I have been in mourning. Deep, unmistakable and heartfelt mourning. I have had trouble focusing on work (essential educational work being done from home), and significant trouble sleeping. I have shed tears intermittently (as various losses have been experienced), but then quickly recovered in a sincere effort to maintain focus on the work related tasks at hand or to keep up a brave face for my immediate family and friends. Of course I realize that putting off my grieving until a time in which it will be more convenient is damaging, but honestly this has all been almost too much to bear and it may be healthier to process grief in smaller doses, over time.
Educators have always been heroes and exist among the greatest of all those who serve the needs of others. Now more than ever, educators are essential workers who have a unique obligation to let our lights so shine, so that our students/families might know that they are valuable, protected from harm, appreciated and loved. I am an educator to my natural core and yet for the past several weeks I have only been able to go through the motions and perform the most basic components of my job. Nothing feels quite real anymore. The entire Coronavirus and COVID-19 reality haze seems like a Sci Fi nightmare . . . except that it’s painfully real. Far too real a nightmare here in Detroit. People are sick, suffering and dying in astronomical numbers and there’s no question that nothing will ever be quite the same.
I know how important writing is for me. Despite this it’s been useless trying to process this level of grief in a coherent, written form. For me, writing has never been a chore, it operates like an essential form of therapy – a sort of soul, spirit outpouring – which allows me a healthy avenue to express what’s inside – no matter how raw and unfiltered. Except that since early March, there’s been so much foreign matter inside that I’ve had no means of processing it (much less attempting to express myself in writing). I admire my fellow blogging comrades and colleagues who I’ve seen churn out piece after piece, as a sort of testament to the strength of their health and the benefits of this craft. For me there have been no journals, no blog posts, very little human interaction (by both choice AND force) and it’s literally been all that I can do to just find the simple joys in each day. I look for something, no matter how minuscule to celebrate and give thanks for in each day. I have done this for my own well-being and sense of normalcy. Because it’s my very nature to be joyful, optimistic and give thanks even for the small rays of sunlight in a dark, cavernous pit. Except that in my 40+ years, nothing has ever been quite so dark, so endlessly cavernous and so very depressing without the slightest hope of relief or the healing warmth of the sun.
Work has been harder than ever. I’m still able to teach (online) and somehow creating curriculum and sharing the innate joy I have always had for teaching and learning is still easy for me, even at this most difficult of times. Teaching has been a wonderful, welcome diversion and like second nature; a healing balm and a blessing indeed. I pray that our collective work (as the rank and file front line of educators, who are still working from home), has been equally fulfilling while somehow serving as an inspiration to our students who are still very much entitled to benefit from the endless joys of learning. But at the same time, the thought of being anything other than our glorious, authentic selves at this pivotal time is truly unthinkable. The thought of being anything other than somber, angry, sad, grief stricken and wounded has been virtually impossible in the presence of and in collaboration with those around us who still somehow seek to perpetuate an illusion of superiority and power. Sigh . . . I welcome an end to all play acting and the abrupt halt to the collegial facade which dictates that people in power have a right to abuse such powers as a means to wield punitive measures and systemic harm all while masking their own insecurities and lack. I can’t wait for people to rise up and demand an end to the madness of feigned superiority. No more, over, the end.
That’s what this virus is (or at least what it feels like), the end. The end of the innocence of our youth, the end of pomp, circumstance, ceremony and future aspirations for those of us who are mature and/or idealistic in nature. This unprecedented time in history marks the end of life as we know it in so many significant ways. Ultimately, we must all come to embrace the absolute end of all business as usual. For that I initially grieved deeply and looked for ways to summon the strength to continue to rebuild anew. However , after some deep thought and consideration I have come to realize that the reality of nothing going back to normal is in some ways, a blessing and something to celebrate. After all, normal wasn’t really working for us anyway, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves. There was so much in our lives that required shaking up, change and permanent reform and/or disruption that I suppose there had to be an end to life, as we once knew it, for us to regenerate the earth, restore the health of our environment and bodies and to cleanse the very toxic energy of our souls/spirit. As for me, I welcome the unvarnished truth in all things. The return to things simple and a kind of forced vulnerability which renders each of us as universally traumatized and equally receptive to the forging of authentic relationships and living.
