He pounded his fists on the table, telling us how we had failed the students: the white teachers by purposefully withholding a decent education from our black students; black teachers by not standing up to “The Man” and allowing the black students to be subjected to standardized testing. After his tirade, he left the building, resuming to voice his disgust through a litany of vulgarities as he stormed through campus. We sat together in the library, shocked—each of us—white and black alike.
After sifting through my emotions from that day, I have come to believe that there is some truth in what he said. I am a white woman who teaches 147 black students in a school that is 98% black and 2% other. I do not and have not lived the “black experience”. So, regardless of all of my efforts, there must be things that are beyond my grasp and understanding. To charge, however, that I am intentionally withholding knowledge from these children is an insult far beyond any sting I have ever felt. And these children are so impressionable. I do all that I can to teach them to question, to challenge, to think for themselves. But when one strong voice emerges, be it right, wrong, misguided, or otherwise, the children listen. They listen and they follow blindly.
More than anything, I believe that my job as an educator is to teach my students how to be free thinking individuals. My subject matter is simply a means to open up the discussion. Their apathy, though, gets in the way of any real dialogue ever taking place. They will gladly and fervently discuss any gossip they have overheard, fights they have seen, or “mess” that others have told them. But when it comes to formulating their own ideas and beliefs, they are at a true and profound loss.
I believe we are misleading our children, that we are sending them down a path that will not only destroy them but this nation as we know it. I believe that there is change waiting, but the direction of that change rests solely on our shoulders as adults. It is our responsibility to make the positive difference. I believe that these young people are capable of creating, thinking, believing on their own. I believe the battle to get them to do so will be hard—because of our own making. I believe that the battle is worth fighting. I believe that the battle can be won.