by Emily Neil
02/15/2018 - 16:59
Black Lives Matter at School
Educators, organizers, activists, and students around the country participated in the nationwide movement, amplifying calls for anti-racism teaching and training and increased focus on Black and ethnic studies in school curricula.
From Feb. 5-10, educators and students in Philadelphia and in more than 20 other cities throughout the country called for racial justice in schools by participating in activities and events for the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Our Schools.
The week-long movement began in Philadelphia last year in order to introduce a focus on activism and discussion of current struggles for racial justice in the midst of standard teaching material used each February for Black History Month.
In Philadelphia, the Caucus of Working Educators (WE), a union caucus comprised of current and former members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, distributed promotional and educational materials and organized and hosted forums for the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in schools throughout the city.
As part of the week’s goals, the WE presented three specific demands to address racism in Philadelphia schools — and pointed out the high cost for Black and other underrepresented and underserved students when that call is ignored.
The demands are: end zero-tolerance policies that disproportionately affect students of color and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline and focus on restorative justice; recruit, hire and retain more Black educators in the school system; and implement anti-racism training for all teachers.
The final objective has already been a point of concern for the Teachers Action Group (TAG) of Philadelphia, a group of full-time educators and other advocates and participants in public education who work with partner and community organizations and schools with the goal of “fostering positive school transformation, environments where students and teachers can thrive, and community ownership and influence within education,” according to the group’s website.
To that end, the TAG Philly network has planned to facilitate a series of workshops open to public registration this spring called Inquiry into Action Groups, with a launch date set for Feb. 22.
Facilitators with a range of experiences, fields of expertise, and backgrounds will provide in-depth training in nine specific topics, including “Tackling Islamophobia and Religious Diversity in Schools,” “Building Anti-Racist White Educators,” and “Social Justice in the Elementary Years,” among others.
Many educators say movements such as Black Lives Matter Week of Action and spaces like the Inquiry into Action groups are essential for teachers, administrators, and students of all races to define racial justice and work toward enacting it at the individual and systemic levels.
Edwin Mayorga, assistant professor of educational studies at Swarthmore College, was one of the speakers at a panel organized as part of the BLM Week of Action called, “Immigration in Trump’s America: The power and importance of Ethnic Studies,” which examined the importance of Black and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum. Mayorga, who is also the founder of a participatory action research collaborative for college and high school students called Education in Our Barrios, has worked throughout the past year to promote and organize Black Lives Matter Week of Action at higher education institutions, as well as in local K-12 school settings.
According to Mayorga, engagement in the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action is a call to look critically at the history of education in the country, and U.S. history as a whole.
“The roots of this country being connected to colonialism and anti-blackness and enslavement,” Mayorga said, can be overlooked in education because “in the classroom there's a refusal to engage with that complicated and often violent history.”
Mayorga said that inclusion of Black and ethnic studies in a school’s curriculum are essential because of the need to re-envision education as a “holistic, humanizing thing that helps us all in our individual development but also in the development of our communities, our relationships, the earth.”
“One of the key pieces here is really having conversations and policy changes regarding the core values of our education system,” Mayorga said of how to start to address systemic inequalities.