Social Justice and Race: Preparing for the Hard Classroom Discussions Ahead

Second Wave Series 20 / August 23, 2020

Nothing, not all of the armies in the world can stop an idea whose time has come. – Victor Hugo

Apparently, the time has come for us to have that real, authentic, global discussion about race and injustice. But when, how and where can educators join that discussion, and perhaps more importantly, should we?

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The panel on social justice and race was part of the 2020 Second Wave Summit.  The second wave refers to the looming threat of the return of COVID-19 in the fall that may drive another round of school closures and remote learning. It also refers to the second round of contingency planning and preparation we all now need to do to prepare for the uncertainty of whatever is coming next. Watch the full panel discussion or read the transcript below.

 

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Second Wave Summit

The Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences brought together educators and administrators who embraced the Flipped Learning framework (and those who didn’t) to share, prepare, and plan for the future of education in a post-COVID-19 world.

Source: Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences 2020

 

Errol St. Clair Smith

So with that, let’s jump right into it. So the question is, should educators be prepared to have candid, authentic discussions about what’s been going on with race and injustice, and more importantly, should they invite those conversations into their classrooms?

Dr. Pedro Noguera:

So I would say absolutely, yes. The real issue, though is, are they capable? I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit. Had George Floyd been murdered while school was in session, and millions of kids across the country had seen the footage, and then come back to school ready to talk about it, I don’t think most schools would have been ready for that. In fact, I think we’d have seen an eruption of conflict in many schools because of the inability to respond to the issue. So now the question is, schools are not in session, are districts preparing themselves for when schools come back? And my hunch is that it’s going to take them as… that they’ll probably have as much trouble getting up to speed, even more trouble getting up to speed with this then they did getting the technology right for distance learning. I just was following, in Miami, they just tried to propose an anti-racist curriculum for the district, and that became a big controversy. So the politics of race makes this difficult, and we have to also be clear, there are a lot of teachers whose own knowledge of these issues is very limited, and, therefore, they need to school themselves before they can engage their students. So I think education is critical, has to play a role in this. I don’t think our schools are up to the task right now.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Got it. Very good. We’re going to come back to that point. Let’s go round the table quickly, Dr. Connelly, what say you here? Ready? Should we be participating?

Tara Connelly:

Oh, yeah. So just to echo what Pedro was saying, I teach at Montclair State University, which is a state school, and there’s a question around format mode, but there’s also a question around content. And I think we are woefully unprepared, but I think this moment is bringing out that reality that we are woefully unprepared. So for me, it’s not just figuring out how do I teach my race and ethnicity course online, but it’s really just kind of going back to how do I even talk about anti-racism, anti-racist pedagogies and practices with my colleague, with my student population? And especially being a Black women professor in a school that, and in a department where I’m underrepresented; there’s also that capacity in terms of bringing myself into the classroom and teaching, I mean, ensuring that my students are safe, but also ensuring that they’re listening from this moment just as much as I am. So it’s a challenge all the way around, and I’m just glad we’re having these conversations.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

I assume that when you say bring in yourself, you mean bringing your authentic self, your total self, is that what you’re referring to?

Tara Connelly:

We’ll go with that. Authentic self, but also just being a Black woman in a classroom talking about race, talking about racism, talking about white supremacy, whiteness. I’ve taught the class before, and it’s been a challenge for some students. Some have just never been around a Black person before, so they come in my class, and it’s a whole new world. But, this is what’s coming out of it, this is what’s being revealed, and we have to be ready for the moment.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Got it, very good. Thank you. Let’s go around quickly. Let’s go to you, Rosa, what say you?

Dr. Rosa Perez -Isiah:

This is day one coming back, so I just presented to our ed-services department, and we had that conversation about acknowledging what’s happened, because in our district, these are fairly new conversations. Not only that, but declaring solidarity and acknowledging that this work has to happen, and then investing. That’s the hardest part, is investing in the fiscal resources, the human resources, as Dr. Noguera shared with us, are they capable? Yes, it’s time. It’s long overdue. The question is, are teachers capable of doing it? COVID really lent itself to this perfect storm, and so there was no denying, no looking away, no shutting off social media and avoiding it. Here we are, facing historic injustice and inequity, and we can’t look away. We’re forced to look, and we’re forced to do something about it.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

In your face in living color, I get it.

Dr. Rosa Perez-Isiah:

Yes, yes. Absolutely.

Dr. Victor Rios:

Yeah, we are in a racially illiterate society, and our education system is plagued with racial illiteracy, and that is because our teachers, our educators are not trained in college or in teaching programs to be racially literate, to understand where our children come from. It is a travesty that over 70 percent of teachers in America are white, and we need to create a pipeline. Those white teachers, our allies, need to create a pipeline, reaching out to college students of color, helping them, guiding them through not just their teaching credentials, but then becoming administrators, and changing the system from within. We need to reach a level of social justice literacy that all our teachers know so that they’re equipped to then work with our children, and focus on their own whiteness if they are white, or their own privileges if they’re male or heterosexual, there’s a lot to do in terms of our intersectional justice literacy, but it’s crucial that we focus on making sure our educators know how to confront these conversations and not be afraid of them.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

So far, and I’m with you Dr. Rios, so far we’ve been looking at this through a higher-ed lens, and of course at that level we expect, whether we should or not, to have a certain level of maturity to confront these sorts of issues. So let’s take a look now through the K-12 lens, and hear what Dr. Brad Gustafson has to say about that. Brad, what say you?

