“What is the implication for how we understand ourselves and each other in reference to our racial identities? And if we are dissatisfied with the way things are, what can we do to change it?”
–Beverly Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
This is not the post we originally planned to publish this morning.
We have been so inspired, lately, by Vermont educators and families and students, all making this strange and challenging pandemic learning work for students as best they can. We have been so inspired by everyone’s creativity and flexibility in making this pandemic situation work on any level.
But this is not the pandemic learning work we’re talking about today.
This is the other pandemic learning work.
The pandemic of white supremacy and racism.
It’s work on a pandemic that’s been raging for centuries, one that has infected all levels of American education and society. This pandemic has long infected our government, and our social infrastructure.
It infects us.
As an organization, we focus on personalized learning that honors student identities, and their lives and learning outside of school. Their communities. And for Black students, and students of color, those identities and communities continue to come under attack. Those lives have been, and continue to be, under attack.
The current political situation has emboldened white supremacists to violence at every level. We’re all seeing the news reports, and the twitter feeds. So the question becomes: what do we do?
Before anything else? We admit we’re going to get things wrong because of privilege.
First off, an admission: the writers of this post, personally, are going to get things wrong, in a way that hurts Black educators and students. We will bumble through and try to fix things with imprecise helping hands and accidentally make things worse and then have to start over with those same hands. Because the authors of this post are both white, while we are committed to being anti-racist, the way we try and make things better will likely be blind to some realities. We welcome feedback on this post, either in the comments down below or via our contact form.
But while we get things wrong, we still have to try.
We can begin by acknowledging the decades of hard work done by BIPOC — Black, Indigenous, People of Color — educators, writers, activists and thought-leaders.
We commit to reading and learning from BIPOC work in this area and beyond. White educators, students and community members need to learn and unlearn the true history of this nation, and listen to BIPOC people about issues of race, racism, and history.
Then we as white educators get to work, holding explicitly anti-racist work as a constant goal.
- Honor student identities — and protect Black students and BIPOC students. This might look like making sure you create an intentional educational space for students of color to feel safe, valued, and important. This will take work of building trust, calling out and calling in students and staff, and creating a loving community that can openly discuss hard topics and plan action.
- Honor student lives and learning outside of school — especially those of Black students and BIPOC students. Schools have often valued a limited way of being for learning.
- Honor student communities — especially those of Black students and BIPOC students. Student communities encompass the full range of communities any given student exists in: their family, their peer group, their place of worship, their service organization. How can we support and validate the learning done in those communities when the communities of Black students are under attack from white supremacy?
With a focus on the needs of BIPOC students, educators can develop a framework for personalized learning that responds to the pandemic of white supremacy. Paul Gorksi’s Equity Literacy Framework (.pdf) is an excellent tool for this work.
What can this look like in action?
Honor student identities
Scan the curriculum:
Let’s do a diversity audit of our school and classroom libraries. Whose voices are represented? Whose voices are missing? And are we interrogating the conventional literary canon? Are we reading about Black experiences? Are we reading about the experiences of other people of color? How are we centering Black voices? How are we centering Indigenous voices? How are we centering the voices of all marginalized students as we negotiate that curriculum?
Check on students and their experiences
But beyond that, how are we providing direct support to Black students and others as they negotiate our schools? We know that BIPOC students are on the receiving end of hundreds of micro-aggressions in their lives. How are we constructing spaces in our classrooms where we work towards having everyone understand a) what micro-aggressions are, b) why they are actual violence against students of color, and c) how we repair the damage in our constructed communities when they occur?
How are we building restorative justice systems for our classrooms that center Black students and mitigate those violences?
How are schools handling:
- Hats, hoodies and other unequal dress codes
- Display of the Confederate flag in any form outside a textbook
- Policies affecting anyone’s hair at any time
- Disciplinary rates that affect Black students and students of color disproportionately.
The list goes on; ask your students and they can fill that list out for you.
…But they shouldn’t have to.
Instead: negotiate school policies with students and their families, and your colleagues, in a way that centers and protects BIPOC students. Provide students with the support and means and the structure to negotiate and design more equal schools. Open that door, and be the educators and administrators who listen, who advocate, and who pro-actively create anti-racist spaces and structures in your schools.
Honor student lives and learning outside of school
We need to ask ourselves how school currently provides a way for students to get credit for the work they do outside of school. For their work with Girl Scouts, or their mosques. For the work they put into family businesses, and the work they do looking after siblings. The work they do showing up to protests, organizing action and doing protest support.
And then we need to figure out how to dismantle systems that block students from getting that credit. We need to examine those policies for assigning credit for out-of-school learning and dismantle any piece that upholds ongoing racial inequity.
Honor student communities
Center Black voices and Black community organization. Support Black families. Hold a space for them to share their knowledge of their students, for them to share their experience — uninterrupted. Listen to Black students when they share who those communities are, and how valuable those communities are in informing and supporting their learning. Then go listen to those communities some more..
As an organization, we are going to get things wrong about race, and about educating about racial equity.
And again, the writers of this post, personally, are going to get things wrong, in a way that hurts Black educators and students. We will try our best not to make things worse, and we will take responsibility for our actions and try again.
But we are committed to this work.
The point is always the starting over and the doing again.
Because if we were silent, we would do even more damage.
Our silence would be a form of violence. We are not satisfied with ourselves, and our organization’s work, when racial inequality and violence continue to plague Vermont’s education system.
We are in no way experts on equity, but we know that we and everyone else need to focus on equity — hard and consistently, in-house and beyond — in order to be anything like effective in whole school change in Vermont.
There is so much we have to do, right now. There is so much work to get stuck into, fighting this particular pandemic.
But we have always known the work is worth it. We are not here for white supremacy. We are here for Vermont’s Black educators and students, and their families and communities. Black lives matter.
Please note: The original version of this post featured an image of a plain black square. It has been brought to our attention that that image has been recently used in ways that are hurtful to the Black Lives Matter and activist communities. We deeply regret this error, and will use the moment to think through better guidelines for image choice in all blogposts moving forward, and will post those as part of the editorial guidelines we’ll make publicly available on this site. Photo credit: Elly Budliger, age 13.