A man, Senator Jeff Flake, steps into an elevator on his way to join a hearing which will help to decide if another man, Brett Kavanugh, who has allegedly taken part in an act of sexual assault will rise to become a member of the highest court in our country. Two women, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, stop Senator Jeff Flake. They share their stories. They remind him of the meaning of justice. They force him to confront what so many in this country were feeling. In the end, it was not enough to stop Senator Jeff Flake from voting to confirm this alleged sexual assailant. But it was enough to give him pause. And it was enough to allow so many women in this country, for just one moment, to feel as if their voices were being heard.
And I couldn’t help but ask myself, in my classroom, who is it that I am helping to raise? Am I raising the man who would go on to allow another privileged, yet unqualified, man to step into a position that only nine people in this country hold at any given time? Or am I raising those two women? The women who would bravely share their stories and make sure their voices were heard to demand justice no matter who tried to stop them? Did the learning and the teaching that took place in my classroom last week lead my students towards being another Jeff Flake? Or did it lead my students towards becoming more like Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher?
Elsewhere. Two friends, Fabiola Velasquez and Isabel Nava Marin, are speaking to each other in the aisle of a store. Another woman, Linda Dwire, walks up to these two women and begins to harass them, telling them that if they are in America, they should be speaking English. And then a fourth woman, Kamira Trent, walks up to the scene and forcefully demands that Linda Dwire leaves the two friends alone. She threatens to call the police and she walks Linda Dwire away from the other women. In the end, Linda Dwire, was arrested. She will probably not change her views or the way she speaks to people, but, again, for a moment she was given pause. And many people in this country saw what it means to be an ally.
And yet again, I found myself asking, in my classroom, who is it that I am helping to raise? Am I raising the woman who had no problem harassing two complete strangers simply because of the language that they spoke and because it was different than her own? Or am I raising the other woman, the one who saw someone mistreating people and stepped in and stepped up in order to try to stop it? Did the learning and the teaching that took place in my classroom last week lead my students towards becoming another Linda Dwire? Or did it lead my students towards becoming more like Kamira Trent?
And then just a few days ago, all of Chicago held its collective breath as we waited to hear the verdict in the Laquan McDonald case. And after hearing the much hoped for guilty verdicts read, I listened to the words of William Calloway. And as he spoke, we again saw two men. One man, Jason Van Dyke, pulled up to a scene where a 17 year old child, Laquan McDonald, was walking away from police officers, towards a chain-link fence, carrying a knife. After spending mere moments on the scene, Jason Van Dyke unloaded 16 shots into the body of Laquan McDonald. And the story might have gone unheard, as too many of these stories do, if not for the work of another man, William Calloway. Calloway would not allow this injustice to go unnoticed. He used his voice, he rallied his community, he pushed for the dash cam footage to be released to the public. And in the end, Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. The video footage that William Calloway fought to have released, it will not fix America, but that footage, for this one moment, might just have been the thing this racist country needed to see in order to take pause and for one moment see that something is terribly wrong in the way that black people are treated by the police.
And yet again, I found myself asking, in my classroom, who is it that I am helping to raise? Am I raising the man who allowed his own biases, his own inability to see the full humanity in a person who he saw as different than himself, to lead him to the kind of irrational fear that made it possible for him to fire 16 bullets into the body of a boy who was walking away from him, surrounded by police officers, towards a fence, armed with a three-inch knife? Or am I raising the man who saw injustice and fought to have it uncovered no matter how many people stood in his way? Did the learning and the teaching that took place in my classroom last week lead my students towards becoming another Jason Van Dyke? Or did it lead my students towards becoming more like William Calloway?
I ask these questions because I know the truth. The truth is that every single choice that I make in my classroom is helping to raise a human who will go out into this world and change it in some way. The truth is that what I do with my students every single day is helping to raise those who will change our world to bring it closer to justice or it will help to raise those who will change our world to bring it further away from the justice we say we all seek. The truth is that there is no neutral. We are either helping to raise more Jeff Flakes, Linda Dwires, and Jason Van Dykes or we are helping to raise more Ana Maria Archilas, Maria Gallaghers, Kamira Trents, and William Calloways. And the truth is that for far too long, what we have done in classrooms across this country has helped to raise the people who are perpetuating injustice, not the ones who have been bringing us closer to justice.
And as this world continues to spin in a manner that is leaving so many of us dizzy and sick and wishing we could just get off this ride for a little bit, we have to stop and take pause and look inward and think about what it is we are teaching and who it is that we are raising. Because this is what I know.
Ana Maria Archilas and Maria Gallagher, somewhere learned the power of sharing their own life stories. Somewhere they learned that the stories we tell matter and the way we tell them matters. Somewhere they learned the importance of literally holding open doors that other people try to close in your face when you have something important that needs to be said. Somewhere they saw that the stories that we tell about our own lives have the power to transform others and help them to understand who we are and the lives that we live. Somewhere they learned to use their own voices in a way that will make others think. Our classrooms can be the places where more people learn those lessons.
And Kamira Trent, somewhere she learned that other people’s lives and other people’s languages are beautiful and worthy even if they are different than your own. Somewhere she learned how to learn about the beauty of another culture instead of simply wishing that it was more like your own. Somewhere she learned to recognize injustice and understood her role in stopping it. Somewhere she learned a way to stand up for someone else, someone you might not know, but who needs you to step in and step up. Somewhere she learned that speaking kindly to others is not always the right approach to take. Somewhere she learned how to push back against someone who was harassing other people. Somewhere she learned that she doesn’t always need to calm down and self-regulate, but that it is just as important to know when your anger is righteous and use that anger to help others. Our classrooms can be the places where more people learn those lessons.
And William Calloway, somewhere he learned that you do not have to just let those in power define the narrative that is going to be told. Somewhere he learned how to recognize the systemic racism that exists in this country and ways in which he could help to disrupt and break down the systems that perpetuate racism. Somewhere he learned the power of asking the right questions and the ways that you can demand answers. Somewhere he learned a process of inquiry that would get him and his community closer to the truth. Somewhere he learned how to dig deep into an issue in order to better understand it. Somewhere he learned that it is not best to accept the status quo. Somewhere he learned how not to feel powerless. Somewhere he learned how to teach others how to collectively push back against authority when that authority is not moving towards justice but rather running away from it. Our classrooms can be the places where more people learn those lessons.
But in order for that to happen. In order for our classrooms to be those spaces, we need to design the kind of learning that teaches THESE lessons and not the far more dangerous ones that we have taught for far too long. We need to move away from teaching blind compliance. We need to move away from teaching a history of our country that depends solely on the narrative of white men in America. We need to move away from teaching the value of only one language and one culture. We need to move away from lessons that teach our students that only one type of life is worthy enough to be brought into our classrooms through the books that we read and the curriculum that we cover. We have to stop pretending that this job is not political and start realizing that we have a world to save and good humans to raise.
And I have so much faith that we can do that. Because I look at William Calloway and I look at Kamira Trent and I look at Ana Maria Archilas and Maria Gallagher and I see what humans can become and I see what true bravery looks like. And who doesn’t want to have a hand in raising that kind of a human who walks through the world with that kind of bravery? But I also know that we have to work harder. I also know that we have to be braver. I also know that we have so much more work to do.
So as we walk into this next week, lets think about the teaching and learning that will take place in our classrooms and lets all ask ourselves what kind of humans that teaching and learning will raise.