On August 11, 1955, author, anthropologist, and literary badass Zora Neale Hurston, penned a letter to the Orlando Sentinal expressing her thoughts about the recent Brown vs. The Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court. In it, she explained why she had such distaste for the legislation which then resulted in her being summarily black-balled and dismissed by much, if not all, of Black America and those members of White America who cared to listen. (You can read it by clicking here if you are so inclined.) I bring this up because her argument concerning the legislation had merit and sound reasoning for the time. It was not a haphazard diatribe thrown together for attention. In fact, she begins her letter by saying:
I promised God and some other responsible characters, including a bench of bishops that I was not going to part my lips concerning the U.S. Supreme Court decision on ending segregation in the public schools of the South. But since a lot of time has passed and no one seems to touch on what to me appears to be the most important point in the hassle, I break my silence just this once. Consider me as just thinking out loud.
So, consider me as just thinking out loud too…
Last week, Vice President Pence broke a tie that allowed for the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as our latest Secretary of Education. Based on many recent events I already possessed a lack of confidence that DeVos would not be confirmed. Regardless of the mounting and verifiable evidence that clearly showed she was unfit, we now have an education secretary who not only opposes public schools but has no experience with, or in, them. So what does that mean for public school students, parents, and their teachers? That remains to be seen but here’s what I do know: confirming Betsy DeVos may be the impetus that finally forces us to get our collective lives together. And when I say “us” I mean those of us who work in predominately Black, Hispanic, Immigrant, Low Income schools. When I say “us” I mean Black educators. If you work in a school where you have the best of everything I’m not talking to you and the truth is you probably will stop reading after this point anyhow. But for the rest of us, remember, I’m just thinking out loud.
For decades, we have spent a lot of breath, energy, and time fighting with the proverbial powers that be over what’s in the best interest of our kids. We’ve marched, and protested, and yelled, and shouted, and to some degree, it worked until it didn’t. Brown v. BOE was supposed to provide a quality education for all students regardless of race and yet, we stand here in 2017 in schools that are nearly as segregated as they were in the 50s and 60s. We are still dealing with public schools that are underfunded and other schools who have all the resources money can buy that enforce policies that are to the detriment of students of color, students in poverty, and students with disabilities. So we create petitions and get them signed hoping to shame the government into doing what is right. We send emails and make phone calls to our legislators to express our concerns and then threaten not to vote for them if they don’t heed our soulful cries. We respond to Tweets and create Facebook posts expressing our outrage and get even more outraged when our cries go unheard and unacknowledged. But every so often we get a small win and get something that we have been fighting for and declare that a small victory is still a victory and we go off happily with the crumbs we’ve been given. I call BS and guess what? They know it is BS too.
This administration has laid down the gauntlet, thrown up all the middle fingers, and declared that they have no f’s to give so what are we going to do? My fear is the same thing we’ve been doing. What’s the definition of crazy again? Just recently, I had a student tell me that he had a conversation with a teacher about his issues with the current state of our education system and the teacher’s response to his concerns was “It is what it is.” Really? It is? But what’s even more frightening than the thought that we aren’t going to do anything differently is the why.
In his book Originals: How Non-Conformist Move the World, author Adam Grant talks about default conditions and discusses the results of a study conducted by political psychologist John Jost. In it he states:
After finding that disadvantaged groups consistently support the status quo more than advantaged groups, Jost and his colleagues concluded: ‘People who suffer the most from a given state of affairs are paradoxically the least likely to question, challenge, reject or change it.’ Justifying the default system serves a soothing function. It’s an emotional painkiller.”
We’ve been so doped up on the drugs of status quo we’ve been given by the government thus far that very few of us have even tried to get clean. For what? Semi consciousness is kind of nice and status quo is a hell of a drug. We’ve spent years waiting for the government (national and local) to just do the right thing. Folks, we’ve been waiting on Superman. He’s not coming. And just in case you were wondering, this is what withdrawal feels like.
While Zora was dissatisfied with the Brown v BOE ruling it was not because she didn’t think Black children didn’t deserve the highest quality education. She just didn’t trust the government to provide it. So why do we? DeVos is here, she’s not going anywhere, and the drug is no longer being manufactured. We cannot depend on anyone other than ourselves, those who take the education of our children seriously, to do right by our students. If you’re part of the “it is what it is crowd” take several seats off in a corner far away from those of us who are committed to the work and look for another fix. As an educator, I’ve had 6 principals and administrations in my 12 years of teaching. Not one time in those years did who was in the front office keep me from shutting my door and making sure my kids got everything they needed to be successful to the best of my ability. I couldn’t wait to hear what the latest mandate was. My kids needed an education regardless and I was the one privileged enough to give it to them.
So, I declare time out for only marching and protesting; time out for trying to shame people into doing what’s right. They have none so stop trying to bring it out. We have a generation of children who need us and we can’t wait for the folks in power to find some get right so we have to get right, be right, and stay right. I used to issue this challenge to my students and now I issue it to us: “Don’t make excuses. Make it happen.”
Or get out of the way of those who will.
Read more about Dr. Sims Holliman by clicking here.