A Letter to the Future Generation

Dear Future Leaders, Innovators, Intellectuals,

I mark today as the first day of your endless possibilities and the last day of your doubts. You do not need to fit into a certain space for mere acceptance by fellow peers or onlookers. You must create space. You must pull out that shovel from the closet and dig. You must find the heart to dig beneath the rubble and make a long-lasting impact on this world.

It was June 2013 when I realized the urgency to create space for authenticity. But authenticity comes at a very high price that many may not be able to afford. For authenticity, you may have to let go of certain people, things, and places. And it will not be easy. Actually, it may be the hardest thing that you will ever do in your life. Even for me, I know that the negotiations are next to impossible.

Even for me, I know that the negotiations are next to impossible.

As I stumble upon the generation after me, I wish you well in your exploration of the world. I want you to find new ways of thinking and seeing the world. Don’t you dare be afraid. No, you reach out and you make this place a better place than how you found it.

The youth has always sparked revolutions across the globe. You do not need permission to do what is right. You only need to have the heart to do it.

We are waiting for you. We are giving you the torch.

And when the world gets too hard to handle, I want you to just hold on.

 

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Choosing the Children, Choosing the Community

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It was a hard night for me. One of those nights that consisted of cups of coffee, deep reflection and late-night conversation. Yes, it was that kind of night. Why? In a series of unexpected and unplanned events, I was told some concerning information with the onslaught of grimacing questions to follow.

Snapchat buzzed me. I had a notification. One of my beloved Somali friends sent me a video of a well-known Black speaker discussing the Black-community and the need for deep-reflection and action. In talking to her about the issues of Black struggle throughout the African Diaspora, another beloved friend sent me a text telling me that her young four-years old, Black son wanted to be White.

In being a product of urban and suburban education, I know the plight of Black children. I understand it very well. In the early years of my identity-development, I wanted to be White. It became so bad that I took actual steps in making this happen. I remember making a conscious decision in seventh grade to look White and to be desirable like my White counterparts. So, I decided to buy some blonde hair-dye and skin lightening creme. I tried not eating for a period of time to lose my curves and to look similar to the White girls in my school. I wanted blonde-hair with highlights, a thin body, and White-skin. I didn’t care how I would achieve this goal. I didn’t. I wanted it. I needed it. It was my path to acceptance, love and upward mobility in my environment.

In an attempt to become White, I felt like Pecola in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I was deeply moved by Whiteness and the elevation it was given in the classroom, on the streets, and within my own family. In being deeply confused on how to feel about myself, I didn’t know who to confide in. Growing up, I remembered watching Good Times, Parenthood, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, The Bernie Mac Show and etc. I remember watching these various Black shows and connecting deeply with them, but I still didn’t know where to fit within the Black community. Even when watching these shows, I saw how complex the Black identity is. You will see Black characters that would elevate Whiteness while others wouldn’t. And in these shows, the White gaze was ever-present.

In my own household, I didn’t receive any special-education on Black History (African or African-American). If I learned anything, I learned it from the snippets I would see on television or at school. Of course, these were unreliable sources in most instances. As a Black girl, I was fascinated by television, magazines, books and the outside world. As a teenager, I would often read Seventeen, Teen Vogue and Cosmopolitan. At the time, these magazines would show White bodies with the exception of a few light-skin or biracial Black girls. Most of the beauty suggestions were tailored to White-skin and those with straight or curly hair. Of course, I became lost in all of this. In asking my parents about Black History, they would laugh and tell me that we are Americans. We aren’t Africans. We aren’t from Africa. It was hard to swallow these words because I really wanted to know about myself. In school and within social-circles, I felt as if I was dying a slow-death. Nobody was giving me what I needed as a Black girl-child.

