A blog following teacher Aaron Jura as he plans engaging, yet relevant English Language Arts content for High School students in New Orleans, LA.
We have all been struck by the violence we see each and every day on the news from all around our county. Recently in Louisiana, Baton Rouge (about an hour and a half away from New Orleans) a man named Anton Sterling’s murder, at the hands of officers, was caught on cell phone video and virally hit the Internet. Of course, many were outraged at the multiple angles of different cell phone video, which seemed to show a cold-blooded murder at the hands of officers. This along with other stories of murder and brutality has plagued people of color in our communities for far too long.
The question is: How do you broach the topics of race and race politics in the secondary classroom? The answer seems to be, it depends. Teaching in an urban environment with a high proportion of African American students means I do have to maneuver through these complex issues with students as they grapple with the violence that seems to be all too common in interactions with individuals whose duty it is to protect and serve.
The issue with the concept of the “all lives matter” movement is a complicated one. There are many great articles breaking down how the all lives matter phrase is a boondoggle. See here and here. But, the real question is – if all lives matter, which ones matter most? It’s obvious based upon subjective data that institutions and society at large systematically oppresses people of color and has done this throughout American History.
While there aren’t easy answers we can start with living as an ally not an adversary. The term ally doesn’t mean one who is passively committed, but instead that you are actively pursuing justice and equity. If you aren’t doing that you are not being an ally.
Coming back off my trip to California (where I learned the news of the murder in Louisiana) I knew I had to do something to show support to the community I live in, love, and value. I went online and organized a contingent of teachers to drive down to Baton Rouge and stand in solidarity with the African American community as they struggled to figure out how they could live in peace and without fear.
The protest was a peaceful one (of course, we are teachers) but the emotions were raw. Of the nearly 400 protesters who showed up on Saturday the 9th of July at the site of the murder of Alton Sterling we were greeted with love and gratitude. It really took me back that I was being thanked for showing up with hugs and tears from African American protesters and one thing became clear: the divisions that have long been used to separate us must be broken down.
Show your support, lend your voice. If you don’t want to be political all it takes is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that the community is in mourning. Be there for your fellow man. The parallels to the civil rights struggles of the 1950’s and 60’s are clear as day. I choose to support those I serve and not simply serve myself, will you remain silent or will you lend your voice and understanding?
Also, I recommend reading Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education..
Mr. J is a high school teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. J believes in the power of educators to help children and families achieve. Follow his blog for tips and techniques to keep engagement high and student achievement at the forefront.