2:25 at the Drake

Sunday, April 26th
NP: Mick Jenkins - Free Nation Rebel Soldier 2
2:25 PM

For the past couple of days, I've been in Chicago at the Network for Public Education conference. It feels good to be in a conference where everyone agrees that standardized tests like MAPs and PARCC and the SATs do not measure the intellect of our students but instead, they measure and expose their lack of adequate resources. I just wish there were more black and brown educators and activists here. It feels like everyone else is studying us - it's always been this way. But I keep asking myself, how do I begin to educate the educated? How do I get more of my young, Black professionals to value and fight for equity in education? I appreciate the current support and determination of the white Americans that are helping to shed light statewide and nationally but I can't lie, I question how much of it is really for us? How much of this fight will really benefit us if it isn't being fought by us.

Last night, I was sitting with a group of women, talking about everything from Freddie Gray to the current charter legislation bills in Maryland. One of them mentioned a new, all boys charter school that will open in Baltimore with an Afro-centric mission. One of the other women's comments were filled with an implicit bias that I could not wait to address. 

"I just don't understand why they need their own school? Why can't she {the woman who is chartering the school} take this program to the public schools?" 

She went on for a while about how children in all schools could benefit from Afro-centric lessons and how this history is American history, therefore everyone should be learning it. Her entire monologue showed how blind she is to the fact that our nation's Common Core based curriculum is far from culturally relevant. Our children are not being taught about who they are and where they come from in a way that this Afro-centric school plans to. 

"I hear you and I agree, the program she is offering should be in all schools. All children can benefit from it but the reality is, history whether Black history, world history, or American history is not taught accurately here in the states. We feed the children what the government wants them to know and 90% is about how the US is Superman, here to save the world. I feel like the need for a school with a mission to teach the truth to our young kings is crucial, especially in times like this when they are being openly attacked and not getting any justice. Our men have been being persecuted and murdered for hundreds of years - but now, it's actually being put on front street because of technology ...and still, they aren't getting justice. These cases that keep popping up are not just affecting the victims, they are damaging the self-esteem and hopes of our Black men as a whole. With the help of the media, the theory that "n'ggas aint sh't" is being perpetuated throughout communities and straight into the minds of our sons and brothers. They aren't being taught to be the warriors that they were before being enslaved, they are learning that they can be killed - without anyone paying for the crime - like a roach or something. Baltimore needs this. Black boys need this. The girls have so much more support than the boys. We need this as a community." 

She questioned my last few statements with a face full of confusion. 

"The boys don't have anything?" 

I wanted to flash a big red light into her eyes. NO! The boys don't have anything. The last all-boys school in Baltimore is closed. And all of the other all-boy schools are private schools that "real" Baltimore families couldn't afford to send their sons to, even if they worked 3 jobs. 

I thought about her this morning as I sat in the Grand Ballroom of the Drake Hotel, listening to Diane Ravitch interview Karen Lewis - the head of the Chicago Teachers' Union, who led the teacher strike back in 2012. Ravitch's first question was, "Should the nation go on a teacher strike?" The entire ballroom sang and danced as they cheered, in clear support of a national teacher strike. Jose Vilson, blogger and author of "This is Just a Test" was sitting next to me. He looked at me, with questions in eyes, wondering why I wasn't up cheering with the other teachers. 

It's not that I disagree with a national teacher strike but that's just not my current fight. I was glad when Lewis answered Ravitch by saying, "That would take a lot of organizing amongst ourselves...." I couldn't agree more. How can we have a national teacher strike without having a clear purpose on what we all deem important. For all I know, these cheering teachers and activist could be just as clueless about the needs of black children as the woman from last night. 

I looked around at the over-represented faces of the middle-aged, middle class whites that made up the majority of the room and felt like I was in the wrong conference. What am I doing here right now? I applaud the teachers who are leading the opt-outs of standardized test across the country but I can't find the energy to join that fight when many of my students are still not reading on grade level, when my kids have math-phobia that grows by the day, and when there are so many students who have no idea about the truth about how we got here in the first place. My fight lives in the classroom. I get it - the opt-outs are trying to end the tests so that we can spend less time preparing for them and more time actually teaching the kids - but will this really happen? I hope so but in the meantime, I've got one priority and that is to empower my students by teaching them who they are and pushing them to do much more than they ever dreamt they could do. My next task will be to figure out how to attract more fighters of color, who know the struggle first hand, and have no ulterior motives. Are they out there?

Comments

  1. Yes they are!, they're just up to their necks in in paper work, and preparations for the standardized exams ... my cousin is an NYC Public school educator and she is beyond frustrated with the system. Its causing her to lose her passion for teaching.

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