When I traveled the country as National Teacher of the Year, teachers would often ask what was the greatest tool for teachers to improve their craft. My answer would be the mirror. A true educator has to look in the mirror and ask themselves hard questions. What do I need to do to improve my lesson plans? Am I working hard enough to empower and uplift all children in my class? Am I truly an anti-racist teacher? Most importantly, they have to be honest with themselves when they look into that mirror. It’s obvious that the people responding to the survey in the new Education Week article, “Anti-Racist Teaching: What They Really Think”, looked into the mirror and lied, or they are blind to their own biases and prejudices.
Education Week surveyed 800 principals, teachers, and district leaders on the subject of equity in education. If the 800 educators surveyed are reflective of the racial breakdown of educators in this country, then 640 of the survey responders were white because they make up 80% of all educators in the United States. In this survey, 59% said schools were doing a good job bridging equity gaps. That is a shocking based on education data, but the biggest shock is that 82% of white teachers identify as anti-racist or abolitionist teachers. A statistic that prompted Bettina Love, author and creator of the phrase “abolitionist teacher” to tweet out, “I am so done. These terms and ideas mean nothing. Just know that I am very aware of the watering down and the whitening of #Abolitionistteaching. This is why we created @ATN_1863 (Abolitionist Teaching Network) to show how it’s done”. The Education Week survey reminded me of something comedian Paul Mooney said in a skit on the Dave Chappelle Show when warning Dave of his growing popularity. He said if “white folks like something too much, they will come take it from you.” The term abolitionist teaching has been taken and co-opted by white educators along with education organizations and publications.
There is a same routine that always happens when there is a major racial injustice in the United States. Something terrible happens, people of all races become enraged and march. Next, they work together to have a couple of symbolic gestures such as removing racist symbols. People start a book club to read books on race, most of which are written by white authors (White Fragility for example) and maybe another written by a black author. Then, they declare themselves to be experts and 100% absolved of racism, without examining their actions that contribute to the original problem. Meanwhile, Black children and Black educators are steadily being harmed by those who are claiming the title of anti-racist. Educators must examine who they are and how their belief system influences their pedagogy to truly attack the inequities and systemic racism in education.
White teachers see outrageous stories of injustice and become enraged but ignore the everyday injustices they commit against black children. Last school year, a 15-year-old young black female was sent to jail for refusing to do her online assignments and it sent all teachers black and white into an uproar as it should have. That was an egregious case of racism, but think about the minor acts of aggression teachers commit in their classroom everyday. These acts lead to the same racial trauma. What about the young black girl in your classroom who you sent to the office for being disrespectful for her “sassy” attitude? What about the young black girl who “flaunted her immorality” by violating your school’s racist dress code? What happens to the little black boys who you recommend for special education because they are “out of control” behavior problems who do not conform to white cultural standards. These are not the actions of anti-racist educators and the statistical data proves it.
You can’t claim to be anti-racist when black children are suspended from school at 3 times the rate of white children. Young black girls are suspended at 10 times the rate of young white girls in some areas of the country. You can’t claim to be anti-racist when the achievement/opportunity gap between black and white students is widening every year. You can’t claim to be an anti-racist when black teachers are leaving the field at twice the rate of white teachers. It’s even worse for Black male teachers who are leaving the field at twice the rate as Black female teachers due to burnout. They are burned out from the invisible tax that comes with fighting pedagogical and cultural battles in education every day.
82% of white teachers claiming to be anti-racist demonstrate where the problems begin in education because they are not being honest. The data tells us that education is not anti-racist. To be honest, all the statistical measurements tell us that public education is one of the most racist institutions in America. Anti-racist education starts with an honest assessment of the systemic racial inequities our schools face as they operate within a racist capitalist structure. James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” Educators need to be honest about the state of education to advocate for the change needed for all students to have a chance at success.
Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher Of The Year