Dr. Brad Gustafson:

Well, when our kiddos show up, there’s no doubting that this will be part of their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and every kiddo will approach this differently. And my trust in our teaching team and teachers everywhere is high that they want to do the right thing, and so certainly we need to be preparing ourselves to support kids, just like we would if we were face to face right now. The part that I’m trying to wrap my brain around is how we come alongside our parents, who experienced the same educational system, in many cases, that Victor alluded to, and everyone’s ability and perspective, it’s drastically different. Most people I’ve talked to are staunchly against racism, and how horrific it is. Their tolerance and hopes for how that’s handled in classrooms couldn’t be more different across the board.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

By the way, to what do you attribute that difference? Is it just upbringing, culture, what are you seeing in here?

Dr. Brad Gustafson:

You know, from conversation to conversation, I don’t know. People are at a point where they’re at, and the role of self-reflecting here, what I feel like I can help with is by doing lots of listening but also by partnering to keep conversations going so that we can realize change together instead of just doing the thing where it’s you’re wrong or I’m wrong, and then that’s the end of the story and we don’t go anywhere.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Right, I’m with you, Brad. Ben, what say you, my friend?

Ben Gilpin:

Well, first off, I completely agree with everything that’s been shared so far. Victor, I thought you hit on a great topic about providing support. From my lens, right now I think providing support is what is absolutely needed with our teachers, with our families, and educating our students, to me, is the most critical thing, but I would be naïve to think, as a K12 leader, as an elementary principal, I’m going to have people that are afraid and uncomfortable. I guarantee that is going to be the case, afraid and uncomfortable. And so just like what was stated by Victor, providing that support, that, to me, is one of the most critical pieces that we have to provide people.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

I think you all made it pretty clear from the get that you don’t believe that we’re ready to begin to have that conversation. Let me ask you this, to what extent, considering all of the pain that’s out there right now, considering that we’re dealing with centuries of history and cultural baggage, a hundred, maybe three, 400 years of unresolved issues. To what extent is it even reasonable or practical to expect that any of us are going to be capable of handling and having an unbiased, authentic, real conversation about race and injustice? We’ll go back to you, Pedro.

Dr. Pedro Noguera:

Well, I think we have to be careful about an unbiased conversation because I don’t think we want an unbiased conversation. We don’t want an amoral conversation. We’re witnessing injustice, and to be unbiased in the face of injustice is to be, I think, complicit. So what we want is students who are able to think critically, who are able to process information, who are able to make informed decisions, and that’s what education should do for them. That’s why teachers have to be able to expose them to a range of ideas and information. But we don’t want to be unbiased. We want them to be critical. We want them to be informed, and then we want them to make clear, ethical judgments, so that when they see what’s occurring, they are prepared, as citizens to act, and to make informed decisions when they vote and hold leaders accountable. So I will just say that I think that, as an academic myself, we sometimes hide behind this idea of being unbiased, when right now we’re at a moment in our history where we’re finally confronting some of the atrocities of our past. Atrocities that continue to this very day. This is not the time to be unbiased. It’s a time to be informed, it’s the time to be educated, and to be critical.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

So this is a very interesting point. Let me go around the table and get some other perspectives on this because I understand what you’re saying about being unbiased, and perhaps, we can accept, kind of, semantic term. What I’m really saying, again, is we’ve got history, civilization. We’ve got cultural baggage. We’ve got intense emotions all tied up in this. I agree with what you’re saying theoretically, but in practical terms, my observation has been there are a lot of very well-educated, very well-informed, very fairly demonstrably critical thinkers, who as soon as you get on some of the nuanced topics of race, all critical thinking goes out the window, and the preconceived ideas kick in. So what I’m really trying to get at here is, is it possible to have, whether you want to call it bias, whether you want to call it objective, whether you want to call it reasonably, rationally, detached, balanced, pick the word that works for you. What I’m really trying to say is how do we not get caught up in the baggage it often causes us to respond viscerally, and frankly, not critically, not rationally, to some of the issues that we’re having to deal with. Now, Rosa, let me get your take on that if we can.

Dr. Rosa Perez-Isiah:

Well, you have to let that happen because, in my opinion, it’s part of the process. We’re going to bring all of that with us. I agree with Dr. Noguera and his statement about being unbiased in face of injustice is to be complicit, and so we want to acknowledge that that’s there, and that will influence decisions, but guess what? We’re going to learn about it, we’re going to empower you, you’re going to have the tools so that you can act with that information, that you can work through those biases that we have, or whatever we want to call it, and that we hold each other accountable. Leaders, teachers, educators in all areas, that we take that and that we grow from it, but we have to acknowledge that it’s there, and you have to let that go. I think it’s part of that process, it must occur.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Very good. Let me go back and ask a question about whether we should. What do you say for the educator who says, “I’m a maths teacher, I teach engineering. I didn’t sign up for this, I’m not a social justice warrior.” Victor, what do you say to that?

