by Martholdy Pierre-Canel ‘21
During a time when topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement are prevalent in the media, at the dinner tables of many families, and on teen’s social media, it is important that everyone voices their opinion; especially those we see as role models, such as teachers.
Teachers play an extremely important role in their students’ lives, which gives them a huge responsibility. Not only are they in charge of delivering the content of the subject they are specialized in, they also share some of the responsibility for teaching their students the principles of tolerance, respect and moral courage. Teachers are helping raise the next generation and must use their influence on these students in the most positive and effective way possible.
Many students don’t bother making sure the “news” that they receive is not biased or fake. Some solely check the trending page on Twitter or believe whatever an influencer is saying without fact-checking them and instead just taking their word for it. School, however, is the perfect opportunity to receive reliable information from teachers about current events such as an unchecked Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, unjust mass incarceration, inhumane immigration policies and enforcement, and more. If these issues are regularly addressed in class, it not only gives students more accurate information about the topics, but sparks conversation, which is what needs to be happening nationwide. When millions of lives are at risk due to the actions of political leaders, politics cannot be simply a hobby because it affects everyone. Unfortunately, many would rather ignore the problem rather than shed light on it, and if a teacher also chooses (or is told) to ignore the real-world problems happening outside of the classroom, the students will see it as a signal to pretend it isn’t happening, or not care that it’s happening.
Not talking about these controversial topics is more dangerous than talking about them. If a student is not presented with accurate information and given a space to speak their opinions on them and to hear others’ opinions, they might grow up ignorant and close-minded. Our president Donald Trump, for example, describes anti-racist efforts in American schools as left-winged mayhem and he now promotes a “pro-American Curriculum” despite the government’s lack of power over curriculum in schools. His “pro-American Curriculum” would be the highs of American history rather than both the highs and lows. Trump believes that topics on racism in America are “hateful lies” and that students must be taught that America was not founded on oppression even though slavery in America started in 1619 and this country was officially founded in 1776. We do not want our generation to grow up with opinions without actual facts behind them and if teachers do not address these topics, it is bound to happen.
Teachers should proactively incorporate conversations about current events into their instruction. Topics that tackle social inequalities and injustice may seem difficult to incorporate into subjects such as math and science but with subjects such as English, history, government, sociology, and psychology, these topics are easily applicable. English teachers can incorporate more diverse texts that speak on the injustices that people of color continue to confront and conduct Socratic seminars to discuss the topics. Sociology teachers can go more in depth about racism from a social structure aspect and explain the racial inequalities and abuses by those in power. The connection with the deterioration of black people’s mental health and the announcement of a black police brutality victim’s death, for example, would be an interesting topic of research in a teacher’s class. In history courses, teachers should connect how racism and racist practices in the past are still affecting minorities today.
Educators bear some of the responsibility of teaching their students about these topics because these events happening outside of school are still affecting their students. It is important for students to feel supported by their teachers and to feel like the problems happening to those who relate to them are seen and talked about regularly. Normalizing conversations about injustices in this country will bring justice more quickly as more people use their voice for good, and with teachers doing their part and educating their students about these injustices, there will be less ignorant people and more people encouraged to speak out.