Why you shouldn’t be teaching right now

November 23, 2008

It is only natural that voters for a given candidate would be upset when their candidate does not win. It is natural for people to still keep their signs in their yard, the stickers on the cars, and the buttons on the bags. It is natural to believe that your tax status will change, you may make less money, or you may spend more time in a war that you do not support. The election of President-elect Barack Obama, however, for a myriad of reasons, has led many in America to expose their true racial animosity towards blacks in America on an entirely new level. This is best demonstrated when one analyzes how many of America’s teachers are responding to Obama’s nomination.

Across the country, I’ve received story after story about how some majority white schools are not “allowed” to discuss Obama’s election because the teachers are so angry. There could be many reasons for this if anyone believes the hateful rhetoric that came from the McCain/Palin campaign: Obama is a terrorist, a radical, a foreigner, a Muslim, socialist, etc. The elephant in the room that didn’t need to be mentioned is that he is black and I see this as a major problem for many white teachers. The reason for this is that so many students of all races have been coming to schools with Obama t-shirts and many of these students have been inappropriately celebratory with chants like “Obama, black power!” or “We’re in charge now!” In many schools, this has been a recipe for disaster with students fighting each other in support of their party (or race) and teachers not acknowledging this teachable moment in a positive manner.

One white teacher in one of the schools I visit told me that she was told by another white teacher that she can’t vote for Obama because if he wins, blacks will think they deserve more than they’re already getting. This is a higher level of anger than just one’s candidate losing. As a teacher, if you cannot use this moment to teach all of your students that they can be anything they want to be, you should not be a teacher. Given that so many black males have so many few black male role models, and so many white teachers have seen too few images of positive black men themselves, the Obama election should be used as a tool to teach what’s possible. The fact of the matter is that if you as a teacher believe that black people are only deserving of so much, than you can never teach them equitably and you should be ashamed.

Across the country, black males are the majority of students in special education, suspensions, expulsions, and remedial programs. A large part of this is due what they don’t have in their communities as it relates to positive black male role models, coupled with what they are not getting in school: culturally competent teachers and a culturally relevant curriculum. Despite that, some of these students labeled “at-risk” came to school on November 5th and pledged allegiance to the flag for the first time. Some came to school with t-shirts showing a president and not a prisoner from some rap group or mafia-type. As educators, if we cannot embrace this moment to show the world not only how far we’ve come, but how much further all of America’s children can take us, it should be criminal for any of us to walk into our classrooms and not embrace this moment in history. If you cannot do that, why are you teaching? Better still, who are you teaching for? It’s time for you to look in the mirror and reflect.

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