Recently, Native Americans have been battling a keystone pipeline on their reservation (learn more from MSNBC or The New Yorker). They are fighting both to keep their sacred sites protected and to ensure that they can continue to keep clean water from the Missouri river clean.
Fortunately, the President released a statement earlier today ordering a stop to the construction until these issues can be further investigated.
Now, there are a number of reasons, from a conceptual standpoint, why we should talk about demonstrations to protect civil rights (I’ve written about last year’s protest by the Mizzou football team, for example). Still, there is another essential fact to consider.
The students we teach each day don’t lose the context of their outside lives when they enter the classroom. When I see students in communities that are facing a serious crisis in resources (such as Standing Rock Reservation or Flint, Michigan)‚ we have to remember those aren’t just statistics on a page about “those communities.” They are the kids entering a classroom that morning, with teachers who need to try and, somehow, invest them in a society that too often provides evidence that that are not valued members in it.
This is why conversations about social justice, civil rights, and providing equitable resources must happen within all our classrooms, and not just in the living rooms of the families in “those communities.” When our students are affected by situations that threaten their feeling of security and value, they bring those struggles and stories to their desks in our classrooms. When our students exist in a world that makes them feel inferior and small, it is part of our job as educators to discuss the reasons why and begin to provide the tools to help them overcome those obstacles.
I believe we must also, though, consider our role in the community when issues may not directly affect community members at the school level. As groups in North Dakota to New York stand up to protect the rights of Native lands and people, I encourage us as educators to remember that we as teachers are also an essential part of our communities.
Many of us often say that we don’t stop being teachers when we walk out the school’s doors. Now we have to ask ourselves an important question: if we are still “teachers” after we leave school, are we willing to stand with the communities we serve even when their problems leave the school as well?
The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools 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.