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Teaching Opinion

Black Students Need Love Shown Through Action Right Now

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 02, 2020 7 min read
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(This is the fourth post in a multipart series on this topic. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.)

The question is:

What can schools do to specifically support African American students during the school closure crisis?

Part One in this series featured contributions from Antoine Germany and Larry Walker.

In Part Two, Adeyemi Stembridge, Ph.D., shared his reflections.

In Part Three, Jamila Lyiscott, Ph.D., offered her commentary

Today, Shannon R. Waite, Ed.D., adds her thoughts.

I’ll be adding it to All Classroom Q&A Posts on the Coronavirus Crisis.

What Black students need is love

Shannon R. Waite, Ed.D., is a clinical assistant professor in the educational leadership, administration, and policy division in the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University. Dr. Waite is developing a research agenda centered on examining the significance of culturally relevant leaders in supporting student achievement; understanding their responsibility to be social-justice-oriented, equity-focused leaders; and priming educational leaders to develop a critical consciousness with the end goal of dismantling institutionalized oppression in schools and systems. She is a mayoral appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy and has two daughters attending public school in New York City.

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “Love” here not in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” —James Baldwin

One fundamental action schools can take to support Black students during this crisis is to love them. To some, this response may read as utopian. As the mother of two brilliant and beautiful Black girls, I humbly submit that it is not. Amidst the most historic global pandemic and unprecedented crisis in modern history, the unabashed truth is that schools do not love all children. This is reflected in the policies schools adopt and the voices they choose to amplify. Policies that do not center the social-emotional (SE) needs of students and families communicate a lack of and are antithetical to the ethic of care. This is troubling as all educators know that the ethic of care is central to teaching and learning. As a scholar activist and policymaker, it is my belief that the policies schools develop and adopt should prioritize the SE needs of students. Developing policies that are reflective of the ethic of care for all children looks like intentionally centering the most vulnerable populations. It looks like recognizing that there is a place and time for rigor, and then there are times for rigorous self-care, and love.

Centering vulnerable populations and support for Black students is inextricably linked because of the historical and economic realities faced by Black communities throughout this country. This is true regardless of the socioeconomic status and potential of many Black students. Unfortunately, many teachers and leaders, educated in the U.S. and its colonies, have received an ahistorical and uncritical education. Their education was anchored in the myth of meritocracy and rooted in racism, anti-blackness, and oppression. For Black students, specifically, schools must intentionally demonstrate that they are prioritizing love and care for students and their families.

Employing critical-race theory as a methodological framework and using the ethic of care as an accountability tool to analyze existing policies will allow schools to thoughtfully interrogate and examine the inherent inequities and implicitly biased practices they develop, systematize, and use daily. Policies that oppress Black children and their families will continue to persist, in part, until schools acknowledge that its policies are racist. And, that it is the policy that needs to be examined rather than a deficit of values or morals schools perceive and project on Black families. This is an adaptive challenge that schools need to explore instead of continuing to develop racist and oppressive policies as a quick technical fix.

School leaders must commit to supporting teachers by helping them examine both their personal and professional core values and beliefs. Creating safe spaces for teachers and administrators to honestly examine what they believe about the potential of and the expectations they have for Black students and families. Reviewing data on AYP for Black students and disaggregating that data across the intersectional identities of those students can help illuminate which policies are oppressive inside of classrooms and schools. Reviewing suspension data, arrests, expulsions, and referrals to special education will indicate just how much Black students are actually “loved” within schools. Utilizing CRT as a framework and the ethic of care as an analytical tool to examine why practices, systems, and policies exist in schools is important. Then asking how each contributes and sustains the racism and oppression Black children experience within school is one of the ways that schools may demonstrate their love for Black children and their families.

However, disrupting anti-blackness, racism, and oppression requires that schools be committed to developing a critical consciousness in teachers and administrators that allows them to interrogate the dominant narrative in education. I am also grateful that my children attend a school where our principal is open and has acknowledged the need to develop her own critical consciousness. She has embraced this challenge and is willing to explore doing the work necessary to authentically love all the children in her care. I am grateful that my Black daughters are able to show up, unapologetically, as Black girls in school.

Unfortunately, many school building leaders are not ready to commit to this work and are inept in supporting teachers to engage in this work as well. This is because education in this country is ahistorical, incomplete, and sanitized to protect whiteness. History is taught with a focus on the property value of Black lives which, to this day, influences societies perspective about the place value of Black lives in this country. Black students need to feel loved, valued, and that their lives matter. They need to know this now, in the face of this pandemic, more than ever. During a time like this, what better way for schools to demonstrate love then by committing to address these persistent adaptive challenges. What can schools do to specifically support Black students during the school closure crisis? They can commit to doing the work—rooted in love.

References can be found here.

Thanks to Shannon for her contribution!

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