Can a white teacher still be decent at their job if they hold and express racist views?
Educator Jay Wamsted joined Chris Stewart for a special edition of “Education is Power” on the evening of July 22 to ask that hypothetical question—and to reiterate that we are seriously lacking enough “decent” learning in the education system no matter how you define it.
Maybe, as Stewart noted to Wamsted’s question, we shouldn’t use the term “decent” at all. Maybe we should think in terms of “effectiveness.”
“By ‘effective,’ I just meant, being able to help kids get to [academic] proficiency. It’s not a very high bar,” Stewart said.
“But we’re not even meeting that bar right now.”
No state, no region in this country gets education right for all their students, especially not for their students of color.
So we are left with too many teachers, racist or not, failing to meet that bar.
How Do We Throw Racist Teachers Out?
Wamsted says there’s a simple math problem in the education profession, which means we can’t just start from scratch with a new anti-racist paradigm.
“White teachers matter [in making this change] because there are so many of us," Wamsted said.
He says those existing white educators bear the responsibility for moving their colleagues to a better place on race to better serve their students.
“We gotta fix white teachers in the short term. It’s not enough to say just, ‘Get all the racist teachers out.’”
But the Problem’s Bigger Than Racist Teachers
Racism is an enormous problem in American schools. But eliminating racist educators won’t get all students to proficiency, let alone get them to where they can thrive. Make sure to tune into the rest of Jay Wamsted’s appearance to get the details on where we go from here with an anti-racism lens.
How Do We Fix Racist White Teachers?
That’s the million dollar question, of course. You can start by doing things like watching this conversation, sharing it and other “Education is Power” episodes with your networks, sparking conversations with your families, friends, neighbors and colleagues about why racial equity matters in the classroom and beyond.
But if the preceding paragraph doesn’t feel like enough, remember that there are other direct ways to help students around this country right now.
You can join more than 30,000 of your fellow citizens by signing a petition that demands the FCC provide internet access, free of charge, to all families regardless of income so their students can attend virtual classes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can join the growing audiences for Zakiya Sankara-Jabar’s #BuildingPower series and #SeekingChildJustice town hall events to get more resources on how to be an active citizen in your community.
And, of course, feel free to drop us a line if you want to share your education stories and ideas.
Jay Wamsted has taught math at Benjamin E. Mays High School in southwest Atlanta for fourteen years. His writing has been featured in various journals and magazines, including "Harvard Educational Review," "Mathematics Teacher" and "Sojourners." He can be found online at "The Southeast Review," "Under the Sun" and the "TEDx" YouTube channel, where you can watch his 2017 talk “