This week marks the beginning of Black History / Futures Month. As a Black educator I am both excited and hesitant.
For the past few years, this time of Black celebration has been first marked by building up walls around cheap narratives for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day in January. Black people remind the world to not use Dr. King as a prop for their aims. We remind the world that he was radical and he is not around today because he was too radical for whiteness.
This is why being Black in education makes me tense during Black History / Futures month. I have learned to not have faith in these institutions when the focus is forced on marginalized groups. Hispanic Heritage Month and Native American Month have already passed. I know the effort (or lack thereof) that is going to be put into celebrating my people, and discussing the reality of our history.
As I thought of these things, I saw a tweet from the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) with an article from the National Education Association (NEA). The article was titled “What Our Students Need Now: Virtual School Culture That is Healthy, Just and Strong.” It made several points that I found interesting considering the current policies of both my school and others I’ve worked at. The points below stood out to me the most (all are direct quotes):
- Respect that students’ homes or places of residence are not a classroom.
- Cameras don’t measure engagement. Allow students to keep them turned off. Forcing students to turn on cameras will not result in greater student success.
- When students feel supported and engaged you may find they turn their cameras on and want to be seen.
- Remove discriminatory dress codes.
- Black students, particularly Black girls, are disproportionately disciplined by discriminatory dress code policies–in the school setting and may be at more risk in a virtual setting.
- End student suspensions and expulsions
- Harsh school discipline policies that failed students before the pandemic continue to fail students in virtual learning.
- Support social, emotional and physical health & wellness
- By allowing students the flexibility to take care of their physical and emotional health – for instance eating during class to receive nourishment when they need it most or allowing more time for assignments – educators are supporting student wellness while also teaching self-care and community care.
I’ve heard advocacy for this policies many times. I support them whole-heartedly. But I have never seen them put into place in my 6 years teaching and studying education.
So I wonder. As I move through meetings about anti-racism and equity and slides and videos about Black history, I wonder what this all is supposed to mean. These kinds of actions don’t help the people at the center of these issues. While some faculty may walk away with a greater understanding of systemic racism, what good is it when they are constantly pressured to make students turn on cameras or enforce dress codes when the students are in their own homes? What especially does this mean when one of the biggest teacher unions advocates for these policies but the vast majority of the workplaces their members are in continue to the do opposite?
I have learned to be let down by educational institutions. So while I revel in the celebrations of Blackness I see on my personal social media, I dread the conversations that may arise at work. For all the talking that is done, I wonder, why don’t you show me your work?