In the latter years of my education, I went off to the university and thirsted for Black-History.  I knew that a Black Studies’ class would quench this thirst. Dr. Clovis Semmes, professor, and director of the Black Studies’ program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City became a lifeline for me. I would ask questions, send emails and visit him in his office because I wanted to know myself. I wanted to know about my heritage. I wanted to learn what I wasn’t given in my previous years of schooling. In searching my university for this kind of education, I was turned away from numerous departments- Religious Studies, Women and Gender Studies, English Literature and Language and the History department. I was told to go to the Black Studies’ program. Out of an entire urban-based university, I was told to go to a place that isn’t even considered a department. In finally finding my way in the right direction, Dr. Semmes told me, “You have to study on your own. You have to seek out the answers for yourself. You have to supplement your education with Black-education. You can’t depend on this university”. I will never forget those words. In being told these words over four years ago, I have done exactly that. I have challenged myself to learn about the Black-experience throughout the African Diaspora.

In going through all of this, I know I am not yet done. The fight to love me in a world that doesn’t love Black or Brown people is hard. However, I can’t give up. In working with Black and Brown children for the last three years, I made a commitment to them. I made a commitment to making an impact on Black and Brown communities. In stepping outside of academia for the first time, I went to work

In stepping outside of academia for the first time, I went to work in the Center Public School District within Kansas City, Missouri at an elementary school. In working with kindergarten through fifth-grade students, I saw that many things had not changed from when I was growing up as a young Black child. In giving students the option of drawing a self-portrait, basketball or board-games, some chose to draw themselves. In checking on the students and making my rounds, I saw that many of the young, Black girls were drawing themselves with blonde-hair and peach-skin. I asked some of them why they chose to draw this version of themselves and they told me, “she is beautiful”.  In remembering the words of Dr. Ominata Okpokodu, “whenever you see an injustice of an issue, you must interrupt. You must disrupt. You can’t allow the cycle to be ignored. You have a duty to change what isn’t right,” I told the young girls that their skin, hair, and bodies were beautiful and didn’t need to be changed. Of course, this may not be the ultimate solution, but I believe that this is necessary. In an urban-school in which most of the teachers and staff members are White, I knew that the children were searching for themselves in what appeared to them daily.

In a scene on Good Times, the young-son Michael placed a Black Jesus on the wall as an attempt to resist and counter the White Jesus on the wall. In walking in on this change, his mother, Florida Evans became dismissive of this swap. She told her son that this particular phenotype of Jesus was wrong. Not only was it wrong, but she wasn’t raised with this Jesus. She argued that her White Jesus was an heirloom and she wouldn’t replace it with anything else. In seeing this back and forth argument between a Black mother and her son, I was puzzled. Why? I knew that Michael was looking for the same thing as me. Michael was looking for his Black self in a world of Whiteness. He wanted to see his image somewhere. But like most images, Whiteness would be the only acceptable image and representation to look to.

In 2014, the young, Black girls at the table drawing themselves were only drawing the image that they had seen through their Black eyes. Their image wasn’t elevated. Their image wasn’t on the wall. Their image was shunned and denied space to exist. And like those Black little girls and like Pecola, I wanted to be White so that I could be loved and accepted.

However, this must change. It has to change. Children are the future. And tomorrow will be their world. As I think about Black America, I cry because the struggle continues with the children in our households, in our classrooms, in our places of worship and within our communities. We have to teach them to love themselves. We have to teach them to resist. We have to teach them to create their own narratives. We have to teach them to create and build. We have to give them the space to be Black and proud.

We have to create communities of young, Black leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, writers, film-makers, activists, lawyers, painters and etc. We have to love them. We have to love them.

We have to love them because this world sure doesn’t.

When we choose the children, we choose the community.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Black and Brown Children

As a twenty-five years old woman, I understand that this identity-work can be hard. Heck, I know that it can be downright frustrating and a struggle. In the language of my mother, “just be you”. Now, for the young-folks, life isn’t really this simplistic. We’re told to be this and we’re told to be that, but who are we?

So, what does it mean to be yourself? I guess it’s when you are totally comfortable in the skin that you’re in. However, this gets a bit complicated when you are a Black or Brown person. Struggling with yourself becomes a daily task. It becomes a full-time job. It becomes a location of emotional labor.

As a twenty-five years old, working-class Black woman in the United States, I am at the intersection. In being told by Black and Brown students that they fear their lives because of what they see on television and social-media, how do we not struggle? How do Black and Brown parents raise their children in this unfortunate reality of cameras catching the constant dehumanization of folks that looks like themselves and their children? How do we hold it all together when we can’t walk without being criminalize in some form or another? How do we tell our children to play outside when playing with a toy gun will get you shot and killed? How do we tell our children to simply listen to the police officer and to follow directions when following directions gets you shot and killed? We are definitely strange fruit.