Dr. Victor Rios:

We have to change our incentive systems. My teacher who saved my life, got me off the streets, out of juvie, and sent me to college, she would always say, “I don’t teach subjects, I teach students.” And so we got to change that attitude that what we’re doing is specializing in a subject and then going to teach it with what happens to be an adolescent or a child population that may or may not have specific developmental needs. In other words, as educators specializing in subjects, we also have to be trained in social-emotional learning, and culturally responsive approaches, that it is embedded in our mathematical curriculum, that 50 minutes of math is no good. That 50-minute session, you take 5 to 10 minutes to do a social, emotional learning activity, icebreaking, mindfulness, and then you get the students to do 5 minutes of math. And that improves their scores in math even more. So we have to change this attitude that, “I’m just here to teach a subject,” and really focus on that attitude of, I’m here to teach the whole child, the whole person, and to help develop these young thinkers and critical thinkers to move about in the world and address these heavy issues, like racial injustice. It’s crucial for us to implement ethnic studies across all high schools and middle schools, and really understand each other as various cultures, various peoples.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Right, what do you say to your teacher who says, “Not my job, not my job description. Uncomfortable. I didn’t sign up for this.”?

Dr. Brad Gustafson:

First of all, I can’t imagine hearing anyone I know say that, to be a hundred percent honest. In my experience, which is mostly in the elementary education world, I feel like we lead with relationships and listening to kids and showing up to make sure their hearts and minds are ready to learn before we dive into the content. We do a lot of unpacking of that at the beginning of the year, and we don’t stop the whole year-round. So that’s what I’m seeing. A quick point on the bias, and what we were talking about a second ago, the way that I see that, and potentially showing up because I don’t see the main issue, like, are we going to have the conversations, because I think kids will bring, they bring things up in elementary school, surprising things. And then it’s a matter of, are we ready to listen and have that conversation. But it kind of gets down to more and, in education, like, can we get to a point where we can listen, that you have your lens and cares and bias and personal experiences, and I have mine, but instead of me trying to talk you into one thing and vice versa, can there be an and? Maybe some families and people are really afraid of the police. And I’m reading books and understanding why that could be the case. Instead of saying they shouldn’t be, or that that should never be mentioned in a school, what if a kid is feeling that? And then could it also be okay, in the same breath, to say, “We work alongside really committed law enforcement who would lay down their life to serve everyone.” Could those things mutually happen and be people’s… Could both things be true? And that’s kind of the world that I’m living in right now, trying to figure out.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

That’s a fascinating point you’re making, Brad, which is an excellent segue way over to Victor Rios. We interviewed him last week, and he made a fascinating point about social responsibility, social services being essentially shuffled off to the police, and his thoughts about that. Victor, can you share what you comment, what you said about that during that last interview, briefly?

Dr. Victor Rios:

Oh yeah, so I was just talking about the trend over the last 50 years of really, the decline of the left arm of the state, the nurturing arm. So welfare, social services, education, and the expansion over the last 50 years of the security arm of the state, the punishing arm of the state, prisons, criminal justice, policing, security. And I’ll just give you one case in play, and, say, at the high school level, and that is zero-tolerance policies. So they started in the 1990s, they were borrowed directly from the criminal justice system, zero-tolerance policies existed in prisons, and someone came up with the idea that they’d be good in schools. And zero tolerance, essentially, is when you don’t tolerate any fighting, violence, gang behavior, which, of course, is important not to tolerate, you know, violence, for example, but it became this out of control policy that swept across the country, that really,,, a lot of schools and school districts to expel kids to discipline them. And it was across racial lines. We know that Black children are way more likely than other children, Latinx children as well, Native American children, to be expelled, and excluded, and suspended from schools. So this is the moment where the defund the police movement, and really …. that in a practical application is that it’s about moving resources from security and policing, say, in this example, in our schools, to school resource offices and more into focusing on, let’s say, success coaches. So you can have a school resource officer that comes and deals with a conflict between kids, or you can have a success coach, and one that may be from that neighborhood, that went to school, understands that community as a social services or … degree, knows how to conflict resolution. So this is where the defund policing movement really has a great point, and it’s that it’s not about eliminating police, but it’s more about making sure that we reinvest those funds into resources that will help us deal with conflict, with students that are not doing well in school, providing them support, and not just have them encounter police officers for getting in trouble at school.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

You said something that got my attention. Tara is a media… That’s her forte, that’s her specialty, media communications. And you talked about, you used the word defund police, and I recall hearing it – I’m a media person myself, and although I got the point, the first thing I thought when I heard that word was, “Hmm, is that really the best way to communicate about that?” I saw immediately that an intelligent, rational, thoughtful discussion could potentially be derailed just by the use of that word, defund, as opposed to, perhaps, rebalance, rethink, something along that line. Tara, can you weigh in on that? What’s your observation thoughts, as a media person?

