The case for teaching Black Lives Matter in schools

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by David Sheridan, all photos courtesy Caucus of Working Educators

Inspired by the Black Lives at School Day organized by educators in Seattle last October, a group of teachers in Philadelphia took the concept a step further. They sponsored a whole week of events around the 13 guiding principles of Black Lives Matter. The results were stunning.

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More than 100 schools in the Philadelphia area participated in the action, scores of community organizations and parents pitched in to support the K-12 educators as did more than one hundred higher education faculty in colleges in and around Philadelphia. And because the action week attracted so much media coverage, educators from outside Philadelphia, including educators from New Jersey and Delaware, also took part in the after-school events which were part of the agenda.

We are overjoyed,” says Tamara Anderson, one of action week’s organizers. “Lordy, it was a lot of work, but it was worth it.” Organizer Shira Cohen proudly notes, “We created a space where people could be brave.”

By that Cohen means that intentional conversations about racism and its impact on classrooms, schools and students are very difficult. But the Philadelphia educators demonstrated many people will engage in these conversations given encouragement, guidance, and resources.

“In networking with our fellow educators, I think it was critical that we took into account that while a lot of people may be ready to talk about racial justice, especially since the election—they are at different stages of readiness. You have to start the conversation with someone where they are, not where you want them to be,” says organizer Charlie McGeehan.

“In addition to the conversations,” says organizer Shaw MacQueen, “We wanted to show educators and students that Black Lives Matter is more than a hashtag—and I think we succeeded in that as well.”

Each day of the action week events were organized around the guiding principles of Black Lives Matter:

  • Monday: Restorative Justice, Empathy, Loving Engagement
  • Tuesday: Diversity, Globalism
  • Wednesday: Transgender affirming, Queer Affirming
  • Thursday: Intergenerational, Black Families and Black Villages
  • Friday: Unapologetically Black, Black Women

The educators also compiled teaching materials and curriculum to help navigate conversations about race with colleagues and students. Many of these resources are useful for Black History Month as well.

The success of Black Lives Matter Action Week has led to the organizers receiving inquiries from racial justice activists/educators around the country who are interested in sparking the conversation about race in their schools and communities.

And this summer, the organizers are planning to talk about their action at gatherings such as the Bargaining for the Common Good Conference and the Free Minds, Free People Conference, sponsored by the Educator’s for Liberation Network.

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