Welcome! Thanks for stopping by! I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about education, gender, and what happens when these two things overlap. And sweet chickens, did they overlap in this election. I want to steal a few moments of your time to chat. If you’re feeling anxious about what’s happening, I’m there with you. I’m still feeling pretty helpless and wondering what I could have done differently to get Clinton elected. If you’re not feeling anxious, I’d ask that you take a moment to check out what happened in our schools today:
- Children are crying and stressed about what happened
- Boys tried to pull off a girl’s head scarf because of her faith
- Students are filled with fear and anxiety
- All of these things happened
- and this video where boys held up a Trump sign and chanted “White Power”
I know you care deeply about your job and students and these stories worry you as much as they worry the next teacher. There’s lots of great advice out there on how to talk to students about this stuff. Those conversations, though, are about the short-term. We also have to think about the long-term.
85% of the country’s 3.1 million teachers are White and 74% are female, which basically means all students in America will be taught by a White women at some point. With any group that large, there are patterns; patterns about where we grew up, went to college, and learned how to be a teacher. Last year, I wrote about what those patterns may mean around race and gender and being in education.
It’s kinda wordy (natch – “boys are good at math, girls are good at English”) but the gist: White girls, generally speaking, aren’t taught how to talk about, think about, and reflect on race. (White boys, too but this isn’t about them.) Odds are the title of this piece made you uncomfortable. We’re raised to be polite and good. We were taught to see people’s insides, not their outsides. Our parents called it being “color-blind” or told us to not “see color.” As grown women, it feels rude and impolite to talk about it or we believe race is a non-issue. As a result, when things like this happen, we don’t know what to say or we bollix it up without realizing it. A Black child asks what will happen to them under President Trump and we assure them by saying, “Nothing. You’ll be fine. There’s nothing to worry about. Now go work on page 17.” Or we see a White student make a comment about a Muslim girl’s hijab and we respond, “We don’t do that in our classroom. Be nice.” Not all of us, all of the time. But enough of us that we put a man who refused to rent to Black Americans in the White House.
This isn’t about shaming anyone or preaching. I respect you too much for your career choice to do that. However. I’m going to ask that you start the work of fixing how you think about identity because that’s the long-term fix that’s in your control. That means thinking about your (and your students’) racial, cultural, religious, ethnic, sexual, and gender identity – in other words, the things hurled at children by children as insults in our schools today.
If you don’t think you need to deal with racial issues – watch that video again. It’s short but important. Thinking about identity isn’t just for supporting children of color, it about ensuring another generation of White women doesn’t grow up thinking “color-blind” is a good thing and fail to teach their sons and daughters the problem with chanting “White power.” But if you think you’ve got it handled, you should read this letter instead.
You may not have needing this prodding from me. You may be ready to start this work, want to know more, and are ready to ask questions. Feel free to ask in the comments or reach out on Twitter. There’s no such thing as a silly question. I had a lovely Twitter exchange a few days ago with a woman who was mortified to realize she’d made it to her 30’s without knowing anything about Jim Crow laws. It happens. When we know better, we do better.
And don’t worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. A fellow educator, Jamie Gravell, once helped me think through some missteps when I blundered in a conversation and kindly reminded me mistakes happen. It’s how we learn. Mistakes though, by White adults as they learn and unlearn about race, shouldn’t impact people of color. In other words, don’t ask Black men or women your questions. It’s not their job to educate you. Jamie has volunteered to answer questions. Follow her on Twitter if you don’t already or check out her website.
Got wonderings but aren’t sure how to ask them? This is Elizabeth Self. She’s a professor at Vanderbilt and she studies these intersections for a living. She works with teachers at all stages of their career and probably has heard your wondering before. Talk to her. She’s lovely.
Ask us. Talk to us. We may not respond right away because educators and life, but we’re here for you. We’ll talk. I promise there’s no shame, no blame. This is where we are now. We can’t undo, we can only move forward. Children are afraid and we have to fix that. Not ready to talk? Check out Educolor and then come back and talk.
We’ll be here.