As we dive head first into this school year, I urge teachers, parents and leaders to think deeply about the mission of schooling and the mission of teaching. In today’s racial and political climate, we can no longer afford to be conforming, passive, unimaginative and silent. We need innovative social justice warriors. If teachers and leaders don’t decide to engage in a dialogue about curriculum, multiple literacies, diverse learning styles and the reality that many of our students come to us whole…then we are simply props in the system—a system that dehumanizes and exploits children. Who you are and what you believe as a teacher or a leader can be seen through choices and practices and techniques in curriculum, dialogue and engagement. Teaching and leading is an action. It is a choice. Doing it for tomorrow’s learners is a deliberate examination of your beliefs and values. It requires a deep look into your moral compass. It is rooted in a sense of urgency to make changes that impact all students, especially the oppressed.
Those who believe they are here to change the lives know that education is about freedom, power, and self-actualization. They operate with the goal of inspiring our young people to do and be more than what is expected of them. Unfortunately, schooling has been a process of dehumanization. This is particularly true for children of color. School has marginalized their appearance, language, way of life, traditions and culture—attempting to make them better by assimilation to Whiteness. This kind of schooling is a form of oppression. Teachers have consciously (or subconsciously) spread an authoritarian way of schooling. It is top-down, one-dimensional and passively received. The teacher becomes the voice in the room thinking, controlling and directing. The school leader becomes the conductor who plans, chooses and controls.
Social Justice Schooling
If we want a freethinking society, we need freedom teaching and social justice schooling. Teaching should tug at your moral obligation to challenge the existing social order—to think about what we defend and why we defend it, to think about the long-term impacts of the choices we make in the classrooms and in schools. Educators looking to have an impact must ask questions like: How did things come to exist in my school or district? Who benefits from this existence and who suffers? Teachers and leaders can continue to confirm to these policies or they can stand in opposition. Standing in opposition and speaking up would be working on behalf of the kind of education that will allow all students to compete for what they are owed—for more power to change their lives and the world. This is ultimately a choice. But if one doesn’t make a conscious decision to act in alignment with what they believe, then they unconsciously support the status quo. And the status quo isn’t working.
An original version of this post appeared on Head in the Sand Blog.
LeeAndra Khan is CEO of Civitas Education Partners. Previously she served as a middle school principal in Oak Park, Illinois, and formerly spent 10 years in three Chicago high schools as a principal, assistant principal and math teacher. Before beginning her journey into education, she spent 10 years as a civil engineer designing roads, highways, gas stations and bridge inspections.
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