I am surprised as any that I do other things besides obsess about Donald Trump and the future of a mortally wounded American polity. But, I do. I am in school this semester, continuing my brick-by-brick attainment of teaching credentials. I don't have any doubt that I'll finish; my only concern is that I will obtain my degree posthumously. There are faster pathways that would make it possible for me to teach math within a couple of years, but I've decided to continue at this pace largely because I love my job and the psychic and practical benefits it provides, and because occasionally I'll take a class that will invite me to do some real scholarship and I don't want to be in any program thats paradigm resembles fast food delivery. At least those are my current rationalizations.
This semester I'm enrolled in an undergraduate class, School Health, and I spent the first month writhing with impatience because I am "learning" with 19 and 20 year olds. We have group assignments, y'all, and even with peers that's challenging. Last week I confessed to the professor that every week I swear it's going to be The Very Last One, I'll Do This On My Own, Thankyouverymuch! And every week I climb down off my high horse and get to work. As much as I loath the phrase it is what it is, it's apt in this situation. I cannot make my classmates any older, wiser, more worldly, or smarter than they are right now. They don't exist to entertain and interest me. I've resolved (and pretty much stuck to it) to make as much as I can out of the class and move on. But I have to admit I miss the days of way-over-my-head math and of Java programming.
A while back I took a great workshop which closed with some questions asked anonymously. One asked of the facilitator was (and I paraphrase): Should you as a white woman be teaching students of color history? My reaction to that is the culmination of my pretty peculiar childhood and education, my parents' values, the nature of intelligence, and my conviction that we do ourselves irreparable psychic harm when we elect to restrict our curiosity. (I've written about this before in another post -- the phenomena of someone "looking like me" as a requisite for effective teaching and learning. How much you want to bet I'll write a mega-paper about it in some class before I'm done?) The question so disturbed me that day I felt I was going to write the instructor immediately. Didn't, of course. But I could not let this go unremarked and so last night this is what I told her:
First let me introduce myself. I was the white-haired African-American woman at the workshop [From Genocide to Generational Continuity: Frames for Understanding and Transforming Education] who you thanked for "getting" what you were explaining as the historical precedents for where we are today in education; we spoke briefly.
Ever since that great workshop I've been intending to write you, and every day more mundane, yet pressing demands have -- or at least I've let them be more pressing -- superseded that.
But, since I won't be able to join you and others at the Salon on the 25th I wanted to get this said. One of your closing remarks (and 2 1/2 weeks on I can only paraphrase) was about your legitimacy in teaching/facilitating discussions about these matters in the first place. I wanted to speak directly to that.
Whenever knowledge is balkanized, racialized I think it is a bad thing. I understand, and have been subject to the white supremacist gaze/POV for my entire 62 years. I understand, at least superficially, cultural imperialism and I've observed how it plays out in these United States of America, much less in contemporary Africa. And yet I disagree vehemently with what has become a canonical trope in our discourse, i.e., that certain subjects must be taught by people "who look like me”(the me being disadvantaged students of color).
In logic, we learn that an inverse is the negation of the conditional statement. So if for a statement such as, "African-American students are best taught by African-American teachers" the inverse is: Non AA students are best taught by non AA teachers". By the extension of the logic, the inference is that non AA students should NOT be taught by AA teachers. And we could extrapolate from there in terms of what are appropriate subject matters for appropriate instructors -- AA history, French literature, the European Enlightenment, the geo-politics of ancient Mali. Despite the ravages of cultural imperialism on our collective psyches, the solution is not assignment by tribe/caste/race. At the very least it means that if I were interested in modern Danish history, I would be discouraged from studying it and writing about it as a scholar because I'm not caucasian. So why would I enforce a norm that prohibits caucasians from studying and writing about African-American history and sociology?
Would I love more students of color to have role models that look like them? Hell yeah, which is why I'm pursuing a masters in elementary education. But, do I think that that alone is sufficient to address the miseducation of public school students of color? Not by a long long shot. The situation is so dire, and the need for thinking, committed people is so great that I would rather we commit to the work and struggle together (and mature together) through our differences than banish potential allies because of notions of the primacy of racial phenotypes.
I understand that part of your odyssey is grappling with white privilege. But having you and other whites step away from this work as an act of atonement accomplishes very little. Very few of those who pose the question as to your right to teach where you teach and as you teach are doing the work themselves. When they are able and ready to step up to replace you, then and only then should you consider standing down. But until that day comes (and it never will) do your work.