress, as they might be more apt to: ascribe special education labels, inform a universal belief in the inherent lack of students’ academic ability and/or inspire them to write off marginalized students altogether (as future criminals, riddled with incorrigible behavior issues stemming from their history of trauma). In other words, in its current iteration, the performative pedagogy of trauma informed practices in education exacerbates the problem of mis-education.

To the extent that the trauma informed movement and every trauma sensitive learning environment seeks to bridge the cavernous gap which exists between the dichotomous extremes of White women teachers and the Black and Brown students who comprise the classrooms across the U.S., I am in favor of all meaningful, positive, anti-racist, non-biased and student centered informed initiatives. If it means providing a quiet space for students who need a non-punitive timeout; offering food or snacks to hungry students or offering positive behavioral interventions and supports to students who most acutely suffer the effects of unrealistic and harsh zero tolerance policies, I am all for the universal implementation. There is an intentional emphasis upon universal here, because a troubling, recurrent theme is for these movements to be framed under the guise of an ideal way to mitigate trauma (exclusively for large populations of Blacks and other students of color), when in application these practices have been found to be just as problematic and #RacisAF as classroom enslavement re-enactments or “openly share your preferred pronouns, baggage and lifetime of traumatic experiences openly” so that I can prove that my classroom is a safe space trauma-inducing experiences. In terms of playing savior, Dr. or subscribing to trauma informed practices in uneven, discriminatory application in individual classrooms, teachers are doing much more harm than good and are well advised to just focus upon teaching. In order to be relevant, universally applicable and culturally appropriate, we must ensure that all such initiatives are research-based, academic integrity driven and foster the kind of federal funding which places the accountability for implementation upon well paid central office and building level administrators and certified, competent mental health professionals – NOT our teachers, who already shoulder the lion share of ALL of the accountability for teaching and learning. Do I believe that trauma informed practices can be at all effective, you might ask? Absolutely, I do. My rather scathing critique is based upon the visible harm I (and many others) have already noted in clueless application across classroom settings. As a federally funded reform, universally applied in all schools at the district level? I have every confidence that this movement can morph from its current distasteful form as a reform pimped from outside the pedagogical sphere – to a policy based reform driven by systemic change from within.

“Often, district policies need a complete overhaul to support trauma-sensitive schooling, said Timothy Purnell, a former superintendent in Somerville, N.J., who was named his state’s superintendent of the year in 2016 for launching trauma-sensitive practices in his district. It took nearly three years to review and rethink “every single policy, be it a school handbook or even a teacher’s classroom rules,” Purnell said “through the lens of, ‘Does this disconnect students? [or] … Does this give us the opportunity to treat a child uniquely and with respect?” (Sparks, 2019).

On the well resourced district level, superintendents, principals and especially school psychologists and social workers can guide the schools’ successful implementation of trauma sensitive practices. By definition, “Traumatic experiences can range from discrete events like living through a natural disaster to the ongoing stress of parental abuse or homelessness. Emerging research has found repeated exposure to trauma significantly increases children’s risks of later mental- and physical-health disorders, poor academic progress and behavior in school, and other problems” (Sparks, 2019). As countless articles, evidence and studies continue to acknowledge the pattern of the deleterious effect that traumatic events have upon school-aged children’s learning and social capacity, it is highly probable that the reach and impact of these movements will only expand in the future. This is understood and the challenge to ensure that such trauma reforms “Do No Harm” has been duly accepted. For those of us committed to #EducateToLiberate, we can only maintain vigilance that as reform movements are implemented, districts are prepared to ensure that their adoption of same is unbiased, beneficial and does not exacerbate the trauma of the marginalized students most readily impacted by mis-education. We must collectively ensure that the trauma informed movement does not increase Black students’ disproportionate diagnoses as disabled or otherwise contribute to their all-inclusive alienation from an educational system, hell-bent on their mis-education.