Friday, March 19, 2021

SOL21 Slice 19: how dare you


I am participating in the
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2021.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for nurturing teacher-writers!

"If my preschooler was in your class right now, I would take them out of this school immediately. Why aren't you teaching a "Pro Life, Right to Life" curriculum, too? You can't tell me that Black Lives Matter isn't political. AND WRONG. You have no right to teach young children about this. It is absolutely inappropriate." This colleague met me at the door of my classroom, as I was leaving for the day. I had just presented to the staff about our school becoming involved with the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools, a program that was newly started in the D.C. area in 2018, and one that I had learned about through my social justice writing circle. They stood about a foot away from me, visibly upset and frustrated, pointing at me indignantly; I just stood there and listened? blanched? stammered? I didn't respond, I couldn't respond, there was no space for a response. I couldn't find the words. Both of us, our eyes watered. This was painful.

Do you ever replay conversations in your head? Especially, the ones that are tense, never got completely resolved, got away? 

We were a diverse and progressive school, believing strongly in anti-bias, determined to meet the needs of each individual student. Throughout the school, we taught students to share their voice, advocate for themselves and others, and make positive change in the world. I had naively assumed the Black Lives Matter in Schools initiative would be welcomed by all. 

I still feel tremors in my gut when I think about the reaction I received from my colleagues that first year.  Oh my, seriously, my colleagues came at me from all directions. There was so much fear, hurt, hesitation. There was a sense that this was one more thing on already very full plates. I was told by some that I was trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement, watering it down, teaching 'kumbaya, let's get along together.' Others assured me I was adding to the polarization of the world, increasing divisiveness in the school. I regret the ask I made of my Black colleagues in particular - I had no real understanding of the difficult position I was putting them in, having to discuss these issues with White students and families. 

I hadn't thought through how politicized the movement had become. (I still argue with this though, I mean - who made it political and why? When I read through the 13 guiding principles, I see nothing with which to disagree. ) 

Thankfully, I had the support of my principal and my head of school, throughout this turmoil. The school did participate in the Week of Action, and has done so every year hence. I am proud of this, and it is hard, hard, hard. We did so despite not having all the right answers, despite not being able to always find the right words. 

Truth be told, I never singled out politics, or police incidents, or the killing of Black citizens, with my three year olds. I emphasized Black authors in the classroom, shared about Black leaders in science, engineering, music, art, and, yes, celebrated Black lives. To me, the week of celebration seemed like a no-brainer, something that I could easily weave into my curriculum. I simply wanted to lay the foundation for respecting Black lives. 

More importantly, I wanted to share these resources with the whole school, a school that was preschool-8th grade; I was (and am) convinced it was important to have these HARD conversations with our elementary and middle school students. It was essential for our Black students to see themselves reflected in our curriculum, to share their voice and have their voices heard, to feel agency. Along the way, our white students would learn what it means to be an ally, to learn more about Black history, and, yes, to begin to grapple with the concept of white supremacy. Our older students might begin to understand about the systemic roots of racism, to consider other perspectives, and to dare to be voices of positive change.

I believe: these are ESSENTIAL conversations for the health of our democracy. 

Sadly, this week, more hate, more violence, more pain. 
A hate-filled murderous rampage, this time against Asian women. 
One angry white man murders eight people.  
Look at how widespread this hate and this pain. 

This idea of hating someone simply because of their skin, their gender, their culture, what they were born into - it is inexplicably wrong.

Yes, today I have been reflecting on fear. 

blinds us.
stops us.
locks us up.

I want to say to my colleague quoted at the outset of this post: I think anti-bias is pro-life.

I am thinking about how hard anti-bias teaching is, and how necessary. How much work we have to do. We must, each and every one of us, grab onto a piece of the issue and hold on, do it, just go, go, go, spread love not hate, open eyes, provide perspective, do right by all of us.

What part of anti-bias teaching feels right to you? How might you do just a little bit more? Where do you think you should begin? What might give you courage? 

Do it, do it, do it. 

"No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, 
and as long as you keep a person down, 
some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, 
so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise."
- Marian Anderson


  1. Reading this I thought about John Lewis telling us to get into “good trouble, necessary trouble.” I agree antiracist teaching is pro life. I’ve been attacked verbally a few times in my career. It’s so uncomfortable. But you were and are in the side of right. Your colleague is correct that Black Lives Matter is political. To that I say, damn straight. Everything that happens in education is political. POC have been trying to tell us this forever. It’s all political, and that’s why we need antiracist pedagogy and Black Lives Matter curriculum in schools. We’ve long had the only white lives matter trope. Enough of that crap.

    BTW: I do believe we’re on the same brain wave today. 🥰

  2. "To that I say, damn straight. Everything that happens in education is political. " Yes, yes, yes!! Love that, Glenda!

  3. hats off to you and your school community for persisting in the face of pushback. To highlight any group that can be considered "other" will elicit concerns and resistance regardless. Understanding how you enrich the lives of students, colleagues, and the whole learning community is key to staying the course and bringing folks along over time. These are essential conversations and the more we treat them as such then they become a steady practice and not extra hard. They may still be difficult or challenging but they can also become part of the way a school runs and understands itself. Your approach is pointing in that direction.

    1. Thank you; I agree wholeheartedly - these are essential conversations that will become the expected and normal over time. Teachers are up to this hard work!

  4. Thank you, Maureen. I'm so glad I came to catch up on my reading and commenting. This is a powerful post. It is very difficult and hard to believe sometimes when I talk to someone who "doesn't believe in BLM." What?!? How does that work? As you said, Black Lives Matter is pro-life. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Denise! Always great to hear from you. How does that work, to not believe in Black lives matter?