Open Letter to White “Woke” Educators

This is not a post trying to re-educate Trump supporters. (I don’t have many of those that follow me.) This post is for my fellow White and “woke” progressive educators. This is a post to challenge us and hold us accountable.

The Problem: How many of us work for schools (charter & district) that tout Educational Equity and primarily define that equity as “4 year college access” or college success? Schools that hyper focus on rigor and high expectations? Schools that believe it is their job to teach kids “character” and “grit” and “courage” (as if the students aren’t already children of character, grit, and courage and/or developing those qualities at home and in their communities.) How many of us work in schools that are primarily staffed by White, middle-class (at least) people but serve kids of color who are targeted by systemic racism and classism, sexism, ableism, and cis-sexism at every turn? Schools that rely on compliance driven methods like silent halls, strict “professional” dress codes that sexualize and shame our female students, and SLANT which tell students how they must sit to learn. Schools that choose to communicate with (at) students in non-humanizing ways like over-used Behavior Narration (this is not how we talk to our children in our homes). Schools that have an over-reliance on strategies like “Turn & Talks” that communicate, “I don’t trust you to speak to each other like human beings so I must even structure and regulate how you speak to one another.”
We defend these methods by saying they are developmentally appropriate and what students need to be able to learn at high levels and close the “achievement gap.” We say that our marginalized students do not have structure in their homes and that they rely on this structure. But this is not what the students say when my colleagues and I interview them. Furthermore, this is not what I see when I enter White, suburban/affluent schools. Are White student developing at a different rate? Do White affluent students always come from better, more structured homes free from sexual abuse, alcohol addiction, and divorce? Simply put, no.

The Impact: when we educate Black and Brown and Poor and Female students in this manner—when we teach them to comply with the demands of White people to earn a college ready education—we teach them to comply with White Supremacy. We teach them to do exactly what White people with power tell them to do (and for “their own good.”) When we teach them a curriculum that validates White, heterosexual men for the sake of 4 year college acceptance letters (no matter how “culturally responsive” the methods may be), they begin to believe a skewed truth, a truth where they are less legitimate and less human.
College Access and completion is not the only answer to ending education inequity. A college education, as my friend Wisdom Amouzou states, is simply not enough to uproot systems of oppression like racism and rape culture. If it was, why did so many people with a college education vote for Trump? (Look at the statistics of college-educated voters for Trump.)

The Solution: As White seemingly “woke” educators, we need to educate ourselves about the complexity and intersectionality of inequity and oppression. We need to see that the problem of inequity is much deeper that the “achievement gap” and will not be solved by simply “closing the gap” and having our Black and Brown and poor and female students prepared for a rigorous–yet racist, classist, and sexist–4 year college education and experience. We need to reject curricula that legitimizes and validates White, straight males. We need to reject methods that force students to comply with power. We need to replace those methods with humanizing pedagogy and critical pedagogy (please Google these terms). We need to fight policies that require strict dress codes, force silence, and make students SLANT. We need to let children laugh, play, and run in elementary schools. We need to feed kids of all ages healthy, fresh foods. We need more project-based, experiential learning. We need to teach students Equity Literacy and to have them practice seeing, responding to and redressing inequities. Lastly we MUST EDUCATE OUR WHITE and MALE and AFFLUENT and HETEROSEXUAL STUDENTS DIFFERENTLY. Only then can we say we are not part of the problem. Only then can we say that we are truly working for Education Equity.

Support: If this is something you want to do, please reach out. I have colleagues that do this work with me; I have resources to read and view; I have connections to schools and networks that are doing this work. Please stop believing in schools that claim equity but actually oppress. We will need more than college educated kids to stop racism, sexism, classism, cis-sexism, Heterosexism, and ableism in the United States.
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