In our schools, are we silencing the students that sit in front of us? Are we putting out that fire in a student? Are we teaching students that dissent is unpatriotic? In one of the classrooms that I work in, I heard the teacher tell her students that good citizens support their country and government. Say what? My mouth dropped. My heart flopped out of my mouth. In the history of America, wrong has been done and committed by this country. Laws sanctioned by a government doesn’t make them right. The creation of America was based in slaughter, subjugation and domination. So, I ask you, “what are you teaching to your students?”.
Are we teaching students to simply accept authority as truth? I refuse to teach this. Ever! In understanding the history of America, I know that students must be taught to question and to be critical in their thinking. I want them to know that authority-figures doesn’t warrant your blind-following. You must think for yourself. You must look at the various parts that make up a system. You must eradicate oppression(s). You must ask yourself the questions that aren’t being asked of you. I could care less about being a good citizen if this means accepting: war-crimes, state-sanctioned torture, war, racism, sexism, homophobia and etc.
One of the most powerful statements that one can hear is this:
Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.
“THE BALLOT OR THE BULLET,” SPEECH, APRIL 3 1964, CLEVELAND, OHIO (PUBLISHED IN MALCOLM X SPEAKS, CH. 3, 1965)
For the past century or so, several revolutions and movements have occured within America and other countries due to the fact that groups were and is denied rights that one would think as being inalienable. However, this has not and isn’t the case for several groups in America and across the globe. This work isn’t easy. It will never be easy. It has never been easy. Nonetheless, more work has to be done. And this work begins with the current and next generation. We have to educate this generation to be radical in their thinking so that they can teach those that come after them to be just as radical, if not, more. There’s no time to waste time.
In many classrooms, teachers are playing the role of the oppressor. Teachers are rewarding obedience and punishing those that are rebellious. Why are we rewarding obedience and silence? Because this is the way of domination. You strip the oppressed of their voices. their narratives. their lives. You want the oppressed to simply yield without questioning. You want them to take your word as being truth. as being their narrative. The oppressor can’t afford to have dissenters because this disrupts the system.
As an educator, when will you begin to teach wholeness? In the words of activist and feminist, Nawal El Sadaawi,
How many were the years of my life that went by before my body, and my self became really mine, to do with them as I wished? How many were the years of my life that were lost before I tore my body and my self away from the people who held me in their grasp since the very first day?
In our classrooms, there are many students that are fighting to belong to themselves. To love themselves. To hear themselves speak. To see themselves. To know that they matter. That their narrative matters. However, this act of resisting doesn’t happen easily for students that are located in classrooms with teachers as oppressors. I’ve seen teachers break the spirits of students. Put out that flame. Put out that narrative. Silence students. Forever. Where is the healing in this kind of environment? Where is the love?
In the words of the beloved bell hooks in her text Teaching to Transgress:
To engage in dialogue is one of the simplest ways we can begin as teachers, scholars, and critical thinkers to cross boundaries, the barriers that may or may not be erected by race, gender, class, professional standing, and a host of other differences. (130)
Students must have space to voice their narratives. On the other hand, educators must be vulnerable in this process as well. It’s not good enough to believe that students can simply disclose personal experiences without the educator doing the same in return. There must be equal vulnerability. A relationship founded upon love is one in which subjugation and domination is not apart of its framework.
So, when will you stop playing oppressor in the classroom?