The only caveat is why so much death among my people, Black people in particular, for massive change to be wrought? Of course the technical answers all fall short – for failing to scarcely acknowledge the systemic racism and deep inequities that marginalized us as a people in pre-COVID reality. Here in Detroit, there are so many people (Black people) – young, middle aged, old, poor, working class, wealthy, pre-existing conditions and completely healthy – who have already succumbed to this virus in increasingly record numbers, that I/we can’t help but to continue to reel from the very real loss and grief being experienced by so many of us. No longer is education falsely denoted as the great equalizer – but rather loss, the sting of death, permanent shifting of our consciousness and the degree to which we are all rendered powerless – has become the greatest equalizer of the year 2020.
On the last day that I left the house for work, Thursday March 12, 2020, the virus was already at the forefront of our news. The risk was already seemingly palpable and the threat of great change was looming large overhead. Still, I reported to one of the countless, densely populated local high schools, to collaborate with like-minded professionals and to meet with the intention of exploring literature circles and novel study as a complement to an existing English Language Arts curriculum implementation plan. How utterly meaningless an agenda in our current reality. On this Thursday, I was conscious of the need to keep a healthy distance from others even as I met, planned and collaborated with the other educators in the meeting space. I was focused on the task at hand, but still cognizant of the fact that my daughter’s state college had cancelled all classes on the previous day and seemingly overnight, students had been packing up and leaving for their homes in droves. My pensive daughter was anxiously awaiting my own arrival after the conclusion of my workday, so much of my focus that day was already in flux and justifiably so, considering that this was the eerie definition of the veritable calm before the storm.
While it was then (and still is), painfully clear that danger was afoot and that a change from business as usual was necessitated – there was truly no conception of just how bad things would soon get. There was still little preparation or thoughtful acknowledgement that this would technically be my last time outside of my own home for any extensive length of time and that all work/school and daily errands would soon become figments of our imagination of past lives rather than components of our everyday realities. How to predict that dozens of lives lost would soon morph into hundreds even thousands of fallen, unsuspecting people and the death rate keeps climbing day by day. This reality is truly unchartered territory. Everyday is like a progression deeper into the abyss of the unknown. But still, all I know to do is to accept the unknown as it manifests and to be open and receptive to what the universe is teaching us right now. We have no choice but to embrace the loss of business as usual. Blessings, love and light to us all!
“Walk it like I talk it” is what comes to mind when you think about the attention paid to equity across today’s educational and professional landscape. Although a widespread verbal commitment to equity is now politically correct and upon everyone’s lips as a trendy way to appear #Woke, we must advance beyond mere lip service and into the realm of the tangible in order for deeply entrenched levels of equity to be realized. In other words, it’s time to show and prove that we can walk it, like we talk it.
In this sense, equity starts in your own belief system and household and does not encompass merely the lip service paid while one enjoys the privileges of whiteness or working/middle class affluence. Question: would you enroll your children in an integrated, inner city neighborhood public school? And educators: would you consider enrolling your own children in the schools in which you teach? 🤔 The question is no doubt rhetorical, but if the answer to this question is not affirmative, chances are that you are painfully aware of the inequitable funding, resources and academic outcomes which are a reality within a widespread system of mis-education; yet you have, like so many others, deemed low-income, Black students as expendable. #Smdh.
Ultimately, NO student should be regarded as a sacrificial lamb from an educational perspective but Americans have made a conscious decision over the past few decades since Brown v. Board of education, to re-segregate education (and housing) on the basis of white privilege and affluence – thereby rendering mis-education as a myth or the inescapable inheritance of those unfortunate, marginalized children. I guess the real question is: who decides which children are unworthy of an equitable and high quality education education? The resounding consensus is that WE do . . . Everyday and by virtue of which schools we opt to enroll our own children. Truly, actions speak volumes over words and the act of personal investment in an inequitable system goes a long way towards establishing your commitment to and unwavering involvement in fostering widespread change. For the record, I’m not speaking about my opinion here, I am honestly about that life and telling you what I know from my own experience as both an educator and a parent who made a conscious decision to invest in my own child’s education as commensurate with the sacrifices I was willing to make on behalf of our people and all of the other children whom society regards as expendable. If the neighborhood school system in the countless cities in which you make your livelihoods aren’t worthy of your own child’s enrollment…perhaps your commitment to equity is in lip service only.
