As We Return To Learning: What Should We Really Teach?

As anger and frustration continue to feed civil unrest throughout the streets of our nation, what is a teacher’s responsibility to the social structure of a broken “promise land” and its children?

 

Can we ever fully engage in the teaching of equations, equilaterals, and equivalents; all terms based on the root word EQUAL, while outside our classroom windows and within the walls of our very schools, inequality and injustice persist?

How do we continue to look the other way and ignore the numbers?

 

How do we blind ourselves to the undeniable data that states black and brown children (not criminals, not adults, not even young adults, but elementary school-aged children) are disproportionally suspended at alarmingly higher rates than their white counterparts?┬áThat less than 2% (and in some school, even less than 1%) of the literature covered includes people of color or black authors? How do we account for the constant, and all too common footnote, something as horrific as slavery has become in our school’s history books?

As a 20+ year veteran of the public school system (spanning the nation from Miami, to Philadelphia and most recently in Hawaii), I am ashamed of the current state of our curriculum. I have pushed to break the mold and fought against prescribed instruction to showcase black, brown and under-represented voices in my classroom for decades. I teach Anne Frank’s Diary side by side with The Freedom Writers Diary and the history of the atrocities of Holocaust alongside the history of the Civil Rights Movement in a “That Was Then, This Is Now” unit spanning decades of oppression and brutal inequality. And, that is great for my students whose core knowledge is broadened by greater truths beyond the pages of the whitewashed textbooks! But, one teacher is not enough. One hundred of us is not enough. A thousand doesn’t cut it either. We must have the difficult and honest conversations about the inequality within our own curricula and our learning materials, our units, or presentations and what narrative we choose to expose students to.

No teacher should sell a particular narrative that slants this way or that. Learning is not a partisan game (or a game of any kind for that matter). Teachers are luminaries. Not in a superpowers “luminary” kind of way, but in the true sense of the word, to shine a light on. We are meant to show students the truth (not just part of it). We can no longer afford to leave out the uncomfortable side of history from the learning process because it is challenging to address. It must be address and it is THEM, the students, who should be leading the conversation. Our job as teachers is to facility civil discourse and keep tabs on each student’s mastery of the subject matter, not to lead or inject discussions with our agendas, or poison their minds under the dishonest veil of “heritage.”

Let’s present students with the facts. Let them do the tough research. Let them discover the uncomfortable truths of life and of our country’s history….and then, let them speak. Listen. Let them listen to each other (and if you’re an English teacher like me, help them write a power persuasive paper that can be printed in a collection of student work which gives their voice ultimate power).