George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and now Rayshard Brooks — all Black people whose lives and purposes were snuffed out by White Supremacy. These four slain Americans were fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, and one-time students of our nation’s public education system.
If we acknowledge the truth about the systemic racism in our country, we must also acknowledge the impact that racism has on our children and their classrooms. For us, #BlackLivesMatter is more than just a hashtag or social media post. #BlackLivesMatter is a policy doctrine that should govern how we think about safety, health care, the economy and certainly our nation’s public schools.
For Black lives to matter, we must reconstitute our nation’s classrooms and ensure that they are places that push back against the epidemic of racism and anti-Blackness. Its symptoms include under-resourced school buildings, oversized classrooms, over-policing, less access to necessary protections, lack of opportunity, and disinvestment.
Together, we — parents, students, community, educators and our local unions — believe we can cure anti-Blackness in our children’s classrooms
Here are the 10 things we can do today to combat anti-Blackness and racism for the sake of our babies and their neighborhood public schools:
- Our school curricula must be culturally relevant, responsive and designed to prepare Black students for a future as global citizens. We must move away from rote memorization for standardized testing to teaching and critical thinking. Forget Columbus and talk about the role colonialism and capitalism played in structuring our nation and the modern world. Incorporating ethnic studies, with an emphasis on the Black experience as a conduit to addressing other marginalized groups, is critical. That way, more people will be familiar with key concepts — such as the building of our economy on exploitation and extraction (through slavery, Jim Crow, labor suppression, mass incarceration and criminalization). This will allow future generations to see the power dynamic created by policing and how it evolved by protecting wealthy business interests and oppressing Black bodies, enslaved and as they exist today.
- We need smaller class sizes. Black parents have been demanding this for decades. Smaller class sizes allow for more individualized attention to each student. As we return to schools in an ongoing pandemic, small classes will be critical to keeping students physically and mentally healthy while they academically progress.
- School safety can no longer mean school police and security staff. We know by now that most Black children are justifiably terrified by the police. Research affirms that police presence in schools leads to harsher punishment disproportionately affecting Black students — regardless of the severity or frequency of the behavior. For far too long, misguided leaders have depended on police in our public schools as a form of discipline. It is time for that to change. Our students deserve to learn in safe, loving and welcoming environments. Law enforcement officials walking the hallways of America’s schools only stoke fear.
- We must recruit and support Black educators. When schools undergo major changes, Black educators are deliberately shut out. Disregarding their institutional, classroom and community knowledge has crippled generations of students and harmed our community. Everyone, from cafeteria workers to bus drivers, should have the tools to support our students, especially those experiencing disproportionate levels of trauma. By supporting our most vulnerable kids and families, school staff can improve the climate for the entire community. Salaries, working conditions and the protected right to organize must reflect the high level of commitment required to be an anti-racist educator.
- It’s time for serious investment in school infrastructure and technology. Too many Black children attend schools where the walls are crumbling, there is lead in the water and heating and cooling are in disrepair. We want playgrounds, libraries and digital devices for every child. We want broadband internet to be a public utility, free or subsidized for families that can’t afford it.
- Our schools and communities can no longer be turned over to private interests through vouchers, charters, education savings accounts, commercial tech platforms and other schemes used to syphon off public monies for private profit. Privatization hurts Black students and communities by excluding the neediest students, stealing funds that would otherwise support the 90+ % of kids enrolled in neighborhood public schools, and requiring those schools to further cut budgets and services for the vast majority of students. Black communities are tired of false and destructive choices of others. Our tax dollars are controlled by somebody else who’s eager to make a profit, escape our communities, and starve our people as they push an anti-Black agenda.
- Schools serving Black students need more resources, not less. COVID-19 has laid bare the disproportionate health vulnerabilities facing Black people. The same vulnerabilities exist in public education. For decades, Black students, parents and educators have suffered from educational neglect and discrimination in public schooling. This suffering must end today. It starts by building bigger budgets for our neighborhood public schools. In order to learn at the same level as their white counterparts, our kids need more nurses, guidance counselors, paraeducators, social workers, mentors, and enrichment opportunities. These critical supports cost money. Equity demands that more public school dollars should flow to our most vulnerable students and their classrooms.
- We need sustainable community schools. Many of these elements (greater community control, parental engagement and support, wraparound services, challenging and culturally relevant academics and enrichment) come together in the sustainable community school model. The Journey for Justice Alliance has suggested following Maryland’s lead by turning any school receiving Title I funds into a sustainable community school — neighborhood public schools that bring together many partners to provide a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities.
- We must eliminate standardized testing. Based in racist ideology, these tests are biased against Black students and contribute to the evil myth of anti-Blackness mentioned above. They are used to rank, sort and deprive Black children of everything, from access to advanced coursework to a chance to study with the best teachers. Standardized tests are the excuse decision-makers use to stigmatize Black neighborhood schools with misleading grades before targeting them for closure, privatization and disinvestment — despite obvious student need. Meanwhile, schools serving children with the privilege these tests measure are rewarded. The children’s privilege, and that of the school, also gets compounded.
These ideas are not new. Folks have been waging campaigns to gain these wins for a long time. They are worth restating at this moment, and they are certainly worth fighting for. Let us take to the streets with these demands in hand to make a new world possible.
Story credit to Dr. Andre Perry, Jitu Brown, Keron Blair, Richard Fowler, Stacy Davis Gates and Tiffany Dena Loftin/ The Grio.
Photo credit to The Grio.