Tara Connelly:

So I’ll say first, as a Black feminist, do I believe defund the police is a good slogan? Absolutely. As a Black feminist, and maybe a scholar, do I think it’s a good slogan, yes, and here’s some other ways that we can pick this apart. I think there’s a recent New York Times article about prison culture on Twitter, an abolitionist, did a wonderful job explaining why we’re using defund the police’s abolitionist language and approach, so I would recommend that people do that too, and read. But my counter to that would be, we’ve been defunding education, public education for a very long time now, why is it that when we start to say defund law enforcement that we start to clench up a little bit? I do think it’s important in the classroom to piece out what that means, by looking at budget line items, what it means to defund the police in terms of how their money gets allocated across local communities and municipalities, in comparison to, again, sort of that left arm that the other panelist was talking about. We can have these conversations. I don’t feel like we have to hold each other hands and feel that just because we use the term defund that we automatically turn off the conversation. No. That’s when we can actually begin to get down and talk about the specifics, like what you’re talking about, transform. I don’t like reform. You can’t reform slavery, you can’t reform racism. So my perspective is grounded in a radical ideology, but I think it’s possible that we can think about this in nuanced ways.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Got it. Well, Tara, we’re going in. We’re getting ready to go deep now. Alright, so before we get into the meat of this, let me go back. And we all acknowledge that we’re not necessarily equipped to talk about this. Over the last week or so, I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts, articles about dos and don’ts. You know, you want to be anti-racist, you want to be woke, you want to take some aggressive action or some appropriate action, here are the things that you should do when talking about George Floyd, injustice, equity, blah, blah, blah. Here’s what you should say, and here’s what you should not say. So I’m going to very quickly, I’d like to go around and get everyone to give me your top do and give me your top don’t. What should you say, what should you not say, in dealing with these issues? And, Victor, let’s start with you. Start there.

Dr. Victor Rios:

Oh, wow. Well, the dos, okay. Please, do not say all lives matter, okay? Please. I get a lot of heat from the Latinx community, cause, you know, I’ll…  be on Spanish media saying Black lives matter, and I get a lot of heat, particularly from white-passing Latinos, that, “Oh, well, you know, our lives matter, too.” And just, please, don’t say that, right? Because, of course, we know that in this moment every movement… Like, for example, just today the court ruled… student. Latinx migrant lives matter, right? That’s crucial to the movement, we have to support it. At this moment, with the movement happening, with the revolution that’s happening in our society about Black lives matter; we have to come and support the Black lives matter, period. And as we move forward, movement has to be intersectional justice-based. The poet Audre Lorde would say, “There’s no such thing as a single-issue movement, because … not live single-issue lives.” So in that sense, as we support Black lives matter we’re also supporting other movements, because we know that as other movements grow, develop, folks that are supporting Black lives matter shift over and support these other important movements. And so what do I think, say is that maybe I’ve never lived what you live; maybe I don’t understand where you’re coming from or what you’ve experienced, I don’t understand it, but I stand with you.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Very nice. Very good. Let me go to the rest of you, very quickly. Dos and don’ts. Tara, back to you. One do, one don’t, very quickly please.

Tara Connelly:

Oh my goodness, very quickly. So I guess, don’t would, along the same line, all lives matter, don’t play devil’s advocate. I see that all the time on social media, let me play devil’s advocate. One of the phrases that… One of my students went to a protest in New Jersey, and they were holding up a sign, Tu lucha es mi lucha, Your struggle is my struggle. And I’m like, yes, I feel that one. So maybe that could be something that we could think about in terms of reframing.

Dr. Rosa Perez-Isiah:

Similar to what Dr. Rios said, “what about all lives, what about blue lives, what about, you know, poor kids.” Don’t try to take away from this moment. This moment is important to a lot of people. What you should say is, you should something. Say something, period. And you may get it wrong, but we start from there. So pretending it’s not happening is not the option. We’ve done that for way, way, far too long. So say something and don’t give me “what abouts.”

Dr. Pedro Noguera:

