Every day on my drive to work, I almost look like I’m playing “Frogger” trying to actively avoid a large number of potholes in the streets near both of my schools. Some are deep and will damage my car, others smaller, but the cracks are visible and create a noticeable, uneven pavement that slows my driving. Some of the potholes have been on the roadways for months so I am prepared for them, while others pop up somewhat unexpectedly and I attempt to prevent damage to my car by swerving hopefully in the nick of time.
Unfortunately, I recently realized my drive to work these potholes in the road are a perfect metaphor for education. Assisting Black and Brown students to navigate our pothole ladened educational system is an almost daily requirement for an equity-minded educator.
One of those potholes showed up recently for my students and me. A few weeks back, I had another hard conversation with one of my classes. This class of all Black students, most of whom are freshman, stared up at me as I sighed and started class with: “we need to talk.” I proceeded to talk to them about the work they submitted and how it would not meet the expectations and standards of the College Board. I told them how heartbroken I was that they hadn’t given their best effort because opportunities to engage in an AP course as a freshman doesn’t happen often for Black students. I continued rather passionately reminding them that this system was not built for them and prefers that they fail early and often. I reminded them once a week as I arrive at their school, that I walk past a police van that sits outside the front door of their school with the intention of using a hall sweep encourage class attendance but instead to usher them into the prison system. I emplored them that I can’t care more about their success than they do, but know historically the chances of students afforded the opportunity to experience success is few and far between from this zip code. I finished by saying “people expect anyone from this zip code to be unsuccessful and amount to nothing. You help prove and confirm white people’s deficit mindsets and racist tropes about Black students each time you don’t submit your best work and make your best effort academically. I can’t protect or warn you all the time, but I will remind you while in this class, we will defy the racist narratives and misconceptions that have been imposed on you. You are brilliant and more than capable. We will disrupt and subvert this unjust system. I want you to all to know I care about your success not only in this class but more so as people.”
As I finished, I felt my eyes beginning to water. This class is normally a lively and somewhat immature group who are still navigating the craziness of teen years while learning and growing into their unique identities, but today they were engrossed and extra attentive to my words. I was emotional because I knew what they submitted was not their best. I was emotional because, after the talk, they realized and admitted they did not do their best. I was emotional because I care about each of them experiencing success. I was emotional because I know how quality, trajectory-changing opportunities are not readily offered to students at this school. I was emotional because I wanted to protect them from the development of an inferiority complex, imposter syndrome, or a bottom of the hierarchy position whiteness violently thrusts on them. I was emotional because I knew I could not prevent them from soul-draining toxicity of whiteness embedded in standardized testing systems. I was emotional because I was deep within the crosshairs of how to either prevent or prepare my students for the external assessment and judgment pothole requirement for this course.
Toeing the line between protection and preparation of young people is a hazardous, treacherous, and emotionally draining daily endeavor. Equity-minded educators know subversion, determination, and passion is each essential to providing equitable and quality learning experiences for Black and Brown kids. We know the potholes are there. We know the potholes will always be there, hell, other Black and Brown educators fell victim to many of them during our schooling years. But we have to walk a narrow balance of preventing our students from the pain of an encounter with a deep pothole while in our care as well as foresight in preparing them for the potholes we know they will encounter, but we might not necessarily experience with them. We know most of these potholes will never be patched. We know some of these potholes are deep and very damaging. We know some of these potholes are smaller with the intent to slow. We know many of these potholes have shoddy patch jobs that will lead eventually to a larger pothole forming. Mind you, we don’t try to save our students nor do we expect our Black and Brown students to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to travel this treacherous, pothole-filled road. We do, however, help in small chunks, by teaching and providing students some tools to navigate around and prepare for the potholes of an unjust educational system. We who earnestly do this work, also encourage them during the process to successfully create/find their own boots and laces to survive and hopefully thrive while in K-12 classrooms and post K-12 life too.
I realized after my conversation with my students last week I am still emotional for other reasons as well. I am emotional because of the willingness some educators to both inadvertently and purposely assist this system in crushing and crapping on the potential for many Black and Brown students to succeed. I am emotional because of the low number of educators with the capacity to treat Black and Brown kids well. I am emotional because of the low number of educators who respect and value the unique brilliance of Black and Brown kids. I am emotional because of the gross negligence some practitioners exhibit that ruins opportunities for Black and Brown students in schools. I am emotional because of the grotesque buildings with roaches, rats, mold, leaky ceilings, and non-functioning HVAC systems, we subject and expect so many Black and Brown students to learn inside of in 2019. I am emotional because I abhor what whiteness does to Black and Brown kids in our schools. I am emotional because many educators continue their steadfast commitment to upholding whiteness that dominates and destroys Black and Brown lives in our schools.
I am emotional, fatigued, and slowly losing hope. I am feeling somewhat defeated. My spirit is grieved. My soul aches. This should not be normal. This is unfair. This is not okay. This is wrong. This is unjust. The potholes continue to multiply in both number and size however our capacity to best prepare and prevent them from hurting kids is decreasing because we are tired.
I am extremely emotional and exhausted with every damn right to be. Are you?