You are currently viewing I don’t want to choose between job security and teaching the truth (Opinion)

I don’t want to choose between job security and teaching the truth (Opinion)

Last year, before my home state of Georgia passed its law restricting the teaching of “dividing concepts,” I had an interesting conversation with my middle school students about race.

I was wandering the aisles of my pre-algebra class during this sweet spot in the middle of when most everyone was working. Suddenly, amidst the flurry of variables and equations filling the room, I heard several of my students discussing the Trail of Tears. I stopped to listen.

They had learned about it the day before in their history lesson and, naturally, the subject had caught their attention. I was also fascinated – our school is built on land where the Cherokee had lived before 1831 – and I confess that I was in no rush to push my students away from their math class. Instead, I joined the conversation, and while I don’t remember the extent of it, I remember the last words I said, shaking my head: “It’s not is no joke what we did to the Native Americans.

A little context is needed here. Almost all of my students were black – and I’m white – and that must be clearly understood or nothing can come out of the story I’m about to tell.

Because what happened after I shook my head and delivered my article was that a student on the periphery of the conversation looked up, agitated. He stretched his hands left and right, looked around the room, and said pointedly, “We?

I screwed up, and I knew it immediately. Turning squarely to face him, I bumped my chest lightly into that universal sporting symbol of ‘my bad’ and said something like, ‘No, not ‘we.’ Me. My people. Sorry about that. It’s no joke what white people did to Native Americans and Black Americans. The student nodded and the lesson continued.

I tell this story now because I have to ask myself: what would I do if this situation happened again today?

Georgia’s ‘dividing concepts’ law – like most similar laws recently passed in the country – is, to put it mildly, byzantine. It spans pages, restricting language to race, gender, and sexuality. To add insult to injury, teachers have been given little guidance on how best to understand it. While browsing the text of the law recently, I noticed a prescription that jolted my memory about this conversation on Trail of Tears: educators are not allowed to participate in what the law calls the “goat race.” emissary”.

Did I make a “racial scapegoat” when I took the historical responsibility for the elimination of Native Americans and placed it on white people, myself included? I wonder.

What else was I supposed to do, though? If such a moment were to happen again, it would appear that I have two opposing choices: I can answer my student honestly and risk putting pressure on my school by breaking new state law, or I can dodge the question. of my student to make sure I’m not approaching something like “the scapegoat race”.

I have to choose between my students’ studies or my own job security. There is no other way out. How do I answer my student’s question honestly without running into the potential grievance of a hearing white person? How do I whitewash our history without also losing the respect of my black students and betraying my commitments to the truth? The Georgia legislature navigates me between Scylla and Charybdis.

Perhaps there are good intentions buried in this law; maybe some of those legislators just want to put the brakes on now to buy enough time to make our program more incisive in the long run. I’d like to hope so, although I’m not sure I believe it. The bottom line, however, is that it doesn’t matter how “good” the intentions of lawmakers are. As sociologist Eve L. Ewing writes in Ghosts in the schoolyard, “the question of racism is not a question of intentions, it is a question of results.” In this case, a law that requires teachers to enlighten children about our racial history has resulted in a racist outcome, no matter how well-meaning the writers imagine themselves to be.

A few years ago, writing about white people as lawmakers passing laws like these, Ta-Nehisi Coates put it this way: “‘Good intention’ is a passage through history.” This metaphor is particularly relevant here; every teacher knows the lack of accountability that can follow a wandering student sporting a pass.

I still teach 8th grade to note; my students will still learn the racial history of Georgia. What am I going to do when the inevitable cross talk makes its way into my math class this year? Am I going to risk the wrath of being heard by the wrong person for doing the right thing for my students? I hope I would have the courage, but of course I wonder. We all think of ourselves as heroes until our feet are actually on fire.

The right thing to do, of course, is to repeal these laws. They only hinder teachers in the important work that we do; they only hide the truths. I’m willing to believe that the architects of these laws had anything like ‘good intentions’ – if they’re willing to prove it by admitting they were wrong and tearing up their backbone by repealing them.

We must allow our teachers the freedom to answer questions without the self-censorship that accompanies fallacious thinking of “divisive concepts”. We need to do this before another conversation happens in another class where a teacher needs to speak in a less than free manner. Restricted speech can only lead to a restricted classroom environment; a free flow of ideas and conversations is essential to the learning project.

The school year is short; teachers need every moment to build trust and leverage it in our quest for truth in education. We need this freedom today.

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