Time to Act: A Letter to Our Community

DRP Members and Partners:

Like many of you, our team experienced horror and sadness as videos and audio tapes revealed Breonna Taylor and George Floyd being murdered by police. Black Americans — sisters, fathers, friends, and partners — living their lives, sleeping in their homes, going for a jog, and running errands are no longer with us simply because of the color of their skin. These are not isolated incidents. Black people were 24% of those killed by police last year despite being only 13% of the population. Indeed, we all breathe poisonous air polluted with anti-Blackness that manifests in so many ways, including in education. To our Black colleagues and friends, we are sending you extra love, knowing you have to show up for your students while taking care of your families and yourselves.

Our mission at The Discipline Revolution Project (soon-to-be-named The 20% Project) is to (1) support schools and systems leaders to build anti-racist/anti-biased, high expectation, high support cultures, (2) put in place robust family and student supports, and (3) actively tear down policies and practices that cement inequities. Our work has never been more urgent.

We are glad to see the outrage about racial disparities in policing and we know the same biases that exist in broader society play out and, in some cases are exacerbated, in classrooms and school buildings. This isn’t a time to point fingers, it is a time to act within our own sphere of influence. Many of you have reached out for ideas and resources and, in that spirit, our team is sharing what we call a “2x3x1.” In keeping with our EQUITY Framework and our organizational values, we are sharing two things we recommend you do now, three things you should think about over the summer, and one thing we hope you do personally to help realize racial justice.

Right Now:

  1. As educators, do not look away, don’t say nothing. All of your students are watching the news, scanning social media, and talking to their friends about the events that led up to this week and how things are unfolding. If you are still in school, create a safe container to talk about what is happening with your students — some good resources are from Teaching Tolerance and Morningside Center.  If you are already out for this term, use the time to prepare so you are ready when you do reconnect with students.
  2. Combat existing narratives that Black residents are somehow to be “blamed” for dying at the hands of police or expressing outrage. White, Black and brown young people might be hearing this from the media, friends and family. I’ve had piercing questions about this from all the young people in my life — my son, nieces, nephews, students, and mentees — across socio-economic and racial lines. The narrative is prevalent. Read this piece by Adam Sewer that talks about America’s racial contract. Or, consider this piece about the context behind the rebellion in Ferguson. Facing History and Ourselves compiled data on the history of policing to help put this moment in broader content.

This Summer:

  1. Look at your discipline data, practices, and policies as urgently as you call for police to change their ways — build the skill and will of educators to de-escalate conflict, build healthy relationships with an understanding of how power and race plays out, facilitate community, partner with families, and actively interrogate their own biases; consider:
  1. Rethink “escalation protocols” and when and how you involve law enforcement — negotiate memorandums of agreement, engage in joint training about relationship building, de-escalation, and anti-bias work, build shared values and language around how to engage young people; consider:
  • 50% of school-based arrests are of Black students even though they make up 16% of the student population
  • The connection between school discipline and problematic policing is tighter than we think. It’s time for educators to step up. It is our moral imperative.
  • School and systems leaders must be active in pushing law enforcement to take a proactive, developmentally appropriate and anti-racist approach to engaging young people, not simply call them when things get “out of control.”
  • Overall, we should severely limit the amount of police interaction that occurs in schools (only when absolutely necessary) – and we should be working proactively to build shared value for our children’s psychological and physical safety.
  1. Actively examine your instructional practices — the who, what and the how — pick content that is pro-Black/Latin-X/Indigenous, recruit and retain educators of color, give all kids access to rigorous and culturally competent instruction and assignments, and prioritize building school and classroom cultures; consider:
  • We see and hear Black (and brown) students less than their peers: in almost every school climate and culture study, Black students report they feel less safe, less connected to school, and less connected to a caring adult than their White peers. This can be soul-crushing for students and have profound effects on their school experience and their life prospects.
  • We expect less from Black students: Black students are exposed to content and assignments that are far below grade-level. Black students report that adults underestimate their intelligence and expect less of them.
  • Black students rarely “see” themselves accurately represented in history or in any materials. Little, if anything, is taught about great Black civilizations, leaders, and contributions. And, to the extent we teach about the founding of our country or the civil rights movement or slavery, our curricula too often leaves out the tough stuff about the role institutional racism has played throughout. Curricula, books, and supplemental materials present White people in a favorable light and Black people in an unfavorable light. We need to seek and create better and more pro-Black content.
  • Having even one Black educator can increase a Black student’s likelihood of graduating by 13%.

Personally:

To our White colleagues and friends: Let’s not make Black people do all the work right now, or ever. Let’s take time to further educate ourselves and others, reflect and “be the change”.  I am happy to schedule a call if you want a thought partner, but here are some initial ideas. If you haven’t already (I know some of you have) let’s commit to:

  • Continually educating ourselves about how our country has promoted a White-normative culture that has perpetuated White supremacy — and how that influences all of us. Kendi put together an anti-racist reading list here. Consider what we gravitate towards as we consume narratives, content, and products. Our choices could be causing “confirmation bias” (e.g., if all you read or experience is from a White perspective, you are likely missing something).
  • If you are raising kids or play a primary person role to any kids, consistently practicing (you never “arrive” — I read and practice every single day) raising them to be race-conscious and anti-racist; some good and comprehensive resources (including readings, blogs, associations, children’s books, podcasts and more) are found here.
  • Getting in the arena — pushing ourselves not only to be an allies but rather co-conspirators — and knowing the difference. Not just talking, but acting — including and especially when it is uncomfortable.
  • Actively engaging other White friends, colleagues, and family in everything we are learning – and encouraging them to learn and discuss with their circle too. As educators, we cannot see this work as “nice to have” but as essential and urgent if we are going to do right by all of the students.

To all members of the DRP community: We believe biases exist in all of us and that we all have an obligation to understand how implicit biases are cemented — even in “good people.” Cumulative “micro aggressions” cause students to shut down, disconnect, or worse. Too often, Black students experience toxic or unsupportive school cultures and so do students who are LGBTQQ,  students who are growing up in non-traditional family structures, students with disabilities, and students whose families are immigrants.

We need to make this a moment of real change. We also can’t make this only about police reform — because we have so much to do in education too. And we have moral obligation not just to critique and observe problems, but to actively solve the ones within our control.

As always, we are here to support you and your team as you navigate these rough waters.

 

In partnership,

Cami and the DRP team