I recently had to give some feedback to a private company, they had to issue a statement about what was happening, and they adopted this very passive language. They said that George Floyd lost his life. I said, “George Floyd didn’t lose his life, he was murdered on film, intentionally. So why the passive voice?” So we had to be real clear about what’s happening, because the kids see it. The kids know when a person is murdered; they’ve seen enough cartoons to have seen violence like this. That’s why, when I go back before about being unequivocal about what we’re seeing. You know, there’s a really powerful statement from a holocaust survivor, and it’s written by a child who writes to a teacher. She said, “Dear teacher, I’m suspicious of education.” She said, “I’m suspicious of education because the doctors who tortured us were well-educated. And the engineers who designed the gas chambers were well-educated too.” And education that’s not rooted in values will produce more Eichmanns. We have to be very careful about the moment we’re in. Our children are watching. They are making ethical judgments about what’s going on. They need to be informed, they need to be able to listen, they need to be able to have civil debate, all of that is critical. That’s part of being an educated person. But if we can’t make clear, ethical judgment, then we have not served them well. My father was a police officer… Let me just say this. In New York City, for 25 years, injured in the line of duty, okay? And my father never shot anyone, never used his gun, he practiced community policing before it was called that. So the idea… And so what’s happening now is we’re starting to scrutinize the police. In Boston, there are hundreds of police officers making over $300,000 a year. Over 25 percent of the arrests in Los Angeles by police are of homeless people. We’re having police involved in activity that’s not even criminal. It’s the same thing as happening in school. So I think the scrutiny that’s happening now is absolutely necessary, it’s healthy for a democracy because most other democracies don’t function like ours, don’t have so many armed people, don’t have police treating people the way our citizens are treated. So this is an issue of democracy, and that’s the way it needs to be framed. Do is teach kids about the meaning of democracy and human rights, that’s what our kids need to know. Don’t be afraid of confronting the reality that our kids are seeing. They need to have clear, ethical guidance of what is right and what is wrong.

Ben Gilpin:

Okay, I’ll start with a don’t. I think it’s simple. Don’t do nothing. If we do nothing, that is not going to to be the thing. For me, the do, and I one hundred percent understand there is a lot of racism. I also think there is a tremendous amount of ignorance, and so if there is a do, my perception of a do is, I would want people to be learners. I want people to have that mindset of, they want to learn, they want to improve, they want to get better, and they don’t just want to do it for themselves, but they also want to do it for kids. So that would be my do and my don’t for you.

Brad Gustafson:

I would say do more listening than speaking, do lots of reading, do have lots of conversations with the intent to listen and learn and grow. Just finished… This is by Henry Lewis Gates Jr., Dark Sky Rising, this is a history that I never heard about in school, and that I can’t believe some of what’s happening now happened one hundred years ago and more, it’s like painfully reoccurring. And that leads me to the don’t. If we don’t change who we’re having conversations with, or how we’re listening, or the books we’re reading, I don’t know that we can expect anything really to change. So if you’re just sitting at the dinner table or with the same friends reading the same books, heaven help our kids.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Got it, Brad. So I’m very concerned about the dos and don’ts and a lot of what I’ve heard today, primarily because Brad, Ben, we’ve talked about this quite a bit as a, I’m normally a producer. I’m normally not hosting, I’m producing, and what’s interesting is that I find this almost unwaveringly. The camera, the on-air light goes on, there is a quality of discussion that happens on air, and then when the on-air light goes off, it’s completely different conversation, starkly different conversation. And so I’m always trying to drill down because I know that when I’m listening to people speaking with me on air, and I’ve been doing this, frankly, 15 years. When I’m listening to people speaking with me on air, I always go into it with the mindset that people have their viewpoint, they have their agenda, they have their talking points, they’ve written books, they’ve come prepared for what they’re going to say. And my aim is to go, “That’s nice, let’s talk about that.” Now, let’s get off the talking points, and let’s look at reality, right?” So I’m pushing right now back on some of what we’ve been saying, because as I’m listening to this, it sort of begins to feel like, well, it’s simple. If we do this, and you guys do that, that we’ll sort of pretty much work through this. And it might be kind of rough and kind of uncomfortable, but we’ll work through it. But the practical data says something completely different. Example, I was reading in Ed Week today about some Black superintendents who made very powerful statements against this development, and one was quite afraid about it, another was very forthright and got support; another created all sorts of animosity and enmity at the school board. And so with that, I’m going to pause there. I’m going to flip this to McKenzie because I think the report that she did on University president’s responses, written statements to the developments, goes to what you’re speaking about, Pedro. There’s the mealy-mouthed approach, and there’s the very direct and unequivocal approach. Lindsay, tell us what you reported, what you found, and what the general response has been.

Lindsay McKenzie:

Yeah, I was really struck when I was reading some of these statements from professors, and you know, S.U presidents and deans, that so many of them shied away from saying the word Black, from saying Black lives matter, and from committing to action of any kind. A lot of them were referring to diversity and inclusion practices that they had been committed to, and how they’d been doing this work for a long time without recognizing that they still have a lot of work to do, and I think that’s true of any campus anywhere. There were very few actions. Some of the ones I did see, though, are linked to the discussion we were having about defunding the police. I think a lot of institutions, or I hope a lot of institutions are going to look at their relationships with police, whether that’s campus police or city police, state police. I saw some institutions saying that they were investigating or looking at statistics of interactions with students of color on campus, how their police interact with Black students in particular. It was pretty striking, I think a lot of institutions want to make every student feel welcome, I think they’re very afraid of being accused of being political, and they think the Black lives matter movement is maybe too political in some sense. But it was striking that the statements, some of them were so meaningless, so empty, and that actually, a lot of presidents issued second statements or letters to people that complained, which did say Black lives matter, which did commit to concrete statements.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Let’s see. I would assume, Pedro, that your view would be, bravo that you came back and got it right, and continued to speak more unequivocally and full-throated about the topic, yes?

