Sometimes, you come across a book that’s so powerful you have to read it, sit with it, and feel it.
That’s my advice for taking in Teaching for Black Lives, a compilation of 50 provocative essays, co-edited by NEA member Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle, editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, and an editor for “Rethinking Schools” magazine. (Jesse also blogs at www.IAmAnEducator.com.)
This book is for all the educators who want to look at what they are teaching—and how they are teaching it—to help students figure out this era of upheaval.
Although the book looks at the Black Lives Matter movement and what it means for education, the focus is also on making sure that more broadly, we connect the curriculum to students’ lives, concerns, and daily experiences.
The introduction sums it up: “Teaching for Black lives means that we can’t relegate Black history to certain time periods or events and we must include Black lives in all aspects of the curriculum, including science, math, literature, and the arts.
“Teaching for Black lives also means considering the loneliness of learning about one’s history when you might be one of a few students in class (or few teachers in a school) that this history represents.”
The book is divided into five sections:
- Making Black Lives Matter in our Schools;
- Enslavement, Civil Rights, and Black Liberation;
- Gentrification, Displacement, and Anti-Blackness;
- Discipline, the Schools-to-Prison Pipeline, and Mass Incarceration; and
- Teaching Blackness, Loving Blackness, and Exploring Identity.
The writers are educators, reporters, authors, and activists. Their eloquence and passion force us to challenge our assumptions about other people and ourselves. To me, that’s the very best kind of reading.
While it’s not an easy beach read, I consider it a must-read—the kind of book with ideas so interesting, you want to chew them over with others. (Reading group, anyone?) The bonus is the book’s rich, evocative art, which is as intense as the essays.
The essays take on a variety of subjects linked to the topic, like bringing social justice to a chemistry class by getting students to see how a science-based issue in their city (in this case, lead poisoning in Chicago) affects them, and why they need to understand chemical reactions.
And how a charter school’s “checkpoints” mimicked a Dickensian factory by treating children like inmates instead of middle-schoolers.
Writers rightly call out how the myth of color-blindness inevitably leads to blaming kids of color for policies that cause their own mass incarceration.
And what restorative justice is (a commitment built over time by everyone in the community), versus what it is not (“a quick fix to change suspension statistics”).
Also included is a talk James Baldwin delivered to teachers in 1963, about teaching in a society that “is desperately menaced…from within.”
As I flipped through the pages of Teaching for Black Lives, I thought about NEA’s commitment, and the commitment we each make as educators, to providing students with all of the support they need to develop emotionally and academically. It’s like NEA Vice President Becky Pringle wrote on this blog not too long ago:
“They must be healthy in mind, body, and spirit; they must be recognized for the unique and beautiful people they are; they must be challenged and supported and celebrated. We must embrace all of them—every aspect of their humanity.” Teaching for Black Lives will take us closer to reaching that goal.
See more about racial equity in education and learn how you can get involved by visiting NEA’s EdJustice pages.