Each of us is uniquely obliged and largely responsible for counteracting the institutionalized systems of oppression that marginalized people inextricably face in meaningful, tangible, and personally significant ways, not just with the imposter syndrome facades with which we adorn our public persona(s). How can the public, impoverished schools ever be improved upon and rendered equitable, if they remain as an enigma to our own experience as privileged, school choice decision makers? Inner city schools go the way of housing and many are wholly abandoned by the affluent change makers in our midst who use their privilege (as secured by educational esteem and degrees) as fodder for their decisions to move on up (and right out of) disadvantaged communities. That is until gentrification deems the financial benefits of re-discovering and re-investment in a well established ‘historic’ region with renewed interest and promise of prosperity and stability. Even more curious, the verbal commitment of educated professionals who ourselves work in inner city schools have often tied our public agendas to equity, student achievement and closing the opportunity gap, even as their own residence is outside the community in which they earn a living and their own children attend private schools. Recently, the Washington Post posited that equity “could be the most effective mechanism for driving better outcomes for Black and Brown children”, still it would be very telling to conduct a poll on one’s personal alignment to equity, using school enrollment and residency as a sort of personal preference litmus test (to determine if the private reality matches up with one’s public perception). I daresay, our collective actions speak louder than words.
Despite my esteemed educational attainment and lengthy career as a teacher, principal and now a college professor – choosing to devote the bulk of my daily energy to dismantling mis-education through my work as an instructional leadership coach – my life’s work pays homage much more to my own humble public school beginnings, than it does to framing an illusory portrait of financial stability and upward mobility. Because quite frankly, the truth is that for even working class professionals like myself, we are all merely 1-2 paychecks (or looming, depression-like recession status) away from the clear and present danger of financial crisis. So we must align our personal commitments with our public persona as a means to lend credibility and the spiritual fortitude of Ma’at (balance, truth and reciprocity) to our efforts and to what we hold dear.
My own daughter, nieces, nephews, and cousins have ALWAYS attended the same Detroit and Brooklyn inner city, public schools I have taught in. Moreover, in each of these cities, I also lived in the neighborhood in which the schools were located. This is not a novel idea, because my college educated, community invested parents ultimately laid the foundation for an exemplar of: community reinvestment, social activism, grassroots political engagement, Black economic empowerment and perhaps most importantly, neighborhood public school enrollment, involvement and accountability that I was genetically gifted with the literal playbook equity 101. Trust me: it makes a huge difference to be both immersed in and materially invested in (as opposed to pimping), the communities and schools for which we fight.
Equity, social activism, anti-racism and their inextricable ties to freedom from oppression are not just fancy buzzwords in my family – they were and always will be a way 👏🏾 of 👏🏾 life 👏🏾. If the communities in which we lived and the schools in which we chose to enroll our own CHILDREN were the litmus test for equity, progressive thought and an abiding commitment to anti-racist ideology, sooo many people (educators included), would fail. 👀💯 Contrary to popular belief, many social activists and leaders have similarly opted to align their personal agendas with their beliefs and public persona, and in doing so they courageously set the standard of a conscious commitment to equity (not just in words, but in deeds). Notably esteemed and admirably bad-assed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, would likely agree that she and her husband’s reported decision to enroll their 4-year old daughter in a high poverty school is not sacrificing high quality nor lasting academic performance and success, rather she is exercising equity in action by investing in the very community within which some of our best and brightest Black and Brown children have sprung. She vehemently defends this decision against critics who insisted that she shouldn’t experiment with her own child’s education to a social justice agenda and she wisely counters “whose children should be sacrificed?”.
