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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Role of Schools Amid Crisis: Part 4

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While the novel coronavirus has presented challenges that are unprecedented in our lifetime, there is another public health epidemic we as a society have been battling for generations: racism and white supremacy.

I understand that racism has become a subjective term, so let’s first establish its definition as it will be used here. The Sociology Dictionary defines racism as “any attitude, belief, or behavior used to explain and justify prejudice and discriminating against racial or ethnic minorities, on the basis of perceived inferiority.” White supremacy, as I employ it, means the belief that “white culture” is and should be the dominant culture in all aspects of society.

Up until this summer, schools and school systems have gotten away with a failure to address the sordid racial history of our country while perpetuating harmful educational beliefs and practices rooted in white supremacy.

It was not until recent events that companies, corporations and school districts began to actively speak out against police brutality with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It had become not acceptable but rather expected for leaders across industries to take an unequivocal stance against hate and racism.

As a young teacher, though, I faced criticism from my colleagues for my audacity to speak out about the problematic practices I witnessed at the school and district levels.

When I was a teacher in Brownsburg, I regularly observed and experienced microaggressions. Even in predominantly Black and brown school settings, the impact of racism and bias was rarely explored in any meaningful way. I worked for more than one principal who touted their schools’ percentage of Black educators, but when we challenged the policies and practices in our building or district, we were often ignored. This is the culture of many school environments.

Schools and districts expect for the sheer presence of teachers of color to increase the achievement data for their Black and brown student population, but this is not a sustainable solution. As long as oppressive systems remain in place, the background of the educator doesn’t matter. The person upholding a racist system doesn’t necessarily have to be a racist person; they’re just doing their job.

During a recent livestreamed conversation about education in Indianapolis, a local Black educator who is a member of the leadership team at a charter high school expressed his opinion that “the Black community doesn’t value education,” as other Black educators and school leaders emphatically agreed with him. Later in that same show, the group began discussing best practices for anti-racist instruction.

It was interesting to me that these individuals could share opinions so very rooted in racism while believing they are agents of anti-racism in their schools and classrooms. I am sure these educators mean well and absolutely want what is best for their students, and even still they are perpetuators of beliefs rooted in white supremacy.

The reality is, far too many educators, whether they be teachers, counselors, principals or superintendents, share these beliefs about their students. The most articulate #BlackLivesMatter statement and social media post is meaningless when action and policy remain the same. So as school districts and charter networks engage their students and families this fall, it is imperative that those statements become policies of practices.

Leaders must interrogate the curriculum, the policies, the training and the unwritten rules within their buildings. Educators of color must be encouraged to challenge the systems as they stand in order to create a more welcoming and equitable school environment. If we continue to maintain the status quo after all that occurred over this summer, we have certainly wasted an opportunity to be better for our children.

Arrest Breonna Taylor’s killers.

Visit Thrivalindy.org to download our free Citizenship & Civics and Ethnic Studies curriculum. It is our goal that all students, particularly those who are part of historically oppressed communities, find their personal calls to action through these two courses. We are committed to developing the next generation of community and world leaders, and it starts with engaging them in anti-racist curriculum.

India Hui is the Founding School Leader and CEO of Thrival Indy Academy, an IPS Innovation High School. They are currently enrolling ninth grade students.

This is part of a series of columns. Consider reading parts 1, 2 and 3.

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