“School is often done to students instead of with them.” —Julia Torres
Denver teacher librarian Julia Torres noted this common school experience during the 2019 National Council of Teachers of English annual convention. This session, presented by members of NCTE’s Standing Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English, was centered on antiracist education. And it made me think of my own child’s school experience.
As a Black parent, I have become increasingly anxious as my child has grown older. She’s only in third grade, but the adultification of Black children in school—on top of disproportionate discipline and significant disregard of their mental health needs—has made me vigilant in my attention to her school and classroom experiences and my engagement with her teachers.
I hope, more than anything else, that her educators do right by her. I hope that they truly see her. That they see her dreams and her potential—and that they work to support her in realizing them. That they treat her like a whole human being. I hope she comes away feeling that her school experience is one she got to co-create as opposed to something that was done to her.
Supporting educators to ensure this vision is the lived experience of every student is why I joined the Teaching Tolerance team more than six years ago. It’s why TT was established in the first place.
I’m writing this a week after Maureen Costello’s retirement as Teaching Tolerance director, following 10 years of her leadership. In all the changes that have occurred in the last decade—and those that are happening right now as Teaching Tolerance enters a new era—one steady current is clear to me: Our work is about doing right by all of our kids.
I’m thinking of the millions of students who are humiliated in the lunch line each day because they have lunch debt, who have hot meals taken away from them in front of their school community and replaced with cold, less nutritious food. TT Senior Writer Cory Collins reports on the history of these practices in “Why Lunch Shaming Persists” and how doing right by students is a clear matter of will and priorities.
I’m thinking about the Black students in Las Vegas who were targeted for their race and threatened by white peers—and then had to figure out how to navigate a school environment in which they felt unsafe. In “Responding to Hate and Bias in the West,” TT Staff Writer Coshandra Dillard writes about how a group of parents is working to make sure such incidents never happen again—that school and district leaders do right by their kids.
I’m thinking of a kind of hate and bias that often goes unnamed and unreported in the classroom: curriculum violence. Too many well-meaning pedagogical practices actually harm students. Education professor Stephanie P. Jones explains how this plays out and how educators can reflect on their practice to thoughtfully create lessons that build students up rather than tear them down.
I’m thinking of the Mississippi high school students who, after a bond issue to renovate their school failed to pass last year, went door to door asking their community to vote “yes” so they could have a functioning building. Like these students, too many of our children have to try to learn in facilities without heat and air conditioning, with caving walls and leaking roofs. As School Programs Coordinator Jey Ehrenhalt makes plain in “They Deserve Better,” every single student deserves better.
We know that we have a lot of work to do, but I’m not here to just talk about problems. There is so much good happening in our nation’s schools, so many educators who make it their business to teach students in a way that validates their lived experiences and engages them as partners in learning.
As you read this issue, I hope you’ll think about the ways you can do the same for the students in your care. I hope you’ll reflect on your lessons, your biases and your relationship to your profession to ensure that you’re doing right by all of your students.