Teaching Ferguson

Black Lives Matter to Teachers

To me, a professor that effectively teaches about race and ethnic relations (as they play out in the U.S.) is as valuable as any Physics or History prof. We aren’t always seen that way (by White administrators, conservative White students, and many of our White communities), but after teaching this topic every semester for six years, I know that it takes more than patience and courage, which I was often told is something I had. To stand up in front of a group of adults and tell them things they don’t want to hear or learn about, well that takes guts. Not every prof has ’em.

After several years of teaching and providing diversity-related professional development to academics and academic administrators, I learned that they fear the following regarding race/ethnicity in their curriculum:

  • Losing control of the classroom
  • “Angry” students of color
  • Don’t want to talk about their own background with students (primarily said by profs of European descent)
  • Too “political” a topic for a general ed course
  • Might get in trouble with administration

When I helped make the film If These Halls Could TalkI saw with my own eyes how important it was for teachers to talk about race with their students in the classroom. And, to help them learn to talk to each other about race. Admittedly, it is a risk, especially in courses that are not in the ethnic studies curriculum, e.g., freshman comp or micro-economics. That is where intersectionality comes in to help profs (especially White profs who don’t live this reality) link oppression’s and systems. The lives and experiences of people of color are absent in K-12 education, kids learn exactly what the system wants them to and it’s often the same old same old “In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” blah, blah, blah crap. It’s up to profs to turn that nonsensical shit around.

This is why Ethnic Studies Curriculum requirements (at the college level) are so important. K-12 students are inconsistently educated about race relations, really young kids and teens learn about race depending on the politics of a local school district, region, or state. And though they should be taught about the factory-like nature of education and how a racist system benefits from that, they aren’t. That’s why race and ethnic relations ought to be taught across the curriculum in college rather than only as part of a major, a “theme” or general ed elective, there’s a whole history many of our young people don’t know and that their parents didn’t learn either (for an example of that, click here).

I know, I know, keep dreaming, but if you my daring, risk-taking profs are willing, you can do this, you do have the guts. If you’re an adjunct, well I was an adjunct too. So do it anyway. Trust me, solidarity and speaking to issues of race and ethnicity is noble and in line with your own interests for fair and just labor. It’s not the same struggle mind you, but it intersects as oppression’s so often do.

I hope many of you are teaching this semester about the death of unarmed Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, MO police officer. I hope you are still talking about Trayvon Martin, he would’ve turned 20 years old this last Thursday, February 5th. Renisha McBride too, who if you recall was shot to death when she went asking for help. Or as one blog put it, “The Dangers of Being an Accident Victim While Black.”

Teachers, speak up and teach righteously. Show them how #BlackLivesMatter.

Resources I like (If you can add to this list please do so in the comments)