Education Opinion

#DONTSHOOT Because Discrimination Is Killing Children Worldwide

By Jessica Shyu — August 23, 2014 3 min read
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Education didn't save Mike Brown. Racism killed him."

All week, those words written by my Teach For America colleague, Brittany Packnett, rang in my ears. Read her powerful reflections about racism, love and protesting in Ferguson.

In fact, education doesn’t save children from preventable diseases in India. Education isn’t saving people from being slaughtered in Syria. Education didn’t save college students on Tiannenman Square.

Racism, discrimination, hatred, fear killed them. What’s allowing them to keep going on is apathy. Silence. Disengagement. Denial.

When I worked in China, I was cautious with what I said and did. I was a guest and needed to respect the country’s rules - for my own sake as well as my organization’s. This meant not stepping in when witnessing police beating a homeless man in the streets and not raising my voice to big and small issues of inequity, free speech and corruption. I slowly silenced myself. Became apathetic. Disengaged. And at times, in denial to all the things that I believed were wrong.

This past week, I’ve been most struck by the lack of discussion about Ferguson among most of my family and friends. I’m floored by the degree of denial that racism was involved in Michael’s death. I’m sad by our own denial of being racist.

But mostly, I’m frustrated by my own repressive silence about these human rights issues in my daily life. Beyond re-posting articles on Ferguson on Facebook and discussing issues with like-minded friends at work, I haven’t engaged in hard conversations about the role racism plays in our lives. I haven’t taken a public stand about the fact that the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha Martin, Eric Garner and so many more unnamed and around the world are unnecessary, wrong and rooted in racism that is real, everywhere and affects me and my beloved friends, family, students and colleagues in America and worldwide right now.

When we don’t take a public stand and do something about it, we create a silence that allows apathy to flourish. This is the perfect breeding ground for the racism, discrimination, hatred and fear that is killing our children around the world.

Education didn't save Michael Brown. Racism killed him. There seems to be only one solution - end racism." -- Brittany Packnett

Fortunately, good educators know all about taking a stand and doing something about it. After reading the latest news updates everyday on Ferguson, Israel and Syria, I find myself turning to Education Week and education blogs to be reinvigorated by the outpouring of lessons, resources and love from colleagues everywhere who are doing something to end racism, no matter what their role is in education.

I’ve been inspired by the teaching resources on Teaching Tolerance and LA Network for how to teach children of all colors how to stand up against prejudice and injustice. I’m moved by the discussions on this sites by teachers around the country about how they’re approaching it with their own students.

I’m reoriented by the wise What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? #MichaelBrown">reflections and teaching guide on the blog Practical Theory, written by veteran teacher and principal, Chris Lehmann, as he reminds us that there is no such thing as “passive anti-racism”.

I’m energized by the North Carolina teacher who raised more than $139,000 for the food banks in St. Louis so that kids in Ferguson have food to eat while school openings are delayed.

I’m grounded by Teach For America colleagues and so many others like Brittany and DeRay McKesson, our CEO Matt Kramer and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein as they participate peacefully in Ferguson and share their reflections to the world.

I’m humbled by teachers in Ferguson who came out to clean up the streets after days of clashes.

Most of all, I’m finally feeling brave enough to take a stand after all these time of being far too silent and thinking that simply working in education was enough.

For me, this means I’m taking a stand to support myself, and the teachers, teacher coaches and kids I get to work with in understanding their identities, racism, discrimination and the power to act. This means having opening up conversations with my family about this. And finding ways to take part more in anti-racism work to show that as a middle-class Asian American woman, this matters.

This isn’t just a Ferguson problem. This is a global problem that affects us in rural New Mexico, the mountains of China and the bustling city of Mexico City. And unless we start here, people will continue dying unnecessarily all around the world.

The opinions expressed in Lessons From China are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.