It’s back-to-school season, and the US is still upset by its own sense of identity. James Baldwin knew all about it. In his “Talk to Teachers,” he said that if we changed the curriculum in all schools so that Black students learned more about themselves and their real contributions to US culture, we’d not only be liberating Black people; we’d be “liberating white people who know nothing about their own history.” The side-eye for Florida, Texas, and other states is warranted and righteous, because they’re still hell-bent on suppressing Black history or completely whitewashing it. And not just Black history: Indigenous history. Queer history. Histories of other marginalized communities.
We stand in solidarity with educators risking their careers and their safety to teach truth. Teaching as an act of resistance truly embodies the more beautiful and more terrible chapters of US history in real time. To that end, we join these educators by recommending these titles from our catalog. We can’t keep letting Uncle Jimmy down.
To liberatory learning!
“Challenging racism in education requires challenging the entire system of white supremacy. The assaults on public education are part of larger assaults on black and brown communities, including gentrification that pushes people out of their homes and communities, and policing practices and deportation procedures that incarcerate black and brown people.”
“There is a common solution to both addressing the youth mental health crisis and remaining true to the educational mission of secondary and higher education—and that solution is creating living and learning environments characterized by both compassion and challenge. Our thought leaders battling about whether students need more challenge or more care have it wrong—our young people need both. This work will not be easy, and it will certainly not be accomplished by scolding students about how much they’ve been coddled or expecting them to be able to face their fears on their own, without support.”
—Sarah Rose Cavanagh
“Study and struggle for liberation requires that we unknow many falsehoods that are foundational to settler colonialism: categories of human and nonhuman, land as inert, health as a luxury for a few, the pillaging of the planet and its darker peoples as the ‘natural’ order of things.”
“The sartorial metaphor of school clothes is about the stories that cover black students, and how these coverings become resources as black students come to know who they are. Black students’ school clothes were more than attire demarcating some imitative performance of dominant society and its sartorial norms. Black students were covered by dreams, and stories, and promises of a world that had yet to exist, all of which could be taken up as resources in the journey toward building the new world they were searching for.”
—Jarvis R. Givens
“In order to face adversity, oppression, and exclusion and remain steadfast in one’s right to exist and be, it is often the spiritual life that has supported and affirmed (and continues to support and affirm) culturally relevant and sustaining practices in educational spaces with Black students and their teachers.”
—Cynthia B. Dillard
“Anyone dealing with the minds of young people, Baldwin suggests, must be willing to “go for broke.” For Baldwin, educators, particularly teachers, stood—and still stand—on dangerous and vulnerable front lines. The job of a teacher, each day, is to influence, shape, and mold the minds and hearts of students. Students who will become the human beings who affect society, craft policy, and work against (or perpetuate) harmful dominant narratives. Those who will stand against human rights crises and violations and cure diseases. Teachers are not solely in the business of curating learning spaces. Teachers are entrenched in an art form of interrupting, disrupting, encouraging, healing, and liberating.”
“Whiteness cannot enter spaces focused on abolitionist teaching. Whiteness is addicted to centering itself, addicted to attention, and making everyone feel guilty for working toward its elimination. Whiteness will never allow true solidarity to take place. Those who cling to their Whiteness cannot participate in abolitionist teaching because they are a distraction, are unproductive, and will undermine freedom at every step, sometimes in the name of social justice. Being an abolitionist means you are ready to lose something, you are ready to let go of your privilege, you are ready to be in solidarity with dark people by recognizing your Whiteness in dark spaces, recognizing how it can take up space if unchecked, using your Whiteness in White spaces to advocate for and with dark people.”
—Bettina L. Love
“There is another kind of knowledge at play here—the knowledge that teachers and other educators gain from observing students and listening to them. Our era is understandably concerned about surveillance and dehumanizing scrutiny, but we need to keep in mind as well the importance of being seen, of being brought into focus—especially in social and institutional settings where not being visible and not being heard results in diminishment. We’re talking about a certain kind of seeing and listening attuned to ability, desire, and environment.”
“Another lesson that emerges from Morgan’s story is the recognition that curricular change is often brought about by what Derrick Bell first articulated as interest convergence. Changes to the curriculum often occur in political and social windows when (largely white) politicians and policy makers feel that their interests and the demands of racial justice advocates align. Superintendent William H. Johnson exemplified this reality when he adopted Morgan’s Supplementary Units, noting that “self-preservation exacts a oneness in motive and in deed.” . . . . Morgan, because of her intimate knowledge of the city and community in which she worked, was able to take hold of this national momentum and use it to bolster her own local efforts. Educators and activists today must recognize and take full advantage of the present convergence of interests to press for similar change because, as we have seen, these moments can be all too brief.”
“Activist teachers insist on the liberty of teaching and the right to think at all, and they show their students by example why it matters and how it’s done. The line between commitment, advocacy, and activism is a wobbly one at best. It’s a contested and explosive space, and it’s surely in play today—activist teachers uphold the right to talk to whomever you please, the right to read and to wonder, the right to pursue an argument into uncharted spaces, the right to challenge the state or the church or any other orthodoxy in the public square. The right to think at all.”
—William Ayers, Crystal Laura, Rick Ayers
About the Author
Christian Coleman is the digital marketing manager at Beacon Press and editor of Beacon Broadside. Before joining Beacon, he worked in writing, copy editing, and marketing positions at Sustainable Silicon Valley and Trikone. He graduated from Boston College and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Follow him on Twitter at @.