The World Is Burning; Teachers Please Rise Up

Like many others, I have had trouble trying to put into words what happened to George Floyd. He was, quite literally, killed because he was a black man. But, I don’t even think that does justice to what happened to him. He, like many other people of color before him, was begging for his life as his last breath was ripped out of him by a white man’s knee.

I keep watching that video, almost seeing it in my mind before I go to sleep at night. I keep watching the protests, both the peaceful ones and the ones that turned into riots. I keep reading every article, watching the news reports, getting lost in Twitter threads, seeing the anger, the sadness, the racism, the want to be better, and the disbelief that we have not evolved one bit in the history of our country.

Truth: We are a society where racism and prejudice still rules. Preconceptions and judgments cloud our everyday life. We like to pretend that we are better, more understanding. We like to think that everyone is equal. We in the education industry like to say that every student is equal.

It’s the biggest fallacy we have.
Sorry–actually not at all–that this doesn’t fit the EduTwitter platitudes.

This whole COVID shutdown has disconnected me from the one place where I feel like I belong. It has stopped me from doing what I do best–being in the classroom with a group of kids. With all of the hatred on display in the world, I want to be in the room with my students to talk about this, to tell them to use their voice, and to support them with their forms of protest. I want to tell those students who are afraid that they must fight, now more than ever.

But, I am part of the problem. As much as I think of myself as a champion for everyone, I am one of the privileged. And, if I am honest, I am one of the most privileged people in the world. I realize that because I am a white male who isn’t afraid to lead, my voice is heard more. My ideas are more readily listened to. I have an easier time getting access to things. I never, ever have to worry about being pulled over or profiled. And, I have never feared being killed by anyone with a badge.

Shame on me for not using my privilege to actually speak up all of these years. Shame on me for not using my platform to use my voice to fight the only important fight right now. I always tell my students to use their voice to fight the injustices, but until I do, in the right way while acknowledging my privilege, my words to them are just hollow. I may support them in the classroom and truly believe that I fight for them, but I must do more, be more. I must not only acknowledge my privilege but use it to fight for equality. We educators have a platform to fight not only for the future of our kids but for the presence of so many people.

We must be loud.
We must not be afraid of the backlash.

#BlackLivesMatter was born out of necessity. In 2013, the hashtag first appeared on Twitter, signaling one of the first powerful social activism hashtags on the platform. Used to protest and bring awareness for the inordinate amount of African Americans killed by law enforcement, the hashtag and Twitter account brought attention to a problem that has always been a part of our society. George Floyd, sadly, is just the latest victim. And, if you do a little bit of a study, you’ll realize that these crimes aren’t new at all. Quite simply, our technology is allowing them to be broadcasted. Society’s evil is now on broadcast, rather than lurking during late-night cross burnings. Now, the racists are doing their crimes in broad daylight.

Of course, there is a common argument that all lives matter. And, yes, in theory, this is true. In an ideal world, that would be true. But, until black lives actually matter as much and are valued as much as the rest of our lives, we cannot use the word, “all”. We cannot continue to lie to people, to kids, that all people matter when they can see for themselves that there is a group of people who get looks when they go to the stores, get labeled as they come into classrooms, see their parents get pulled over for little reason, see the fear in their parents’ eyes when they interact with law enforcement, see their parents get passed over for promotions for seemingly no reason, and have to be told how to carefully interact with “protectors” so they aren’t shot for simply walking down a street. We can’t lie to them as they watch person after person being killed because of their skin color.

And, none of this should label all police officers either. There are so many good people–some are even in my family–but those evil ones can’t be ignored. And, like teachers, I implore the good ones to use their voice, their privilege, to fight, even in the face of office politics and the supposed brotherhood to keep the focus on protecting all people and casting out these evil people from the profession and society.

But, we cannot say that their lives are valued more, especially after seeing Amy Cooper, a white woman, call 911 to make a fake report of a black man harassing and threatening her. Even if very few (and I’m not sure of the word “few”) white people feel that they have this power, it is a clear example of why we must fight and champion #BlackLivesMatter.

The world is most definitely burning. Riots and protests have broken out all over the country. The racists, led by the person who occupies the Oval Office, will denounce them and make diction choices such as “thug”. He’ll tweet a quote from a notoriously racist police chief who, in 1967, said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

He’s actually inciting racism, harnessing it for his followers to use and make acceptable. Not once during his occupancy has he defended anyone other than his white brethren? Native Americans were notoriously mocked; he did nothing. The KKK showed its face from beyond the shadows; he said they were good people. And, yes, riots and violence are terrible. But, as one of my personal heroes, Manny Scott said, “He who is guilty is not only the one who commits the crime, but also those who created the darkness.”

Mr. Trump did not create racism, simply because he wasn’t alive when humanity started here. But, he has certainly created much more darkness. He is complicit. Actually, he is more than complicit–he is exacerbating it. He makes people like Amy Cooper feel empowered enough to make up lies and be so careless about a fellow human being’s life. He must be held accountable by everyone, including those of us in education. If elected officials won’t stand up to him, we must. And, then we must vote them all out.

