I’m not a mom.
But If I were a mother of a Philadelphia public schools student, I would want my children exposed to the subject matter that some teachers have adopted this week as part of their Black Lives Matter observance.
I’d have no hesitation about it.
Not one bit.
Information is power. Racial justice is going to continue to be a hot-button issue especially in the Age of President Trump, who by the way has had the official White House website updated to say that “the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong.” I looked but didn’t see anything about protecting innocent civilians from being racially profiled by law enforcement.
I applaud the Caucus of Working Educators for taking the bold step of organizing a week-long observance of the Black Lives movement that began Monday and concludes Saturday with a 4 p.m. panel at Temple University asking the question, “How does the work continue beyond Black Lives Matter Week?” The group, a subset of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, was inspired by 2,000 teachers in Seattle last October who wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts to show support for students of color.
“As we started to really think about it, it was like, ‘Okay, what does that mean for Philadelphia,” said Tamara Anderson, a caucus member and the mother of a Philadelphia public school student. “How can we make this a purposeful and deliberate conversation about race and about brown and black families especially in a school district that has a majority black students.”
It’s unclear how many teachers have integrated the suggested BLM course material into their lesson plans. The curriculum is completely voluntary. It ranges from elementary age-appropriate books such as “Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down” by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney to a reading about white privilege.
Here’s an example of how one teacher this week incorporated the BLM subject matter into his advisory period: High school humanities teacher Charlie McGeehan on Monday showed a poignant YouTube video of first-generation Asian Americans explaining their support of the Black Lives Matter movement to their parents and other relatives. Letters for Black Lives is only about 5-minutes long, but it is an intergenerational powerful cry against anti-blackness and police violence directed at African Americans. In it, Asian Americans point out parallels between the struggles of immigrants and those of blacks while also urging their relatives to support the BLM movement.
“I showed that video to my students and we just had a quick conversation about the diverse array of people who are talking about this,” explained McGeehan, who teaches at the U School in North Philly. “Students were interested and engaged. And it was just a little thought-provoking piece that expanded the way that they see what Black Lives Matter stands for.”
Then, it was back to the students’ regularly scheduled classes.
I know people get all nuts when you mention Black Lives Matter. They picture rowdy protests and demonstrators yelling, “f— the police.” People think the movement is anti-police and that protestors themselves are the trouble makers. Also, non-blacks sometimes feel diminished by the BLM label and think it somehow diminishes the value of white lives which is not the moniker’s intention.
The Black Lives movement got its start back in 2012 following the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teen murdered by a neighborhood resident who was later acquitted. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter began trending on social media and stuck.
Since then, the group’s focus has shifted to police killings of unarmed black men but also been broadened to include such far-flung topics as affirming the rights of transgendered people and protecting women from misogyny.
But you bring up #blacklivesmatter to certain folks and it’s as if their brains shut down. The conversation is over. They know all they need to know about the movement and will try to argue you down about it.
“I know,” said McGeehan who teaches English and history. “For people to say that my teaching about and opening up a conversation on Black Lives Matter in my classroom is forcing views on students is completely off base… For me, if anything, it’s like me listening to and empathizing with my students which is something I should be doing as an educator.”
He added, “I’m a firm believer that we have to push for racial justice in this country… and I think it’s a very important topic for us to raise in the classroom.”
BLM Week should become a regular thing. I think it’s a really good idea – even if I’m not a mother.