This is Black Lives Matter at School Week, and the NEA is proud to support a movement that is all about sparking conversations that will protect our students and ensure that no matter their racial or ethnic background, they have the support and tools they need in schools.
What this week—and the entire movement—emphasize is that those of us who are educators have a responsibility to look closely at what black students face in far too many schools across our nation.
We know, for instance, that zero-tolerance policies lead to higher rates of suspension and other disciplinary measures that are pushing students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system. These policies disproportionately affect black students, who are often disciplined more severely than other students for minor infractions.
But let’s be honest: Looking closely at these policies and what’s happening in schools means examining ourselves as educators. That can be difficult for even the toughest among us—especially if you consider yourself to be someone who loves each student, every child, as if he or she were your very own.
Our dedication to students, however, doesn’t mean that we don’t come into schools with prejudices and predispositions. These may have been cultivated in us while we were growing up, or they could have been part of life in our communities. We are not always aware of them, and even worse, we have no idea the impact they have on the decisions we make as educators.
The need for us to reflect on our thoughts and behaviors was underscored last week after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized for a racist photograph that appeared to feature him. The photo was in his 1984 medical school class yearbook. Although the governor said a day later that he was not in the photo, he did admit to using shoe polish to darken his skin around the same time while doing an impersonation of Michael Jackson.
I don’t know what’s in Governor Northam’s heart, and I certainly don’t know what he did or did not do. (Considering his two-day apology, it sounds like he doesn’t, either.) But I do know this: If we adults are not accountable for our behavior, we cannot teach accountability to our children. Furthermore, we have to have confidence in our elected officials and faith that they respect and will represent all of us.
All the mea culpas in the world won’t fix things unless we examine ourselves, reflect on our own thoughts and behaviors and take action to create racial justice everywhere, particularly in schools and on campuses, where our future leaders are. The good news is that change and growth are possible for anyone.
Start your journey this week. Look at the many Black Lives Matter at School resources that NEA’s Center for Social Justice has assembled with our coalition partners during this Week of Action.
The Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action includes a demand to end zero-tolerance policies; mandate that black history and ethnic history be taught in schools; hire more black teachers; and fund more counselors in our schools. The last one is particularly timely: The week of February 4-8 also happens to be National School Counseling Week. And one thing we know for sure is that no matter what communities our schools are in, most of them have far too few counselors.
There are several things you can do this week to show your support for this growing movement, and you’ll find suggestions here. You can read about how the movement began here. Check out this interactive map to find events and actions near you, or to submit your actions and updates.
Also, consider joining the movement. BLM epitomizes what organizing is all about: Anyone who supports its mission and goals can join in on monthly conference calls and be part of the movement. Find out more here at blacklivesmatteratschool.com.
Take the pledge to grow the movement for racial justice in education, and be part of history.