The world is most definitely burning. Even peaceful protests were marked with some violence. Two New York legislators were pepper-sprayed by law enforcement for merely showing up and showing solidarity with the protesters. Oh, both lawmakers just so happened to be African American. When your own lawmakers cannot join in a peaceful protest, it says that racism is acceptable. The Oval Office has made racism acceptable, made it alright to be public. We cannot accept this. The education system has to be a part of that protest.

But, that’s the problem with education and the surge of social media education stars. At a time when we should all be connected and helping each other by sharing materials through these supposed PLN’s (Personal Learning Network, for the EduTwitter newbies), the “Educators” and the majority of the education community have either chosen to make a brand for themselves or, even worse, make some money. And, it is rare for any educator to actually stand up to this oppression that has always been in our society. Instead, we get Twitter chats filled with these glorified platitudes, filled with philosophical nothingness, and rarely any practical help for a teacher.

During this pandemic, EduTwitter has maintained its “everyone wants to sound good” platform, but nobody wants to say anything important. Yet, there are actually Edustars who are selling masks with their logos on them. That is the epitome of leadership and love for the field, right?

And, as expected, few care to condemn what happened to George Floyd, other than the gratuitous tweet or Instagram post. Few care to publicly challenge the Oval Office for its racist policies, its lack of action, and its lack of compassion. In a time when we need a kind, decent leader, we are left rudderless. And, most educators simply don’t want to take up the fight.

If we don’t put up a fight, we are sending a message to our students that racism is acceptable. We are sending a message that their lives aren’t equally important to ours. We are sending a message that they don’t have as many options and we are putting them in a place of continued darkness. Violence will only get worse as each racist act gets televised with no consequence. We are setting up our kids for a life of violence.

How can we, the educators, help?

First, we must acknowledge our privilege. We must be honest about our standing in current society and show everyone that we are willing to use it so that, one day, there’s no such thing as privilege.

Second, we must teach. We must not only teach our content, but we must teach our students that we all have an obligation to society. We must all stand up to inequality, even if we are the privileged. We must a teach them that we cannot leave it up to the few like Collin Kaepernick who are willing to give up everything to take a stand. Like every great teacher, we model by actually getting involved. We must all scream, protest, vote, and do everything that a good citizen of Democracy does when there is injustice. We must teach them that we must stay vigilant so there isn’t more instances of cruel, evil racism that took the life of George Floyd.

Third, we must use our platforms. If we expect kids to use their voice, we must go beyond the token Tweet that says nothing. We must go beyond “thoughts and prayers”. We must use the platform of our classroom to show that we have an obligation to take a stand. We must use our social media platforms, our community platforms to take a stand. We must challenge authority, even those who hold the highest offices, every time they step all over humanity, when they neglect, and especially when they further push the already huge gap between the privileged and everyone else. We must use our platforms to drive change.

Lastly, we must vote in every single election. We must use our power to cast out these terrible people and then hold our new elected officials accountable.

I firmly believe that well used words combined with real action can and will make change. There is no reason why the good people cannot overcome the evil. There’s no reason why we can’t make the racists run and hide. If we use our platforms and we are vigilant, we can overcome.

How will I throw myself into this fight?

Well, this is my start. I know that there will be people who hate what they have read. There will be words tossed at me, whether behind my back or with the aid of internet muscles.

I. Do. Not. Care.

And, I won’t stop. I will continue to write, whether it is on this site, on my own blog, or on another site. I will not sit in silence as people are persecuted for no reason. I will not be silent as yet another human being is killed for no reason. I will not be silent, even if I am asked to be silent. I will continue to write. I will actually start to use my Twitter account as well to highlight stories, bring awareness, and protest. I will join the fight.

Teachers…we must all do the same. Many of our elected officials have sold out for office, trading in humanity and values for status. But, we have the ultimate platform. We must not only teach our kids that peaceful protest leads to change, but to show that it does. We all have an obligation to fight. We have an obligation to stop the EduTwitter empty pandering and actually say something. Stop worrying about building a brand or becoming a star. I can tell you this quite honestly: nobody cares about your quotes, your empty words, your supposed keys to success. We would all care if you actually took a stand and did something…anything.

My generation is still looking for its place in history. We haven’t done much to improve the world. We’ve fallen asleep on so many fronts. We make empty promises. We don’t vote as much as we should, which leads to why someone like the current guy in the White House can actually win an election. My generation needs to take the stand now; it’s our most important fight that must be won. Right now, our legacy is that we stood silent while people of color are killed. We cannot let this be what we are remembered for.

George Floyd must not become another name that is quickly forgotten. He must not become the “guy who got killed a few years ago”. Not only does he and his family deserve better, but we need to be better. There are no more excuses; there is no matter hiding behind falsehoods of equality and that the Civil Rights movement took care of everything. Until everyone is actually valued the same, until everyone can walk down a street without the fear of being profiled, until there is no fear of law enforcement for anyone, we must fight.

If we don’t, we are letting down our students. We are letting ourselves down. And, most importantly, we would be complicit with allowing people of color to be executed on the street, in plain sight, without any real consequence.

The world is burning; we need to act right now and every moment thereafter.