Charter school enrollment has nearly tripled in the last decade and the number of families electing to homeschool has increased as well. If the educators confab in Philadelphia a week ago is any indication, it’s pretty easy to understand why.
(Enrollment in private schools, after a surge during the mid-90s tech boom, has since fallen to around 5.4 million from a 2001-02 peak of 6.3 million. Charters, homeschooling and a poor economy have contributed to the decline.)
Members of the Caucus of Working Educators, which early this year “engaged” city students in a “Black Lives Matter Week of Action,” spent last Saturday discussing matters that have little to do with best teaching practices and curriculum; instead, they pondered how to be activists in the classroom, and how to best dismantle that ever-nebulous syndrome known as white supremacy.
With respect to the latter, aside from the head-scratching notion that schools and colleges shy away from the topic, the Caucus evidently did a lot of talking, but didn’t manage — like so many other groups and institutions — to formulate actual, realistic remedies for the alleged malady.
Take Caucus co-founder Amy Roat, for example:
We think it’s a fundamental problem in our country that causes a lot of other problems […] We all live in the system of white supremacy, whoever you are, and it is unseen by most white people and it isn’t talked about and we’re not connecting white supremacy to our life experience in the classroom or in the community. So we need to explicitly do that in order to learn and grow.
What … does that even mean?
Then there was Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni who felt the need to toss our economic system into the mix:
“When I think about dismantling white supremacy…it’s so important to ask ourselves the hard questions […] particularly white people asking the right questions.”
Capitalism and white supremacy “shape how we understand who we are, no matter what our skin color or racial identity…This is just work I’m trying to do. I don’t have answers about this work. I can offer experiences to expand upon.”
Ah, yes, capitalism. But still no solutions.
Alas, a few fairly concrete examples of white supremacy managed to eventually surface, such as standardized testing and how schools are funded.
Madeloni says the former is based on the “white norm,” while the latter is “inherently racist”: “In Massachusetts, we have schools where toilets are not working, and when you go into those schools, you see black and brown faces, not white children,” she said.
There’s an argument to be made that currently there is too much standardized testing in schools (and you can thank our first non-white president for that to a large degree), but even Laurence Fishburne’s Furious Styles conceded standardized math tests, at least, are “universal.” Not to mention, Asians and Asian-Americans seem to be doing rather well in their fight against that “white norm.”
It’s also a legitimate claim that school funding via property taxes is unfair; however, every state is different (California schools, for example, only get 29% of funding via property taxes and “other local sources”), and more money certainly isn’t necessarily correlated with better academic achievement.
Madeloni also addressed charter schools, saying “We have to be willing to have a conversation as to why parents make that choice and listen to them,” but then, apparently not making a connection, continued with “[…] and ask who we are as educators and what we are going to do to make schools places actively working to dismantle white supremacy.”
In the morning, [Keziah] Ridgeway, who grew up in a public housing project in North Philadelphia and went to Girls High, was one of two teachers who led a session on “critically examining race inside the classroom and beyond,” to explore “the multiple manifestations of racism within our society.” A concurrent session meant for white teachers talked about “decentering whiteness in our classes and schools,” which explored how white values and norms permeate everything – including how tests are constructed and how students are evaluated. …
“Folks are beginning to realize that we’re not going to have a winning strategy if we don’t start confronting white supremacy at the center of our work,” [Ismael] Jimenez said. “We can’t just be another reform organization tweaking at the structures, we need transformational change.” …
Ryan Warwick, who is an African American female, grew up in Maryland and now teaches special education at Mastery Charter-Gratz. Among educators, “there are so many places people are entering the conversation from,” she said. “Some educators never want to mention race, at least not in the professional realm.” For many, it’s not that they don’t want to talk about it, but that they don’t know how, and they are busy; “they just go and do their lesson plans.”
Ms. Ridgeway noted that, for her, “teaching and activism can’t be separated”:
“Since I was in high school and protested the Iraq war, I was always committed to using my voice to advocate for the voiceless,” she said. “It’s why I became a teacher. I feel like teaching and being an advocate go hand in hand.”
How were opponents of the Iraq War “voiceless,” exactly? Were there not routine anti-war protests here and abroad in the early-mid 2000s? And how would you feel, Ms. Ridgeway, if your high school history teacher was in favor of the war … and advocated for such during class? Would that make you upset?
The only advocacy in which a teacher should engage in the classroom is making sure her charges know how to read, write, do math, and … to think for themselves.
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