Struggling with this skin. Struggling with this skin. Struggling with this skin. Struggling with being a Black or Brown person is a full-time job that doesn’t give you breaks or paid-vacations off. When mother tells me to be myself, how hard is that when being yourself gets you shot and killed?

As I stare into the faces of Brown and Black students, I understand their struggles. I understand how hard it is to be a child, but yet treated like an adult. I understand how hard it is to be child, but treated as if you are well into your years of adulthood. You are not child when you are Black or Brown. You are adult. You are not child. You can never be child. You will always appear older than your White counter-parts. You will be the exception. You will be the reason why their guns are pulled more quickly. You will be the reason why they will place you in Special-Education at a higher-rate than your White-peers. You will be the reason why you will be suspended at a higher-rate than your White-peers. You will be the reason why you will not be allowed to be child.

But my beloved Black and Brown children, you need to laugh. And you laugh loud. You need to scream out your names and let the syllables of your names perform gymnastics on their tongues. Make your movements bold. Make your presence known. Do not reduce yourself to fit their expectations. Do not be silent. Do not be scared. Be bold, my beloved Black and Brown children.

We have endured four-hundred years of slavery. We have loved in the trenches. Our ancestors birthed us through their pain. They birthed us in their pain. My beloved Black and Brown children, love yourselves and love each other. Let your stories be told in whatever language you have. Make your dancing become the artifacts for generations to come to remember you by. Be bold in your identities. Be bold in your love. Be bold in your Black and Brown. Be bold. Be bold. Be bold.

For this is the pedagogy of the oppressed.

Stories of the Undocumented

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In the political-arena, we often hear people argue about the lives of the undocumented on television, social-media, in public forums and in our local communities. For some of these individuals, they say that ‘aliens’ and ‘illegals’ are taking ‘their jobs’. For other folks, they feel that the safety of the country is threatened. For me, stories of the undocumented are vital in understanding the nature of the global-community. Unfortunately, the rhetoric that many of us have aligned ourselves with is oversimplified and lacks substance.

Over the course of two years, I’ve worked within a school in which most of the students come from immigrant-families. And for the students, many are first or second-generation Americans. In the era of Trumpism, elementary-students came to school with a thesis paper on why Trump is a horrendous pick for presidency after he was announced as being the next President for the United States. In understanding Trump’s politics and his xenophobic, homophobic, racist, sexist and classist attitude, many families and individuals on the fringes of society, felt the same way as these young children. The replaying of soundbites flooded the internet and tension grew among Black and Brown families once he was chosen. And for the students that I saw daily, their private lives became very much public.

In the very daunting time following the elections, many students came to school with stories of deported family members. Even a student I had known for two years had told me that she would felt afraid that they will come for her family because they didn’t have papers. As days and weeks passed, the stories unraveled about the daily struggles of the students that appeared in front of the teachers at the school. For one second-grade teacher, she allowed her students to speak freely about their feelings and concerns. In a class with primarily Mexican-American students, the question of home and where it is or was became the focal point. For many of the students, America is home while their parents’ home is Mexico. In watching the reactions of students unfold, some silenced themselves, some frequently cried at random times and others became combative. For many of the students, the world around them was crumbling and coming to a complete halt. And the students would tell you that their parents came to this country to create a better life for themselves and their families.

In the lives of children, there are stories. And the stories of these children should forever compel us to think critically about our role(s) in creating space for those that are often silenced, pushed aside and marginalized. In our most intimate moments, when we are alone, when we are with family members, when we are with friends, we need to check our language and how we give power to others around us. I remember in a college-course many years ago, I was put on the spot and asked where I was from because of the scarf on my head. I was the only brown student in the class. And I was the only student asked to give a location of my birth. In this situation, I felt discriminated against and marginalized. Now imagine for a moment, your tongue doesn’t sound like those around you, your clothing doesn’t look like the other’s, your name doesn’t come out the same way upon their lips, and now you are interrogated and asked about your own humanity. For the students in front of me, I learned that we all carry stories. We all have stories that many people will never hear.

