After a year like this one, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting and questioning how so many injustices can still exist in our nation today.
Just think about it. In 2018, we saw two Black men get arrested in Philly for simply waiting up for their friend at a Starbucks. We followed the fallout from Charlottesville, gawked over a viral Kanye tweet that suggested slavery was “a choice,” and jeered as Betsy DeVos recommended the removal of civil rights protection policies for students of color. We even witnessed as thousands of migrant children were separated from their families at the U.S. border and heard horrific tales of ICE taking children’s parents away.
We may be living in the modern 21st Century, but inequities still persist all around us. That’s especially true in schools, where hate crimes and bullying have noticeably increased over the past couple of years. As a teacher, it reminds me of the importance we play in speaking out against all forms of hatred and injustice.
The Price of Silence
I don’t just mean that teachers should speak up when injustice is obvious, either. There will always be examples that are easy to point to, like the Idaho elementary school staff that made fools of themselves by dressing up in these offensive costumes.
Staff dressed up as “Mexicans” and others as a “wall” on which it said “Make America Great Again” at an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL in Idaho.
Superintendent said there was not “malicious intent.”
— Leah McElrath (@leahmcelrath) November 2, 2018
Especially considering that roughly 13% of students at that school are Latino, I can’t even imagine how much trust was lost by the students and parents in that community. But if these teachers’ mistake was a sin of commission, imagine what other kinds of injustices must exist in our schools as a result of omission.
You see, teachers can’t just look at the Idaho incident and crown themselves as “champions of equity” for avoiding dumb costume scandals. Instances like that are easy to call out. As safeguards of our student’s learning environments, teachers have to be held to a higher standard than that. We must be responsible for protecting students and making them feel safe from discrimination, racism, and harassment of any kind. We have an obligation to teach our students to challenge and confront hatred, and we must never be silent in the face of injustice. Merely knowing or allowing acts of hatred to go unpunished on our watch makes us complicit. As parent Alana G. Baum put it,
When we give permission to hate, the floodgates open. When sexual predatory behavior is excused, when anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment is promoted… bigoted thoughts become sanctioned opportunities to act. Shameful ideas hidden in the shadows are given microphones, and dangerous behaviors are modeled for our children.
As far as public schools go, teachers are the guardians of those floodgates. And you don’t have to don a sombrero make to them cave in; it’s as simple as keeping your mouth shut.
So I’ve decided that the price of silence is too high. My students’ futures mean too much to me to sit back idly while the world persecutes young people of color and denies opportunities to those who weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths.
To stay silent in the face of harassment, discrimination, and hatred of any form is to be complicit in those injustices. And after all that’s happened in 2018, teachers must do better than we ever have before.