America Has to Take Its Knees Off the Neck of Public Education, Too

By now, the image of George Floyd pinned to the ground with the knees of a murderous cop who the public trusted to serve and protect crushing his neck—and ultimately taking his life—is burned into the mind of anyone who cares about Black lives.

Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were all murdered within the past few months, adding to a long and growing list of Black people who have lost their lives due to America’s hatred and fear of us. 

Add the mishandling of COVID-19, which has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities, and we’ve had it up to our naturals (hair for those of you who are lost). And now we’re telling America—with outrage and force—to take its knees off our necks and put some respect on our lives.

As a Black woman who’s personally endured racism and profiling, struggled and feared for my life in some of those moments and is living with trauma as a result of it, I stand and fight with my community all day, every day. And as an education advocate and activist, my message is this: In order for America to take its knees off of our necks, it must also take its knees off the neck of public education.  

Black kids can’t breathe in schools. They’re victims of racism, bias, funding inequity and so many other injustices that by the time many of them reach high school, they’re knowingly—or maybe even unknowingly—suffocating from inaccessibility to opportunity and overall, the American Dream. And this, too, is layered in our larger push for justice, humanity and equality.

So while we’re carrying this momentum of positivity and passion for change, wrecking everything and everybody that gets in our way, here are a few things I suggest you do to make it right, America:

Remove police from schools, period. Needless to say, and as evidenced by past and current events and national efforts already in gear for this cause, we don’t trust ‘em.

Not only have there been multiple incidents in which police have unnecessarily used excessive force against students—ultimately reinforcing fear as a tactic of control and perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline—but most importantly, they have no place in a building that’s supposed to foster growth, socialization and promote learning!

Because realistically, if schools put forth the effort and resources to better support and understand Black students, they’d know that what’s often interpreted as disciplinary issues or learning deficiencies is actually a lapse in cultural competency.

Which leads me to my next point … 

Fund education equitably. We already know that schools in predominantly Black, low-income communities are underfunded and under-resourced. So they get the burned-out teachers who don’t have the patience to work with a student who’s maybe having a bad day. Or the new, young, White educator from suburbia that maybe sees teaching in an urban school as an adventure but is overwhelmed because they’ve had minimal interaction with Black students/people and no classroom management skills, so they lean on disciplinary infractions for relief. 

These schools don’t have extracurricular activities, up-to-date technology for all students, elective courses or meaningful curricula, nurses, social workers or mental health specialists. 

So yes these kids are disengaged, frustrated with their environment and have no outlet to vent, which causes them to maybe “act out” or “underperform,” leading to more suspensions, expulsions and placements in remedial classes.

Bottom line, stop criminalizing and under-serving Black kids. They deserve quality, fully-stocked schools with people who truly care about them, not detention centers disguised as schools,  serving as pit stops on the way to prison.

And start teaching real damn history that encourages compassion for our struggle, acceptance of diversity and yields allies instead of enemies.

America, your history is trash, own it! This erasure and whitewashing of the past with a stingy two-minute overview during Black History Month that jumps from slavery to Martin Luther King, Jr. having a dream with the false perception that Black Americans are really free is a disservice—a disservice to our history and also to students of other backgrounds who may need to unlearn racism and understand the role their privilege plays in our oppression.

Aim to teach love through truth and we’ll see less hate—and uprisings. Simple as that.

Honestly, I could go on about the importance of investing in and creating more pipelines for Black teachers, intentional parent and community engagement/empowerment, actually enforcing policies meant to protect Black students but, America, you already know how important these things are, you’ve just chosen to ignore and deny us of them.

Hear us and hear us good: We’re over-tired of and done with the injustices. Every time a Black person is murdered publicly, we hear you talk a good game about justice and change but still today, we can’t breathe. 

Police reform alone won’t do. Similar to what North Philly State Representative, Malcolm Kenyatta, said in his tweet below, there needs to be a complete dismantling and reform of all institutions whose foundations were built with intentions to keep Black people oppressed—including public education.

So fix it all right now—voluntarily, democratically and in good faith—before we have to make you make Black lives matter.

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