Over the course of this summer, I was given the task of observing two classes of English-Language-Learners at a high-school in Kansas City, Missouri for thirty-hours. In spending a considerable amount of time with students that are new to America, I allowed myself to simply listen. For those that knows me, I love students and I love talking. But for this assignment, I allowed the students to teach me. Day after day, I would walk into two classrooms with students that comes from: Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Mexico, Myanmar, Thailand and Somalia. Daily, you could hear KiSwahili and Spanish being spoken among the students. Even students that didn’t speak one language or the other would learn words. For me, the two classes were very much a community. For them, it was family. In a place that is thousands of miles from home, with food that tastes differently, with clothing that isn’t the same and with a culture that isn’t yours, it can be hard and lonely.  In casual conversations and open-discussions in their classes, the students would group themselves with others like them and they would speak openly about the hardships of being in America.

For one student, an advanced English-language learner, he told me that home is back in Tanzania. As a new immigrant to America, he told me that this older brother had joined the military. For him, he told me that he would like to join the military after high-school. I asked him why he wanted to join. And the told me, “The same reason why my brother joined- for citizenship”. For the young 19 years old man in front of me, life would be easier if he had papers. He said that life has been a struggle for some time after their arrival in the United States. Similarly, his peers echoed the same sentiments. For a young Sophomore student, life is hard. With his head on the table, I asked him why he was sleepy. His brother sitting next to him answered, “he goes to work at night and doesn’t get off until 2AM”.  Why? The young man needs money.

So, for me, the stories of the undocumented is crucial. It’s a part of the field I’m in. As an educator in any capacity, your students are the reason for what you’re doing. For me, they are the life-line of the task I’ve been assigned. We can’t solve the problems of the world if we choose to disregard the narratives of those that are routinely silenced, cast aside and marginalized.

For the undocumented, you do not need to prove your humanity to anyone. For the undocumented, you do not need to hide your language. You do not need to fold up to fit into spaces that aren’t able to hold your authentic self.

New York Edition: Exploring Another City

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For a few months, I explored the idea of moving to another place. Now, I didn’t come up with New York as my first option but it was at the top. In being at the top and really wanting to explore New York City again, I started to look into certification programs for teaching within the state. In stumbling upon a one-year certification program, I knew I had to make the move. I was quite certain that living in New York for one-year would be easy for me. Now, reality has definitely set in. It is tough.

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In coming to New York with savings and a pocketful of hope, I am trying. I am alone. I am new. I am coming to realize the importance of trusting in yourself when you have nobody else to rely on. As I travel down side-walks, into subway stations, into Ubers and alongside strangers I meet, I am asked the question, “Do you have family here?” and my answer is a dim “no”. In giving my answer, the questioner sulks. They give me a fake smile and tells me that everything will be fine. For many folks, they give me advice on how to navigate the city and what to do. In some cases, I was given personal business cards and phone-numbers in case I need help or needed an ear.

So, no, I don’t think New York is this cold place with heartless people. On the contrary, most folks have helped me tremendously. Even in passing, people would often greet me upon the sight of the headscarf. I smile. I reply. In a post 9/11 world, things like this matter. I’ve scurried upon many blocks from walking and find my eyes in utter disbelief when I see people dressed in traditional clothing, speaking their native tongue and loud. Why did I mention loud?

For me, I grew up in a family that is expressive. For many Black and Brown folks, we come from homes that are loud. We listen to loud music. We get excited and speak loud in conversation. We like to adorn ourselves in different ways that are bold. Naturally, we are like this. For many of us, we are unapologetic in this. However, in coming from Kansas (my last home of residency), things are a bit quieter. Not only quieter, but a bit boring. Now, I’m sure that folks from Kansas may disagree with that statement, but I’m very much used to loud music being blasted from stereos, young kids playing in the street, women sitting on the porch gossiping, the smell of food from the next house over, seeing young girls with barrettes in their hair, and etc.

