Students across the country are returning to the classroom, and our concerns for them run deep. The Trump administration’s rampant anti-immigrant sentiment has fueled policies that separate migrant families. And it is affecting the lives of immigrant children who are going to school. What can educators do to fight against it, to become co-conspirators of resistance during our troubling times? This back-to-school season, we reached out to some of our authors to find out and share their responses with you here.
But there’s something else that takes thoughtfulness, wisdom, and courage, too, and it’s something that good teachers at every level already do: we create a classroom ethos that might be called ‘learning to live together.’ It’s not a rule book nor a set of potential crimes and punishments, but rather an overarching ethic: respect yourself and respect other people; respect the world and respect the work.
This stands in sharp contrast to the obsession with obedience, standardization, conformity, and control that characterize too many classrooms—enforced with a vengeance in schools attended by the descendants of enslaved people, immigrant children from poor countries, and First-Nations youth. Knowing and accepting one’s place on the grand pyramid of winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, becomes the core lesson in those schools, and they become places to recover from rather than experiences to carry forward. Good teachers resist.
From the perspective of a humane or democratic nation/community, the authoritarian approach is always backward—it subverts the participatory spirit of democratic living; it disrupts community; it aims to destroy independent and free thought; and it undermines critical reasoning. Education in a free society is based on the principle that every human being is of incalculable value, that the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all, and that the fullest development of all is the condition for the full development of each. A vital democracy requires participation, some tolerance and acceptance of difference, independent thought, a spirit of mutuality—in other words, learning to live together. Good teachers already embody that essential value.”
—William Ayers, “You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones!” And 18 Other Myths About Teachers, Teachers’ Unions, and Public Education
“To be an educator who is a co-conspirator fighting against the anti-immigrant sentiment that fuels the policies separating migrant families, you have to be working in solidarity with grassroots and national organizations committed to reuniting families and helping everyone involved heal from the trauma of family separation. Children will need their trust restored in adults; co-conspirators must be trusting, patient, and honest so children can learn to trust again.”
—Bettina L. Love, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom
“More than ever, we need people talking about what’s happening in our country. Sometimes, educators speak about ethnicity or race in a ‘neutral’ way in order to be polite or to avoid putting a few students in the spotlight. But these times demand from every person with authority around children to make clear statements. We are all equal, but unfortunately, there are people trying to make us think we are not. We all deserve respect and solidarity, but the most vulnerable people around us—immigrants, people of color, Mexicans, Muslims—need us to take a stand for them when they’re attacked. There’s something going on that is wrong; we can work to make it right.
It’s not difficult to share this message in classrooms, in conversations. If we create a safe narrative environment for children, they will feel comfortable sharing their fears and concerns, and maybe their stories. In my experience, nothing is stronger that a personal story from someone close to us.”
—Eileen Truax, How Does It Feel to Be Unwanted?: Stories of Resistance and Resilience from Mexicans Living in the United States
“Educators need to teach themselves, their students, and families about the history of anti-immigrant backlash in the US and help them understand the dangers of fascism. But they also need to become activists in their unions and pro-immigrant community organizations to join immigrants in the fight for an open and democratic country.”
—Mark Warren and Roberta Udoh, “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out!”: Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement
“Teachers, while obligated to keep political views private, can and often do teach about current events and put them in historical context. They can ask students questions about the current immigration policy and get them to think critically about what’s ethically and morally right. They can mirror the teaching I saw about religion when I reported for my book, Faith Ed. By teaching about stereotypes of Islam and other religions, teachers I observed are aiding in the battle against religious intolerance. They succeeded by educating, not opining. They used factual information to debunk the stereotype, for example, that all Muslims come from the Middle East.”
—Linda K. Wertheimer, Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance