How much closer to home do these issues have to hit
before people engage as they must?
Last week I reflected on my transformative experience of the NPE conference in Chicago, and shared some vexing questions about “the racialized dynamics not only of reform, but of our growing resistance.” I drew inspiration from Jesse Hagopian and Rita Greene’s vital provocation to understand the intersections and catalyze the solidarity of the #BlackLivesMatter and #OptOut movements. As Jesse Hagopian put it bluntly and brilliantly, “we have to fight to completely redefine what the purpose of education is.” And, as he asked, “Could you imagine the power we’d have if these two movements found common cause?”
[Please read Jesse Hagopian’s post about the #BlackStudentLivesMatter session at the NPE conference, watch the video of his presentation with Rita Greene, and listen to the brilliant questions, comments, and dialogue featuring Jose Vilson, Monty Neill, Diane Ravitch, and a series of brilliant and courageous teachers of color during the Q&A that followed the session.]
Last week Jose Vilson also represented his experience of the racialized dynamics of resistance to reform in a post reflecting on the NPE conference and its impact — “Raisins Exploding in the Sun” — that you should be sure to read and to consider if you missed it. He poses a number of urgent questions and draws, I think, the bottom line for all of us committed to education and/as social justice: “How much closer to home to these issues have to hit before people engage as they must?”
Some uncomfortable but important interchanges in the comments on Jose Vilson’s blog and in the comments on Diane Ravitch’s blog actually deepened, frankly, my concerns that many folks, as Jose put it, just ” aren’t ready to hear that they, too, are complicit in systemic edu-racism.” I say this because I, too, witnessed “ppl on the so-called same side of things infantilize, micro-aggress, and silence” Jose in the self-same spaces where critical questions about these behaviors were being posed. And I am thankful, though I am unsurprised, that Jose will not be silenced.
It was, therefore, both inspirational and affirming to see the Network for Public Education post an elegant, urgent, and explicit statement of solidarity with “the people of Baltimore crying out for a nation to see their pain from persisting injustice and inequality” and with “the students of Baltimore who live in a school system inequitably funded and resourced, who have expressed to the nation that they feel oppressed and ignored.” This statement, at the same time, serves as a Call to Action in its explicit and much-needed reference to “the need for us to address racial injustice and inequities more directly” in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our organizations, and in its insistence for “our members and educators everywhere to teach, discuss and learn with and from our students about these issues.” I have copied the statement in its entirety below, which is also available on the Network for Public Education’s web site.
NPE’s declaration of solidarity and its call for social justice in Baltimore, in our schools, and in our nation is not only a welcome but an absolutely essential contribution to the continuing fight for socially just classrooms, schools, and education policy across our country. It also stands as an important invitation — not only to NPE’s membership, but to all educators and education organizations; whether they struggle with these questions, or whether they have refused to do so — to clarify their convictions; to affirm or to repudiate their solidarity with communities of color that have disproportionately suffered the impact of racist public policy; and to determine and declare on which side of history they’d like to find themselves and for which, therefore, they intend to fight. In these regards and more, this statement not only serves internally as an important precedent for NPE’s vital work in the years to come, but externally as a model for other educators and educational institutions to emulate in their continued growth.
With this statement, NPE engages as it must. And with this statement, NPE invites every one of us to do the same.
“The death of Freddie Gray while in police custody is a national tragedy. We support his family and the millions nationwide who call for justice in his case. We support the thousands who have peacefully joined protests for justice. The national media coverage of the Baltimore uprising continues to sensationalize the violent responses of some of those protesting while ignoring the thousands of people across the country peacefully gathering to demand an end to violence inflicted upon our communities.
“We will watch intently the outcome of the charges filed yesterday against six police officers allegedly involved in the death of Freddie Gray.
“However, the pursuit of justice must not be isolated to this single case. Cries for justice should not only surround Gray’s killing, but also include many people of color who are disproportionately targeted, arrested, and killed by police across the nation.
“We also seek justice and fairness for millions of students who are subject to inequitable treatment in our nation’s schools. At the Network for Public Education, we fight for strong public schools and the right of all students, current and future, to receive a quality education.
“Notably, across the United States, there are educators implementing restorative justice practices in schools to build affinity and de-escalate tensions before they lead to additional violence and a school-to-prison pipeline. Schools often exacerbate the criminalization and dehumanization of our youth, but they can and must be part of the solution.
“At our recent national conference, many spoke on the need for communities of color and education organizations to coalesce to fight for social justice. Some spoke on the need for us to address racial injustice and inequities more directly. We encourage our members and educators everywhere to teach, discuss and learn with and from our students about these issues.
“We stand with the people of Baltimore crying out for a nation to see their pain from persisting injustice and inequality. We stand with the students of Baltimore who live in a school system inequitably funded and resourced, who have expressed to the nation that they feel oppressed and ignored.”
– – –
You can follow Chris Thinnes on Twitter at @ChrisThinnes