Opinion
Families & the Community Opinion

Teachers Are Civil Rights Leaders: What We Can Do to Stop the Next Water Crisis

By John T. McCrann — February 09, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I saw Concetta Lewis, who I know through America Achieves, posting about the Flint water crisis a few weeks ago. Her passion on the issue and how it relates to the larger struggle for poor people in this country was clear then and is clear below. In this piece, she lays out an argument for how teachers can use our experience in communities to fight and pull our country towards more complete fulfillment of its democratic principles. Enjoy and share your thoughts/feelings with Concetta and I below and on Twitter. - JRTM


As a special education teacher in Michigan, I am deeply saddened by the long-term impact of the water situation in Flint.

On a daily basis I am faced with providing educational programming and supports for students with disabilities. To know that children in the city have been subjected to the irreversible damage of lead poisoning. and to understand the implications this has for their future academic success is disheartening.

During a recent presidential debate Hillary Clinton articulated what I have been feeling for years: “If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water, and being bathed in it, there would’ve been action

She’s right. If this type of government failure occurred in more affluent communities, the situation would have been corrected immediately.

Schools today can no longer just prepare students to be “model” citizens who go along with the system. We must prepare students be critical thinkers and problem solvers, even if it means challenging the status quo.

When I worked as a high school history teacher, I challenged my students to think beyond the information that was presented to them and to seek answers to the questions they had about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I wanted them to know the importance of fulfilling their civic responsibility by being actively engaged in electing our officials and having a voice in the decision-making process. I wanted them to recognize that they have the power to make change.

Lessons about citizenship, core democratic values and civic responsibility ought to focus on how these principles can be put to use in students’ own lives. School should teach students in Detroit, Flint, and every other community in America that each word in the constitution is for them, and every right afforded citizens in more affluent communities is applicable to them as well

Unfortunately, students in Detroit and Flint can also find examples of times when the system disregarded them. Both communities have a history of disenfranchisement of local citizens through state (Governor) appointed emergency managers who strip locally elected officials of their authority and offer limited or no accountability to the communities they serve. In addition, both of these communities have a high percentage of their members who are underprivileged, with limited educational access often leading to limited financial resources.

This leads to limited housing options, health care options, and educational opportunities for children. Without these things, community members will not have the capacity and resources necessary to fight against injustices and inequities within our systems in a manner that will bring about effective change.

Those of us who know how to advocate and who have access to those with decision-making authority must help build the capacity of all members of our community to fight for justice and equitable access to high quality educational opportunities. Those with limited resources often feel that there is simply nothing they can do to change their circumstances, whereas those with more education and financial resources often feel the exact opposite. For example, teachers (and other direct service professionals such as doctors and nurses) see these inequities first hand and have the cultural capital and access to highlight them.

Although our elected leaders have failed the city of Flint, the bigger challenge is the mindset many members of the community have of feeling insignificant. Our society has pushed many into believing that their voice and well-being does not matter if they do not have a certain “net worth.”

Many of the civil rights trailblazers, such as Septima Clark, took the time to educate poor and African-American members of the community. It is time we reviewed our history to understand how those “ordinary people” were able to effectively make an impact and spark change. I recently heard a pastor on the news speak about the situation in Detroit and say that “teachers are not civil rights leaders because they do not have time because they are teaching in schools every day.” I counter that by saying that teachers most definitely are civil rights leaders. Some of the most basic civil rights lessons are taught in schools on a daily basis - such as fairness, equity, and treating everyone with respect.

There is no easy or “quick” fix to this problem. However, we can begin by coming together across color lines, income lines, and boundary lines to ensure that all members of our community understand how to advocate for change and are fully experiencing the benefits of our constitution. I encourage teachers and those in the community with knowledge and political capital to begin to facilitate lessons to build the capacity of both students and parents. When elected and appointed officials know that community members have come together, are educated on the issues, and understand the power they have, the needs of all members of the community are better served.


@LewisConcetta on Twitter


Photo by msalguero https://pixabay.com/en/tap-bathroom-drop-of-water-water-943297/


Follow John McCrann on Twitter.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Prove It: Math and Education Policy 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.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Reported Essay Pandemic Parents Are More Engaged. How Can Schools Keep It Going?
Families have a better sense of what their child is learning, but schools will have to make some structural shifts to build on what they started.
6 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Families & the Community Opinion How to Preserve the Good Parts of Pandemic Schooling
Yes, there have been a few silver linings for student well-being in the pandemic. Let’s not lose them now, write two researchers.
Laura Clary & Tamar Mendelson
4 min read
A student and teacher communicate through a screen.
iStock/Getty
Families & the Community COVID Protocols Keep Changing. Here's How Schools Can Keep Parents in the Know
Parents and educators shared best practices for effective communication related to the pandemic. It all centers on transparency.
6 min read
communication information network 1264145800 b
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty
Families & the Community Teachers' Union, Education Groups Unite to Resist Critical Race Theory Bans
Some of the country’s most prominent education groups are organizing against efforts to restrict teaching students about racism.
3 min read
Image of a "stop" hand overlaying a circle with a red diagonal line.
DigitalVision Vectors