Voices Of The Unheard
The horrific, senseless killing of George Floyd by law enforcement in Minnesota a few days ago was more than another murder by a supposed defender of our laws. This was more than a policeman bringing suffering to a man, more than a killing with an astonishing level of nonchalance, presumption of impunity, and entitlement. It was a tipping point for a broken culture that every one of us, every school, has a role in.
“A riot is the language of the unheard,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. Therefore, at school, it starts with our being better listeners, running better Socratic circles. How can a school hear better and include more voices?
Do we really hear what our children are going through? Do they? Some of them are in tears even in our classes. We are still reeling from the news that came to light a few weeks ago of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25- year-old man jogging in broad daylight through a south Georgia neighborhood, and Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was killed during a “no-knock” police raid on her home in Kentucky.
The tragic events and the protests they naturally sparked across the nation are more reminders of persistent structural racism, against African-Americans and other underrepresented groups. Some of this protest entails anger, confusion, and pain, which is not hard to understand. It is the basic job of a school to find meaningful ways to support our students, parents, friends and colleagues who will continue to bear witness to these events and all this pain. We know that violence and injustice occur more often than we see in our screens, and the injustices exposed in the startling details of these deaths must call us to action, the highest form of learning at school. Needless to say, our response is education—and not only about one, brutal incident, but about how to widen our perspective along with our students.
It seems overwhelming to consider these events amidst an ongoing national disaster of our COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s remember we are not suffering this equally in our school and community. Communities with greater representations of people of color, especially African-Americans, LatinX and Native Americans, are experiencing disproportionate casualties. If we are going to teach the next generation, we cannot be distant and idle spectators to this.
By comparison, our local community here in Encinitas does not appear to have all that many problems with racism and social injustice, as least at first cut. And yet, some of that appearance is because we are not really looking very carefully—another way of turning our backs, all too easy for academia to do. We do have marginalized people right in and around our own school. We do have classism, ethnocentrism, prejudice (not to mention anthropocentrism), right here, and when we bury them we fail as educators.
Resources: We have a moral imperative to try to provide for the development of the empathy of our students and teachers as they study the pain of what some among us are feeling (and perhaps concealing) today. Here are some resources being discussed by our faculty:
- How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change by Barack Obama (recommended by Principal Dana Abplanalp-Diggs)
- "How to be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi
- Talking About Race: Being Antiracist - National Museum of African American History & Culture
For early high school students:
- "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning" by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
- Teaching: Grauer History teacher Alicia Tembi is offering a Summer School History Camp “Explore African American History and Culture” on July 13-27. Sign up now!
Try these reads:
- For the past 5 years, Grauer seniors have been reading “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (author and writer for The Atlantic). It's written as an epistolary to his 15-yr-old son about growing up as a black man in America.
- English teacher Christina Burress also recommends the book “Citizen” by Claudia Rankine (poet, essayist, playwright, academic), read by senior honors students this year.
- She also recommends “The Warmth of Other Sons” by Isabel Wilkerson, which tells the epic story of the Great Migration from years 1915 to 1970. It took the author 15 years to finish, and she won the National Book Award for it.
Student Activism: It was only a year ago that we added “social justice” as a senior graduation area of distinction, and this year, two of our 27 seniors are pursuing that.
A group of Juniors are planning on creating a club this summer, with the help of teachers Alicia Tembi and Courtney Conway, to try and create a space to discuss issues of race and a place where accurate information on pressing current events can be shared and discussed. Details to come.
Junior Ivy Hochman interviewed Civil Rights Activist Joan Trumpauer Mulholland for her “Voices of Social Justice” project to honor the forgotten role she played in the movement.
Alumni Activism: We are interested in learning about alumni who are making change. Divya Bhatia, class of 2018, (now at UCSD), has a new podcast called “Activist-In-Progress". The podcast summary says, "To be civically challenged means that you may want to get involved in issues but don't quite know how, or you might think there will always be someone better equipped out there to fight. This podcast is creating a community of activists who support each other in this fight as we are a work-in-progress, understanding activism - not as an end goal - as a journey."
Tragedy is the flip side of opportunity. A robust diversity, equity and inclusion program seemed like a choice for a long time, but it doesn’t any more. Being exclusive ultimately helps no one. Inclusion is on all of us, especially in schools. Of course, we have done nowhere near enough. It is a fact that some groups are essentially financially excluded from our school, and this narrows our campus voice and stifles our impact as educators. The Grauer School, at 30, is still young, and our financial aid fund was set up only about 3 years ago—this endowment, which would enable us to promote access and equity, and to fund more diverse admissions, is tiny compared to those of typical independent schools—we literally need millions more dollars in endowment to approach need-blind admissions required of an inclusive community. To all who engage with our charitable work, please think about the transformative impact a robust financial aid program would have on, for instance, a student who might have felt marginalized or excluded by us, whose voice would help us broaden our minds and friendships.
I hope that the days forward will include peaceful protests, lawsuits, justice, and education until we are certain that a racist policeman cannot murder one of our citizens for the sole crime of being black. Or Native American. Or… It is time to shift from “a change is going to come" to “these are the changes we are making, now”—it has to be now. The Grauer School recommits at this time to the values of compassion, human dignity, and social justice. We join the national chorus of calls for action, and we pledge to find more ways to take action.
Our school year is ending and we can’t even be with our students to connect these dots from all over the world. Never have we had so much to talk about and so little means to talk about it. Please, families, share the above resources at home.
Leadership is the art of joining people and groups together as they raise their shared moral aspirations. The closing message I have for you today is simple: this is a terrible time for divisiveness and polemics, for blaming people for their outrage, for pitting any groups off against any other perceived groups—this would be the worst imaginable form of leadership, the worst possible way to bring about the listening, empathy, and release of pain that healing will require. This is not a problem that can be “stamped out.” This is us. The events we are experiencing are not coming from some kind of fringe. They are us. They call for moral leadership.
At The Grauer School, NOW is the time to express solidarity and human dignity through activism, to forge more meaningful connections, to study the art of listening, and to try to show love for all who might feel pain, including ourselves.
Resources From NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools)
How to speak to children about traumatic events
- Talking to children after racial incidents (Penn GSE)
- “George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. What do we tell our children?” (USA Today)
How to teach about racism and civil unrest
- Talking About Race (National Museum of African American History & Culture)
- Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice (Teaching Tolerance)
- Understanding Race and Privilege (National Association of School Psychologists)
How students can take action
- Kojo For Kids: Jason Reynolds Talks About Racism And The Protests - Author Jason Reynolds helps young people understand what led to the protests we’ve seen over the past week and what children can do to build a less racist society.
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