Charlottesville, Michael Brown, and What We Do in Classrooms

I recognize the privilege of this post. It’s important to share our journeys, even if we aren’t proud of them.

For a long time, I was scared to talk about issues of racial injustice in my classroom. I didn’t want to mess it up. I wanted to make sure I did it right. This attitude – grounded in my own privilege and fear – ran counter to what I thought about other units. “Not quite perfect? No worries. Teach it and make it better for next time.” Nope. Not in this area.

As a straight white cisgender male, it’s easy for me to say that. To look the other way. To not know the enormity of the problems around racial justice in the US because those problems don’t directly touch me. I’m not proud of any of that. But it is the case. And I don’t think that I’m alone in those feelings – of fear, of I’m not sure how to do it right, of it doesn’t really impact me, of avoidance of a topic like this with my students.

Again, I’m ashamed by this feeling, this ability to hide that I took advantage of. Denying our common humanity, a threat to one is a threat to all – I’m not proud of ignoring this. But it was part of my journey, and unfortunately I don’t think that choice of avoidance by white educators is a unique one.

There was something about Michael Brown’s death that broke that feeling for me. Broke the I’m scared of doing it wrong. Broke the this doesn’t really impact me. Snapped me out of my privilege and made me actually teach American racial injustice with my students.

I wish it hadn’t taken that. I wish I had had the courage, the principles, to teach hard things like current racial injustice in the US in my class before his death. But I didn’t. Luckily, I had a couple of amazing teachers I worked with who said we have to teach this.

On the heels of this past weekend, I’m hopeful that more white educators will have a similar realization after the events in Charlottesville. I hope more white educators find their privilege jarred, knocked askew, and see the problems of racial justice as their problems. I hope they find the courage to teach about these things. To have the hard conversations with kids. To teach issues like this without fear of doing it wrong. To do what needs to be done to teach current – and historical – American racial injustice in their classrooms.

Because despite my long period of inaction around teaching issues of racial justice with my students, ignoring issues like these isn’t right. It won’t get better, we won’t get better, if we just hope it.

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Edit: My buddy John asked for resources about teaching issues like this. For Charlottesville specifically, check out this post. For issues of social justice generally, I like Teaching Tolerance.

2 thoughts on “Charlottesville, Michael Brown, and What We Do in Classrooms”

  1. As you and I discussed, I really appreciate seeing this get published. And, to further support teachers who want to have this conversation but don’t know how, I’m wondering if you (or someone) could link to resources that would facilitate that? Yeah, they could go off and LMGTFY, but a “starter pack for having racial injustice conversations” would certainly help.

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