What Trump's Weekend Memo Means for Students of Color

Sep 8, 2020 12:00:00 AM

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My wife and I woke up on Saturday morning to devastating news that the White House released a memo demanding for federal government agencies to cease and desist any employee training that focuses on white privilege and critical race theory. Naturally, I wore my educator hat and began to wonder what all this means for our K-12 school districts, especially those with student populations that are predominantly of color. Here are my thoughts.

Educator Training

In a previous post, I discussed how we have white teachers and school leaders who dehumanize young Black students but are not held accountable for their actions. I also want to note that we have another population of white teachers who leave their teacher preparation programs unprepared to handle the rigors of teaching in urban classrooms.

[pullquote]A 2018 William Penn Foundation study revealed that 72% of the teachers felt unprepared to teach in an urban school[/pullquote], largely because they had little knowledge about the day-to-day experiences of students with racial and class backgrounds that are very different from their own. Consequently, this under-preparedness has given birth to the invisible tax imposed on educators of color. The overdependence on educators of color to serve as “whisperers” for students of color will continue to persist if teacher education programs and universities don’t integrate culturally relevant pedagogy and critical race theory as course requirements for their students.

Curriculum

The whitewashing of American history has long been an issue in American public schools. As Peggy McIntosh stated over thirty years ago, “I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.” To further qualify her point, the president’s investigation of the 1619 Project and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton’s Saving American History Act of 2020 bill serve as prime examples of how the current administration is thwarting educator efforts to combat instructional and cultural biases in our academic curricular materials.  

As a Black man, it saddens me that our president is so determined to deny young people of color access to their history. How can he claim to be committed to “the fair and equal treatment of all individuals” when young people of African, Latinx, Asian and Native American descent are not getting full access to their full history? Riddle me that. 

Discipline

It’s no surprise that racist policies have caused significant disparities in suspension rates between Black students and their white counterparts. Secretary Betsy Devos has publicly stated these disparities are not due to racial discrimination but rather it is due to the “problematic behaviors” of Black children. Furthermore, she has eliminated discipline reform efforts aimed at reducing racial disparities in expulsions and suspensions.  

Personally, [pullquote]I don’t want my son to be subjected to an education system led by an individual who firmly believes that the excessive punishment of students who look like him is justified[/pullquote] and not a result of racial discrimination. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment.

In the end, I’m not here to make political endorsements. I’m here to speak my truth as a public school educator, a concerned parent, and, most importantly, a Black man. I’m fighting for my son and all young people who look like him. I’m fighting for the future of education, which Dr. Chike Akua describes as identity restoration for all people of color. If Devos’ track record and the president’s recent actions still don’t raise your eyebrows, then you’re simply part of the problem. The president has laid all his cards on the table. Now it’s time to make our move! 

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the Teacher in You" and his latest, "From Inaction to 'In Action': Creating a New Normal for Urban Educators". Throughout his 14-year career as a middle school math educator, author, and entrepreneur, Kwame has been on a personal mission to uplift and empower educators who are committed to reversing the ills of the public education system in America and around the world. As a staunch ambassador and advocate for teacher empowerment, Kwame has spoken at numerous national education conferences and worked diligently to support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in the education system. In January 2019, he was one of 35 Massachusetts teachers of color chosen by Commissioner Jeff Riley to be in the inaugural cohort of the InSPIRED (In-Service Professionals Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity) Fellowship, an initiative organized by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for veteran teachers of color to recruit students of color at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels to teach in targeted districts within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As an InSPIRED Teaching Fellow, Kwame facilitated professional development workshops for aspiring teachers at universities such as Boston College, UMass Boston, and Worcester State University and has served as a guest speaker for non-profit teacher pipeline programs such as Generation Teach and Worcester Public Schools’ Future Teachers Academy. A proud graduate of Temple University, Kwame holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in education. He was honored as the 2019 National Member of the Year by Black Educators Rock, Inc. for his unwavering commitment to the advancement of the teacher profession.

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