Dr. Pedro Noguera:

No. Let me say this, before the pandemic, I traveled and spoke throughout the country, including in lots of red states, before white republican groups. I believe that the real work of education is to persuade people who don’t necessarily agree with this by connecting to their values. And you don’t do that by yelling at them, you don’t do that by berating or belittling them, you do that by appealing to their sense of humanity. I wrote a book on the topic, Our Common Humanity. I think there are few people who could look at a film of the murder of George Floyd and say it was justified. Racism colors the way we respond and the way we react, but I think the real challenge for educators is to cut through a lot of the noise that’s out there to talk in human terms about what’s happening. And I think when we do that, we can begin to move beyond the conflict and the polarization and find some common ground, but we don’t do with the kind of mealy-mouthed, ethically neutral approaches, that I think too often characterize a lot of education.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

So here’s where I get to lose friends and not influence anyone. Obviously, as a Black male, I know what it feels like to be disregarded, to feel that my life is not as valuable as a white life, to be stopped by a police officer and wonder what’s going to happen next. I know what it’s like to not have a voice or a seat at the table, so I get it. I get the fact that we are now, in a moment, finally, where voices of people who look like me are being heard, and I say thank you and bravo. At the same time, there’s another thought that pops into my head, and that thought is this, many of the pa- And I’m a junkie, I follow this stuff day in, day out, it’s insane. Many of the panels and discussions that I see are almost always predominantly populated by people of color. And of course, I want to hear those voices, and I celebrate that those voices are being heard. But there’s a side of me that says, it is really important to make sure that all stakeholders in this thing are having their voices heard, and that those voices are being heard from day one. Why? Simple. Because history is pretty clear. We know that it was here in 1992, The Rodney King Riots, looked a lot like today. Everybody was up in arms, everybody had something to say, everyone was involved. How many people are familiar with the term RLA? Anyone here remember RLA? Rebuild LA. It was the big organization set up to help get LA back and recovered. It had 99 leaders from fortune 100 companies on the board, it had everyone who was anyone on it be on the board. It was the thing to do, it was socially conscienced. It reminds me so much of what we’re seeing today, that the parallels are striking. And then the news cycle changed, and the cameras went away. And suddenly the support that was there, because every night I could be on the news, or someone would be sticking their camera in my face, evaporated. And instead of it becoming a city problem, it became a South Central Los Angeles problem.

And so my concern is that by framing it as it has been framed to this point, it is delightful that right now we’ve got so many different kinds of voices, so many different age groups, political persuasions, ethnic groups, et cetera, participating. But my concern is that the news cycle will change. And when it does, if this entire moment, this magical moment has been framed as a Black affair, then people will see that as something other than me, they will go back to deal with their own new problems, and we’ll be exactly where we are 20 something years after Rebuild LA, and the majority of what was hoped for and was promised did not occur. Tell me why I’m wrong about that? Anyone, please. Yes, Lindsay.

Lindsay McKenzie:

This is something that we talk a lot about in the newsroom, and we have done some tough self-analysis, and personally I realized that I very rarely speak to Black or brown people about tech issues, which is my beat, primarily. In part, because it’s difficult to find those people, and not to make excuses, but I just haven’t done the work. I need to do the work to make those sources, to expand my network, and I think, and I hope, a lot of media outlets are doing the same work right now, that they’re writing these pieces, these series about racism, about Black issues, and then going forward, they continue to talk to those people, to include them in their coverage on other issues. I totally respect your concern. I think that will happen to some extent, but I hope that this becomes a long term change in some newsrooms, about how they cover education or politics, I hope that Black voices are elevated more than they are now, and that’s definitely something that I intend to do going forward.

Dr. Victor Rios:

My response is that the news cycle changes but the cultural revolutions stays. And what’s difference between this moment we’re living in and Rodney King, or even Mike Brown in 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. I was there with a research team interviewing young people that were revolting, that were protesting, that were organizing. What’s different about this moment is that it has become a cultural revolution. Even now, kids playing video games, popular video games, and banners of Black lives matter are created within the video game and embedded into the video game. We have corporations putting on the front page of their web page, Black lives matter. You know it’s a cultural revolution when the young people are out there, white, of all other colors as well, demanding justice. It’s a cultural revolution. And so what’s going to happen is, you’re going to have a lot of young people … to 20 wanting more from their educators in terms of, how do I take this cultural revolution, or in their words it might be, “How do I take this historical moment and do something with it?”, “how do I become a journalist that is woke?”, “how do I become a politician that will push for policies that will help marginalized communities?”, “how do I become an educator that truly teaches social justice literacy?”. And as educators, we have to give them those tools to become those future agents of social change, influenced by the cultural revolution that is taking place in our country today.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

