by Nakiya Beaman
Let me set the scene, it is 2020 and 50% of public school students are non white but 80% of teachers are white. This happened due to the influx of teachers to the field due to student loan forgiveness, gate-keeping from teacher tests, inadequate educator prep programs in communities of color, lack of teacher pay, gate-keeping in white school districts, and a myriad of other ,oftentimes debated, things. Then, there came a time when people started to consider this fact and there were programs created to attract, train, and retain teachers of color for the profession. Then there came a time when we noticed that the curricula was too white, like in New York in 2019, when an organization had the time to shine a light on the inadequacy in representation in New York’s curriculum. The report showed things like, “ while 85% of NYC public school students are Black, Latinx or Asian, 84% of the books in ten commonly-used K-5th grade curricula are written by white authors and 51% have white main characters.”
I am a black teacher and in recent years there have been conversations about educational buzzwords and frameworks and trends and campaigns of all kinds that were supposed to close atrocious gaps like the ones presented in New York like “social emotional learning”, “culturally responsive teaching”, “anti-bias training”, “teaching empathy,” “trauma informed education.”
My connection to the Black Lives Movements is that as a teacher and student in the midst of all these “campaigns,” it seems all too familiar. Watching political leaders dress up, and celebrity figures and white institutions and business all perform their alliance with Black Lives Matter. There is coming up with “creative ways” to align with the movement. Don’t get me wrong I am always for someone trying and somebody doing something about it. At the same time, I am definitely spooked and we can always do better.
This is the way it goes. A “groundbreaking” study on racism in education is produced much in the vein of the exposure of another racial injustice and the phenomenal “flash in the pan” outrage and activism that comes behind it. The white teacher organizations, and white websites, white instructional leaders, and white top-producers on Teacher Pay Teachers run to their platforms and come up with, appropriate, and tokenize aspects of these frameworks for what seems to be good intentions but ends up being capitalization. Right now there are T-Shirt producers, content producers, social media influencers, educators, HR Managers, authors who are about to take this moment and capitalize on it. So few of them will be black. Institutions then elevate these shallow interpretations of these frameworks somehow into a shining example of its success. Then it elevates that person into a top earner, instructional leader, or even curriculum designer for their school or district, again not likely to be black. Their success and positions will be long. Being offered a position as the head of diversity, or instructional impact has a very different impact than temporarily supporting black business or offering black authors advice on the draft of their first book. This furthers perpetuates a racist system where all we see is white up top.
Did you know there is relatively no conversation and policy action about black people in curriculum design and school administration? No conversation about oversight in black lives subject to the school system? Exactly. Just like the relatively nonexistent conversation about oversight about police brutality.
Why? Because as teachers we have been here before. These options are presented as radical behind closed doors and then pushed to us to push to the students as a radical way to teach. Its been here and black teachers, administrators, curriculum leaders, coaches, students, parents, are tired. Black people are tired of being used as step ladders. All this feels so gentrified in that this mirrors the capitalization off of black trauma and disparity once again. Just charging forward in a way presented as a “win-win” for the community when in reality it perpetuates the divide already there. All that is really called for is to do the work in an act of braving, brotherly love, volunteerism, and sacrifice. Elevate the acts of black people, don’t coopt. Change policy. Do your job.