For over a year, I lived in a place that distanced me from the little joys that I took pleasure in seeing. For me, city-life is a part of me. Yes, for many that knows me, I lived in suburban environments for a good portion of my life. For me, the suburbs have/are a hard place for me to be in. Why? Back in 2015, I traveled to a suburban area in Kansas one night to drop off a friend. In being the young-adults we were, we just decided to talk before separating for the night. However, a White-man passed us, pulled into his driveway and approached us.  He said that he noticed my Missouri license plates and wanted to know why we were in the area. He stated that he was a part of the Housing Association for the community and there’s been a string of house-robberies. Of course, we were scared and taken aback by this man’s approach. In being tired and unwilling to go through emotional labor with this man, I told him to leave us alone and go away. He didn’t. So, he started yelling and then his wife came to see what was going on. Upon reaching, the car, she started to jump in too. After seeing that we weren’t welcomed within the area of which my friend lived in, we simply separated for the night to avoid further confrontation.  For me, I was bothered. I was angry. I was on the brink of risking it all because Black and Brown people are frequently harassed and questioned for their presence within certain areas. So, I wrestle with suburban areas for the most part. I wrestle with them because of the segregation that exists throughout many American neighborhoods.

So, what does all of this have to do with New York? Everything.

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New York is interesting from my lens. Why? As I stumble upon different areas within Manhattan, I saw the difference in neighborhoods very quickly. Gentrification is a reality that has stumbled upon many urban-areas including many segments of New York. In coming from the airport, my Uber driver, Mohammad, told me that the city is becoming very gentrified as the years pass. He mentioned the unfortunate truth that Black and Brown people are being pushed into the Bronx while Harlem is becoming more expensive and unlivable for many poor, Black folks. In visiting Harlem back in August 2016, I was enthralled by the cultural and historical artifacts. I remembered reading about the Harlem Renaissance and actually wanting to see Harlem, New York in person. In coming to Harlem again and getting another snapshot of the area, it is becoming a place of gentrification. So, what does this mean? It means that people will soon get displaced from their homes in search of another home at the expense of real-estate developers.

In coming from Kansas City, Missouri, many folks know about the Troost-line as being the dividing line between White and Black folks, between the ‘hood’ and the ‘good’ area. White flight was a real reality in the city. Now, as years have passed, Whites are coming back into the city which increases rent, property value and a displacement of locals. Of course, schools aren’t excluded from this political arena.

In the last two years, I’ve worked within the Kansas City Missouri Public Schools District and the school I worked in is a part of the gentrification process. In the past year, real-estate was being bought, surrounding apartments increased in value along with increase rent and the education within the school was being sold for those wanting to move into the area. Midtown is a bustling segment of Kansas City, Missouri that is conveniently located in the midst of the action of the city. However, Midtown is also very much urban and not too far east is where you meet the clash between wealth and poverty.  East of the Troost line is where you find many working-class Black folks while to the West is where you find many White folks that are middle-class.

So, yes, gentrification is real. Gentrification is a form of violence.

Now, what does this have to do with education? Absolutely everything. As an educator and social-justice advocate, it is vital that students are taught to think critically and to problem-solve. We are living in a time that demands that people and communities come together to work towards equity on all-levels.

And to this, I say, the fight is long from being over. There’s much work to be done.

The Poverty Paradigm: Resisting This Narrative

I can’t tell you how many educators I have heard say that poor, Black kids can’t learn and that poverty is their deficiency. On top of that, poor, black parents/guardians do not care about the education of their children.

Full stop.

I, for one, grew up as a poor, Black kid.

I learned.

I, for one, see how poor, Black kids can, will and have always excelled academically. See, it takes educators that are there to teach with high expectations that will push all of his or her students, no matter the background.

Being poor doesn’t make you deficient.
Being poor doesn’t make you deficient.

Let me tell you, my parents never thought I was deficient. They never sent me to school saying I was an inadequate black kid because of poverty. They always told me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. I can succeed in anything if I had the will to believe. We were broke and struggled at times, but that never stopped me from going to school and excelling. Sure, you may have been through some dark times but my parents didn’t want to see no bad grades. They weren’t about to have me sitting up in a school and not learn.

Let me tell you, my folks made sure to read to us. They made sure to see if I had homework and if I needed additional help. So, please dismiss yourself if you have the belief that poor folks, especially black and Latino folks can’t learn.

