In the wake of Wednesday’s attacks, educators across the country went to work, processing the aftermath of the attack on our Capitol and our democracy alongside our students, with no time to process it ourselves. There were hurt and anger felt by those who have long acknowledged the hate and oppression incited by the President. There were confusion and resignation from students who had previously supported our President. There were more than a few tears, but most of all there were questions. Why did this happen? Why did they get away with it? Who’s going to be the President? What happens next?
While educators grappled with how to answer these questions without inputting our own biases, there was silence on the part of my district and my administration. I am not attempting to point fingers, and I am sure this silence is true of many schools. It comes as no surprise after this year of trauma and turmoil they’ve dealt with. Through this pandemic, I and other educators have spent the year in pursuit of antiracist education and debated why the confederate flag and oppressive speech are still permitted in our classrooms. Students have been permitted and continue to wear confederate flags and symbols on clothing, masks, virtual backgrounds, and class profile pictures. I have heard every argument and motivation for allowing it in schools nationwide. While it is true that students have the right to free speech just like the rest of us, we often limit that speech when it is hurtful or oppressive towards others. I have heard the “Southern roots” argument from several teachers and administration in the school, but anyone would have a hard time legitimizing that argument for confederate flags and symbols in Idaho. I, along with other teachers, have requested students remove their profile pictures and other symbols over the last year without administrative support and that has often been enough. It shouldn’t have to fall on teachers alone to do this.
Educators have sent students to the office for discriminatory and violent speech and threats, emboldened by the politics this year, with very minor consequences. I have had students threaten violence and write “George Floyd deserved it” on my whiteboard, resulting in a single lunch detention. I was the one to find my student afterward and start a conversation with him about why his choices were so inappropriate and hurtful to others. I have had to allow confederate flags in my class because there is no support to remove them. I have had difficult conversations with kids this week about why the world is so angry, divided, and violent and why adults can’t just follow the rules. I have had students share stories about how policies, words, and actions have hurt themselves and their families while the rest of the class listened. I have played superhero movies and trivia, at students’ request, after these conversations, because, although they have taken this year in stride, middle schoolers still hope there is someone coming to save them from the mess in the world. The politics of this year have everyone on edge, but if we allow the confederate flag in our schools, it is no wonder we allow it in our Capitol.
In this midst of a pandemic, I know this not a priority for many people, but teachers have been made to take on the role of processing the events of this month with kids, which is made incredibly difficult when some of our own policies (or lack thereof) don’t stand against what’s happening. This is a call for schools and districts across the state and across the country to take a proactive stance against oppression and discrimination of any sort. Any administration’s allowance of symbols of oppression in the classroom does not keep the peace, but rather places the burden of backlash on teachers and creates a community of complicity. I signed up to serve and teach ALL kids by providing them a safe space to learn, grow, question, fail, and thrive. For as long as symbols and language of hate are permitted in our schools, my classroom is not a safe place of learning for all kids. It is long past time schools and districts took a stance against the language and symbols of hate and oppression, through our choices, our policies, and our actions. It is long past time that teachers had back-up in doing this.