Of course I can only speak from personal experience, still I have admittedly been blessed to attend AND work in schools within which the founders, school leaders and teachers/support staff, all had their own children enrolled. It made a fundamental difference in how equity was practiced in terms of teacher pay, academic quality and the depth of the lifelong relationships and alliances formed. How blessed I have been to have had the exemplary privilege to have been enrolled in and to have taught in such unique institutions which meaningfully actualized the Educate to Liberate mantra of education as the basis of freedom from oppression. Surely the breadth of my lengthy experience as an educator also means that I have attended and worked in schools within which the leadership and instructional team have had multiple school-aged children who overwhelmingly attended private, suburban or parochial schools in the detached, affluent communities in which they lived. But of course, by and large these educators comprised the non-invested, savior, or “I’ve got mine, you get yours” ilk who represent the portrait of mis-education. No judgment if this has been your experience . . . But kindly save us all the empty lip service regarding your heartfelt commitment to equity. America has been far too willing to sacrifice its Black and Brown children to mis-education, while privilege and affluence prescribes the perpetuation of the status quo for their own offspring. Equity is not just a popular buzzword but informs a living, breathing and autonomous decision-making reality in each of our lives. How about making certain that we can walk it, like we talk it?
Some of the age-old practices that schools engage in and passively endorse should be revamped or altogether abolished, for the sake of equity.
Schools, oftentimes unknowingly, contribute to mis-education by centering whiteness and affluence via cultural traditions, rewarding students not burdened by poverty or by further marginalizing those who are oppressed (through no fault of their own).
Among the questionable practices are:
Thanksgiving/ANY holiday feast
Perfect attendance awards
Charging for lunch
Scholastic book fairs
Free dress days (@ cost)
In their own unique way, each of these seemingly harmless practices are biased, classist & egregious. In many ways the policies isolate, demean or exclude children of a certain culture and class and essentially contribute to lowering individual self worth in a manner consistent with mis-education.
Honestly, the list goes on & on re: the endless ways schools normalize cultural whitewashing; celebratIng affluence; limiting personal agency and otherwise excluding students from an equitable educational experience by simply doing things the way they have always been done. I don’t believe that all schools harbor malice towards impoverished students or are complicit in the vein of purposeful harm. Given the widespread popularity of these practices, it’s likely that some schools are even conscious of their negative impact upon students. However, those of us that know better – are required to do better. And stated plainly, many school norms further mis-educate, marginalize or disillusion Black students and those oppressed by the limits of poverty.
Imagine the worthlessness a student feels when/if they are unable to afford a “free dress ticket” or a popular $5 young adult novel at the book fair, upon witnessing their peers’ privilege. Consider that a class or school wide field trip, which might even be sponsored by the school, still assumes that students are capable of bringing along spending money to purchase a lunch, novelty gift or other memorabilia . . . When in fact, this expense, seemingly minor in the eyes of those who are financially stable, becomes an impossibility for families without the luxury of a few extra dollars. Even holiday feasts, when wholly purchased and professionally catered by teachers, administrators and staff seem to forcibly normalize Western, Eurocentric Holidays which may or may not, exist as a part of a child’s cultural or religious traditions. I’m not saying that schools should eliminate all extra curricular activities and experiences – but we must certainly strive to make them more universally inclusive.
An exemplary, veteran elementary educator and colleague wisely shared that even bake sales, selling bagels and juice, and field trips are practices which must be totally FREE otherwise they risk becoming symbolic of systemic inequity. Many of the schools we work in (by choice, not by force), are demographically classified as 90-100% Title I institutions, thereby comprised of a student enrollment reflective of an overwhelming majority of low-income families. Thus, as a general rule the needs of all children must be thoughtfully and equitably centered in all of our decision making.
In conclusion, what if free dress day were truly free for students? I guarantee they would enjoy it more and there would be less of a demarcation between the students who could afford to wear spirit day outfits and those who weren’t. What if “twin day” (which must be an absolute nightmare for those who are socially awkward or don’t have existing friendships), could be transformed into a dress like your favorite athlete, author or entertainer day instead? This would be a more inclusive option than the latter. One of my thoughtful Educate to Liberate Instagtam followers wisely proposed that schools consider abolishing any spirit week’s that include a “nerd day” because further isolating brilliant, bookworms or computer science geeks is just mean spirited and wrong. Ultimately, we can (and should) consider revamping or altogether abolishing those thoughtless practices which have even the slightest potential for harming our students. At the very least, it’s something worth thinking about.
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