Let me tell you, most of us poor folk are serious about our education. We set high expectations for ourselves and the kids around us. In the words of my black mama, “I ain’t raising no dummies”. There you have it.

So, the next person that I hear saying that poor black kids can’t learn than we about to have some problems.

Let me tell you something else, these black and brown babies are pushing hard in these classrooms. They are pushing hard against the social-inequities within their lives. They are pushing against the oppressions that face them just because they are poor and black.

Let me tell you something else, if my black and brown students want to beat-box on the table, braid their hair back in cornrows, dab on it and everything else that screams “Black and brown” then go ahead. There’s too many people that wish to police them. There’s too many people seeking to silence them. There’s too many people that wants to see them fail.

We are not deficient. We are not going to silence ourselves. We are not going to fail.

Social-Justice in the Classroom: Practicing What You Preach

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I listened to stories from children that hold worlds inside themselves. Worlds that are forever unfolding and adding depth to their own knowledge of the world. They cry. They laugh. They hold themselves. They hold each other. They hold nothing. There is nothing to hold but hopes and dreams. On many days, I sit with students in classrooms, along stairwells, by the buses, on the way to lunch, coming from their support-classes and in hallways to listen to their stories. To listen to their voices. To teach them to speak. To teach myself that I have much to learn about humanity. In working with young students, I have learned the importance of creating space for healing within the lives of students. To be an educator means to stand for social-justice. this is what I believe, but is this always the case?

I watch and listen to teachers, staff members and administrators on a daily basis. I mentally take note of my philosophy on education and ask myself if I am truly practicing what I preach. Am I standing up for what is right? Am I practicing ethics in my decision-making? Am I taking my task of being an educator seriously? Am I serving the students that I teach? These questions are important. They are asked in Education programs. They are posed to us in articles. They are there to be examined. However, are we aligning ourselves with these social-justice questions? In “Narratives of Social-Justice Teaching” by sj Miller, Laura Beliveau, Todd DeStigter, David Kirkland, and Peggy Rice, a teacher named Judith said that “The university is idealistic and doesn’t teach prospective teachers how to deal with tough issues that just aren’t solvable. I learned some starting points for curriculum in the program but not strategies for the complex situations that we find ourselves in” (p.XVII). In real-world context, educators have to deal with themselves. We have to deal with our own issues internally.

In working with students, we have to constantly ask if we are aligning ourselves with social-justice. In one of the classes that I had today, one of the students wanted to give up on a grammar problem that I assigned for them to answer. She stood at the board, became frustrated and told me that she gives up. Once she said that, a class of hands shot up in the air. However, I knew that this student didn’t need a pass. No, she needed someone to push her. Someone to tell her that she could do it. In working through the sentence as a class, she soon figured out the answer. As a class, we learned that giving up is never an option. We must not give up on others or ourselves. We must always push each other no matter the problems that we may encounter.

I remember when I was in the sixth grade, there was a student in my Social-Studies’ class that was called on to read. In waiting for him to begin his section of reading, we soon realized that he couldn’t read. In looking back on the moment, I can’t remember the teacher helping the student in facing this moment of slight embarrassment. My peer wasn’t helped nor encouraged to work through the words in front of him. In that moment, I’m sure the student would’ve liked for someone to help him. However, he never got that. He was there drowning. Sinking. I would hate for any student of mine to encounter this kind of embarrassment. Yes, some teacher failed this student. Yes, someone must be accounted for this. However, what do we do when we see a student is struggling? Do we simply let them take a pass or do we help them work through the tough stuff? Is simply giving a pass the way to help them achieve their ultimate success?

Today, I visited the library at my university and found a PhD candidate doing his usual research on the computer. In a story he told me, I learned about his experiences with education and the act of passing students. In his story, I saw myself asking the questions that I raised above. As an absent father for a good period of his son’s schooling, he told me that his son’s teachers consistently passed his son with F’s year after year. These teachers told him that they didn’t want to prevent him from going on due to his home-life, so they passed him. However, he wasn’t appeased by this answer. He said that he felt that is was a disgrace to not prepare a student for life. He felt it was a disgrace to see that educators wouldn’t think about the bigger picture. However, he didn’t want think it was simply due to his son’s home-life that he was passed with failing grades. He felt that his son’s racial-background allowed teachers to simply give up and not see the potential in this student.