You’re making a very compelling point, and I think, as I’m listening to you, like you, I recognize the moment. I think it is a magical moment, and I am inherently optimistic. What continues to surface is memories. So I not only see 1992, I see the enthusiasm around the Arab Spring. We thought, this is it. I remember, not that long ago, we were celebrating in the media how young kids had taken over the movements about gun control, and they were being celebrated, and they were on the TV screen every night, and CNN was holding town halls and they were putting young teenagers up against members of the gun lobby and congressmen and everyone was saying, “Wow, this is it. These kids are doing a great job. They have stepped in and they are doing what we did not have the courage to do.” And then the news cycle changed, and very little happened. And so as I look, if history is indeed prologued, the odds are not in our favor. And so as magical as I think this moment is, I think it is both fragile and fleeting. And so I’m really listening carefully. There is a lot of interesting, symbolic things going on, but I’m looking for the substance. Because history suggests that this moment can escape us before we know what happened. So I’m now going to ask you this, I want to ask you if you disagree, and you think that this is not really a fleeting moment, a fragile moment, and that this is the turning point in history, for the first we’re all going to finally get together and get it right. Fine. If you do agree that there is an element of fragility here, then my question to you is, in order to move this moment from just a fad to sustainable, meaningful, material change, what is it that we have to make sure that we don’t do to screw it up?

Brad Gustafson:

So what I’m struggling with… Here are a couple of things that in my mind are potentially screwing it up for me, and it’s when I hear, on the panel, even, and this is that conversation we would have after the show, so I’m just going for it right now. When we talk about the goal of education being to persuade kids, I vehemently disagree. Now, I don’t know that that was what the intent of the comment was, but that’s not how I see it. That’s not what I’m trying to do to kids who show up that I get to work with.

Second of all, so Tara’s point earlier, liking the slogan or feeling like it was effective, defund the police, also, I think for me personally, that’s a potential screw up moment, in that there are a lot of people I know and care about who might be really wanting to have the conversation that that slogan might get to, but it’s a non-starter for them, and I think for me, too. I don’t see that the same as how education has been treated. Maybe the books have been threatened in that way, or the numbers, or the budget, but I haven’t heard people chanting defund education. And granted, I’m in education, so maybe I’m in the wrong bubble.

Tara Connelly:

Oh, well, I don’t know if you need to hear it. I don’t need to hear it to know that it’s a reality that schools have been defunded. I live in New York City, I see it all the time. I did my dissertation in Brooklyn, I see it all the time. And I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, I see it all the time. I will say, I wanted to go back to the point that you were making about how do we know that we transform- First of all, I’m not under any kind of illusion that I’m going to convince everybody in my world that we need to live in a racially just world. I think Angela Davis said it best the other day, she was like, “We can’t be in unity with everybody, that’s just a reality.” I’m not going to try to convince a racist from my hometown that Black lives matter. That’s a waste of my energy. But what I can do in my small, little world as an educator is ensure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do in my classroom, with the young people that I work within the community. When I see my students go out, and they go and protest in very small, white, conservative towns in New Jersey, that hits me hard. I know that at least I’m a little bit a small part of that. But I don’t think we have to think that every time we go out in the world, even with this, this conversation, that we’re in it to change everybody’s mind. And I also don’t think the news media needs to be a barometer for how we understand progress. Just because a protest isn’t being covered any more on CNN, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing what I’m doing as an anti-racist teacher and pedagog, I think that we have to think a little bit more about what it means for us individually to make change in our worlds, in our local communities, and how people in our lives, I guess, for most of us, our students, our colleagues, how even in our interpersonal communications with them, how that makes a difference. And it doesn’t impact me if someone disagrees with me. That’s just not how my thing is set up. I just keep moving. Keep moving, just keep it moving.

Dr. Pedro Noguera:

Oh, can I just jump in? I’ll be real quick. Let’s just remember, we had strikes by teachers in red states like Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia cause we had defunded education. Teachers in Oklahoma were on a four day work week, many of them having to go to food lines to eat because we had defunded education. Now, it’s true, if you work in an affluent, white community, your schools probably have plenty of resources, because we have this vast inequity among schools based on property tax. But if you’re in poor communities across America, you see schools where teachers don’t even have resources to work with, so let’s keep the picture broad. On the point, our teachers’ goal is not to advocate the kids. I don’t believe in that. I think teachers have to present information to kids, but on values. Think about this, in schools, we tell kids, you don’t hit somebody. Even if they hit you, you don’t hit them back, because it’s wrong. We do teach kids right and wrong. To be ambivalent about that on these broader issues of social justice is to be weak, and to be afraid at a time when moral fortitude is called upon us. So this is not a question of proselytizing the children. I’m an educator for 30 years, I know better than that. But it is a question of being clear about where you stand.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Powerful, powerful statement. We’re just about out of time, so let me just put one or two things on the table. This is the first time that I’ve spoken since any of this begun, because, frankly, I’ve just been listening. And what has surfaced, for me personally, is a need to be radically humble, because the issues are so incredibly complex. To be radically graceful, because it is impossible for any of us to get this right. Just like COVID-19, we’ve never been here before, and then finally, well, I’ll say it this way. About 30 years ago, I read a book called Man’s Most Dangerous Myth. It was about race, and it was eye-opening to me. And I found out in the book that most anthropologists say that race is a false construct. I think about Albert Einstein’s concept that a problem can’t be solved at the level at which it was created. This problem that we’ve been talking about today was created at the level of consciousness of race. And so the question I’m asking is, how do we transcend that concept? And it’s difficult to even say that because as you said, I can already hear the people saying, “Are you saying that my race doesn’t matter? Are you saying that you’re not seeing my color?” I’m saying, no. I’m saying, but we recognize that there are other things that we have in common, and that if we can plug into those superordinate goals, values, sensibilities, then we can transcend the divisions that historically, we have not been able to bridge, and so that’s the thing that I’m most concerned about, as I’m listening to the discussion that we’ve had. So we’re just about out of time. We really are out of time, but I want to make sure everyone has a chance to give a final word. So please, keep it brief. We’ll go around, and please give your final word. 15 seconds tops. Victor?

