I am pretty loud in person once you get to know me. I am a pretty good listener, but I talk a lot, and I have been known to say some pretty brazen and ridiculous things in public. But the first time people meet me, I am very shy, quiet and I avoid people. I was trying to reconcile why this happened and I started to piece it together. I wasn’t shy in STEP. Why? Because I was comfortable with the people I was with and because there were occasionally problematic things said, but most people wanted to be nice. This week in PD, I got quieter and quieter as the week went on and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that all of this time that I’ve been telling myself that I am shy and need to come off as more confident, even though I am a loud and charismatic teacher, have been when the environment felt hostile and I got uncomfortable.
I’ve been in that situation for many years now, and I’ve been blaming myself all this time for feeling bad when people were being bigoted towards me and making me uncomfortable. I told myself it was all my fault. Here is what is insane about that, I am an activist and a teacher. I am supposed to be training my students, who are oppressed, to stand their ground and be empowered and own their voice, and I haven’t even mastered that. I’ve been doing this for years. I was one of the most vocal and visible activists in the working class community at Stanford, and I haven’t even moved past the blaming myself for being uncomfortable around bigots and mean people thing.
If it is this hard for me, imagine how hard it is for other people. And imagine how that impacts their learning and their lives. You get uncomfortable so you stop talking in class (this had happened for me by Tuesday), you start avoiding the people making you uncomfortable (Wednesday), you avoid it entirely (Thursday) and then you stop putting any effort in, by today. Think about this from a high school equivalent, after how long would you go through this before you completely check out, become defiant, stop attending, start looking for escapes if every time you go to school you hear something that reminds you of your oppression.
I am an adult. I have a master’s degrees. I’ve been doing this for years. This is my profession. And yet, by Friday I had completely checked out. We have to talk about this, because this alone, just the microaggressions and the casual perpetration of racism that comes when we sit around the teacher’s lounge and call kids lazy, and make casual comments about how certain kids can’t learn or be successful, or we insist that poor kids need something different, military or prison training basically, could be destroying our kids. Because the kids don’t have enough to overcome, they don’t already have a lack of resources, they aren’t already being exploited and treated like criminals, they don’t already live in a society that tells them they are responsible for their poverty and are worth less than other kids. Schools are an institution, they reflect our society, and until we get real about this, school isn’t going to be a medium for social justice, it won’t be a meritocracy.
And we can’t fix everything, but we can start with each individual teacher critically thinking about who they are and what messages they give their kids and doing everything they can to make sure that if nothing else that they do no harm. Until we do this, we have to stop pretending we have a meritocracy. This is not a meritocracy. And it is a grave injustice. And today, I signed an allegiance oath to a country that that has been a site of oppression for me for most of my life. I also signed an oath to protect and preserve the Constitution. I take my oaths seriously, and unless you are advocating for us honoring our responsibilities to Brown v. Board of Ed and the 14 Amendment, you aren’t taking yours seriously. That’s what protecting and preserving the Constitution would look like.