What does it mean to stand up right now?

Posted June 5, 2020

Dear Friends,

At Inspired Teaching, we stand with our Black and brown friends and colleagues – teachers, school leaders, students, and community members – in acknowledging the systemic racism that persists in our country and insisting that we must dismantle the systems that enable it to persist. As an education organization, we believe that schools should be places where students and their teachers are seen, heard, and safe, where conversations around race and racism regularly occur, and where an anti-racist community is nurtured through ongoing professional learning for all staff.

At the core of that vision are our students, who so often teach us in ways we cannot teach ourselves.

Last night a group of high school students from public, public charter, and private schools around the DC region gathered online for our Speak Truth discussion. The topic they had chosen was “Has the Constitutional right to bear arms outlived its usefulness?” building on a discussion they’d started two weeks ago in which they examined the question, “Should a Constitutional Convention be held to amend the Constitution?”

Before the official conversation began, students shared their experiences over the past few days with the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Some students had attended protests; some had posted signs; one student had assembled kits to support protestors – with hand sanitizer, water, and food – and provided her email address to the group so they could contact her if they needed these supplies.

The young people posed questions to one another, expressing the urgent concerns on their minds: How do we keep building the momentum that’s happening now? What happens when protesting in support of Black and brown people is no longer trendy? Will things go back to the way they were before? Will we get complacent again until another Black or brown person is murdered by police? What does it mean to stand up right now?

Last night’s student-facilitated discussion was attended by more than a dozen teachers who spent the first hour silently listening to what the students had to say. Students were quick to connect observations from the Black Lives Matter movement with their discussion topic, highlighting the role race plays in debates around gun violence. In particular they dove deep into the question of who should and shouldn’t be able to own a gun and how using mental health as criteria can be fraught and exacerbate existing stigmas. Their observations were informed by things they had read and things they had experienced. And when the debate came to a close and teachers were invited to weigh in, they were struck by the seriousness the students brought to the conversation.

A fourth grade teacher remarked that she was so inspired by the discussion she wanted to try and find ways to hold Speak Truth conversations with her much younger students. She welcomed ideas from the student-facilitators themselves for how to accomplish this. Other teachers wanted to know how the discussion was set up, and how the facilitators were prepared to lead.

The teachers were surprised by the student leadership they observed, but after running this program for many years, we are not. When you provide students with opportunities for meaningful work exploring ideas that are relevant to their lives, they excel. That’s the kind of learning experience all students deserve.

At the close of the session, students shared the details of a rally organized by the Black Student Union of the National Cathedral School in Washington, DC; and they expressed admiration for the work their peers are putting forth to organize and engage in this moment. For the adults last night, it was a reminder that our young people are doing critical work.

And so, we know, are so many of you. Thank you to our colleagues who are teachers, who are teaching now, who’ve been teaching all along (including parents!), who partner with and listen to students and nurture their ability to think and act as changemakers. Know that we remain committed to supporting you in that effort.

We are sharing resources via our social media channels to support teachers and parents in speaking with students about equity, bias, and racism. And we want to help amplify the work you are doing, so if you have resources you’d like to share with the Inspired Teaching community, please send them to resources@inspiredteaching.org and we’ll get them out there.

In solidarity and peace,

Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

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