So, I asked myself the question, “What biases and stereotypes do I hold that will prevent me from pushing a student towards their ultimate success?”. In this father’s story, I felt speechless. I was speechless. I was humbled by his story. We can judge this father’s action of being absent, but it doesn’t explain his son’s years of passing with failing grades. However, what should an educator do? Is it ethical or morally acceptable to fail a student, allow them to continue onto the next grade without mastering or grasping the content? This is a question that one may want to ask. We are consistently faced with hard questions that may not have an immediate answer. However, we must work through these questions because no one can answer these but ourselves.

Social-justice is about action. It’s about putting into reality what we pass across our lips. Sometimes we allow ourselves to teach without practicing what we preach. We give our students lectures without giving ourselves these lectures first. In preparing students to be conscious in their words and deeds, we must awaken ourselves from our slumber. In the eloquent words of Ruth Vinz,”Part of preparing teachers is to help them learn to negotiate ways to disrupt, critique, and challenge accepted practices and beliefs rather than simply trying to survive the school day or assuming the curriculum will engage students in social justice understandings and practices”.

Moving in the Direction of Progress: The World of Children

We would not have gotten past the level of pure adaptation to the world if we had not reached the possibility, while thinking about adaptation itself, of also using it to program transformation. For this reason, progressive education, whether at home or at school, must never eradicate the learner’s sense of pride and self worth, his or her ability to oppose, by imposing on him or her a quietism which denies his or her being. That is why one must work out the unity between one’s discourse, one’s actions, and one’s motivating utopia. In this sense, one must take advantage of every opportunity to give testimony to one’s commitment to the realization of a better world- a world more just, less ugly, and more substantively democratic. -Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Indignation

In thinking about the words of Freire, I struggle daily to remind myself that I must never put out the flame of any student. I must allow the student to stay on fire, ready to light whatever comes their way. However, many schools are set up to tame students. Students are encouraged to act like cattle. In my conversation with a professor at my university, she told me that she was always full of life and never allowed school to put out her flame. She was that ‘loud, black girl that wouldn’t shut up’. In seeing how school would break the spirits of students, she was committed to being herself. She was committed to the fire inside of her.

As I engage with students on a daily basis within my primary-school, I am always thinking about this. I always remind students that there are limitations on their behavior, but they must never change who they are. They must always remain who they are, but grow intellectually. I think school can be extremely restricting and suffocating. It can drag students out of their vibrancy and breed a population of students that are complacent to rules and regulations. I refuse to teach this to students. I want to teach students to think critically. They must not feel obligated to agree with an authority-figure or a system. They must learn that citizenship doesn’t mean complacency.

Today, I experienced a teacher telling her students that they must honor this country’s flag,be respectful citizens and appreciate American government. I must say that this can be a good way to help students understand their role(s) in citizenship. However, I would’ve had a caveat to such a statement. I would have told them that there is a time to rebel and to say ‘no’ if injustices are present. Nonetheless, this caveat would need to be explained in an age-appropriate manner. Students are aware of the world around them. They see what is happening in their neighborhoods. They see what is happening in other neighborhoods. So, do not believe they are ignorant to the world around them. I believe many people tend to be overprotective of children. They aren’t given the chance to think critically. They are coddled until they are deathly afraid of the world. Teach them to think. Teach them to read. Teach them to question.

I can’t simply accept this notion that children are ignorant. I’ve worked with children and they understand more than you think that they know. They are observing the world just like adults. They are trying to fill in the gaps just like adults. They are dealing with the massive influx of information that adults are trying to get through on a daily basis. Do not believe that they are ignorant. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that they are very intelligent. They are growing in knowledge, especially as consumers of this technologically-advanced society.

So, allow them to explore. Explore yourself to explore what they are exploring. Become aware of the things they are into. Do not hold them back from discovering new things. Yes, set limits. However, do not allow those limits that you set to prevent them from being the great individual that they can be. They can add to the collective and do much good. Just observe them. Let them show you the world through their eyes. They will help guide you in your knowledge of the world.