Dr. Victor Rios:

Alright. So in terms of transcending race, we shouldn’t try to transcend race. What we should try to do is understand race, and who gets power and privilege when they have a certain kind of race. So prime example is, who gets to label themselves as objective when they’re white? In this case, for example, researchers that go to schools and they’re seen as objective just because they’re white. I got to school to do a study, and this happened recently, and I was told, “Oh, Dr. Rios, you’re one of them,” meaning one of the kids of color, “and therefore you’re not objective.” So race to be critically on the table and understood in this instance, as someone that was not seen as being objective because of the color of my skin, and there’s so many more examples, so we cannot and should not transcend race, but instead, we should understand it, critically examine it, and transform the powers that are granted to people that are unearned powers and privileges because of their race.

Dr. Rosa Perez Isiah:

Yes. Continue to learn. A race is something that many of us are reminded of on a daily basis. So I’m with you, Victor, we’re not transcending, we’re understanding. And the other piece is, when the news stops covering this as Dr. Connelly said, we’re going to continue to do the work. I cannot worry about that. I can not. It is exhausting to try to convince somebody that race matters, that Black lives matter, and I can’t exhaust myself with that. So the work will continue, with or without cameras, and this moment is different. I feel it. This moment is different.

Tara Connelly:

Oh, everything that you all have been saying is important, and I would just continue to echo it. And I would also just encourage people to just be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is the moment where we can really just kind of look at ourselves and what I always tell my students, part of my teaching philosophy, is that pay attention to the questions and the jolts that you feel in the learning process. That’s something. That’s something that you’re supposed to be paying attention to, and I feel like we’re in this collective moment where we’re being kind of reckoning. It’s a reckoning moment. We’re being jolted. So pay attention to that. And of course, as always, Black lives matter.

Ben Gilpin:

So much of this conversation has been about improving education and educating our youth. I can’t help but think, but education is part of the problem, and several months ago, Brad and I had Rand Miller on. He did an Ed Week article, and in that Ed Week article, he stated only two percent of Black males are educators. That’s part of the problem. If we’re going to change things, that cannot continue to happen.

Brad Gustafson:

Yeah, the two transcendent things I can think about are just the humanity and the importance of that. I don’t know anyone that can argue, like from Pedro’s standpoint and mine, there is a right and a wrong. And that leads me to the other transcendent thing, and it is education. Most kids, most come to school, and we have a chance to teach them not just that hitting is wrong, but there are other things like racism, that are really, really wrong. and we can live out and have those conversations with them.

Lindsay McKenzie:

Sure. Well, I make mistakes all the time, and there are stories that I’ve started and not finished because I didn’t feel equipped to report on them, or they were difficult or they made me uncomfortable, and personally I think I just have to work past that, and I know a lot of my colleagues are thinking about the same. We’re really thinking hard about the platform we have, and who we give space to.

Dr. Pedro Noguera:

Think about the NFL for a moment, that refused to let Colin Kaepernick play football for taking a knee. One of the best quarterbacks in the game, they wouldn’t let play because he took a knee. And he was advised to do that by a veteran who told him that’s a respectful way to protest. Well, now, the NFL says Black lives matter, and we’re down with it. Why? Why the sudden change of heart? Because the league is 70 percent Black, and they are worried that there’ll be protests at every game across the country this fall, if there are games, by those athletes, by many of them. What it tells us is even institutions as conservative as the National Football League, which are run by billionaires who are friends with this president, if they can change and begin to embrace for the first time, racial justice, I think the country’s going to see some changes. I’m encouraged by the fact that young people are leading this moment, and they’re not encumbered by some of the fears that many of us are, so I’m feeling optimistic right now. Although, I do think we’ve got to broaden the movement. It can’t just be aboutB lack people, there are lots of people who suffer injustice too, and so Latinos, Native Americans, poor white people, everybody needs to speak up and say, America can be better than it is right now.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Sounds like a mic drop moment to me. Dr. Noguera, thank you so much. Thank you all for being on the program, thank you for a very candid conversation. Thank you for not yelling at me. Really appreciate it. And when this goes live we’ll let you know, and with that, we’ll call it a wrap. Have a good day. Bye, all.

 






Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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