Immigration, racism, politics—volatile yet unquestionably timely issues, they are so incendiary that they’re usually touched only by teachers of government, civics and other social studies classes. And “touched” is the operative word as not many teachers delve deeply into these quagmires for fear of being consumed by them. What will the principal say? How might parents respond? Rather than face the hard discussions and uncover the painful truths, many opt to ignore such topics or tread very lightly on them, bringing them up on on days like today when Dr. King is celebrated, even then giving them only superficial study. It’s time for that to stop.
In the wake of the unequivocally racist statements attributed to the President of the United States a few days ago, it’s time to move certain aspects of politics into all classrooms—namely immigration, DACA and the racism that seems to permeate these topics. All across this country, students born in other countries , or whose parents or grandparents were, fill our classrooms. So when educators shun discussions of the vile words hurled at some of those countries, and by extension, at those students, the very existence of the students is essentially negated. At least, that’s the way the students feel.
Then there are the students who have lived here virtually all of their lives, having been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)program. When they are now threatened with deportation to countries they don’t even know, and teachers remain mute, the abject terror that besets these students every day goes unspoken and unaddressed, but continually grows nonetheless.
If you think having no students of color in your class exempts you from such discussions, think again. By choosing not to respond, which is as strong a choice as any, you impact your students in long-lasting ways:
- White students begin to see students of color as somehow not only different but also inferior. After all, why else would they be unwanted in this country?
- Without students of color there to present a counterbalance, white students absorb the racial attitudes projected in the news and, by the silence of adults, in their communities.
- Racial and ethnic stereotyping and the racist and discriminatory practices that accompanies such thought patterns then emerge and become accepted.
- The cycle continues with another generation.
Yes, all of that ensues from an educator’s unwillingness to confront social atrocities. However, lest those who teach immigrant students of color think that by doing so they have done enough, consider the equally great responsibility that rests with you:
- Students of color, immigrant and native-born, have been shown to be marginalized often in U.S. schools, based on numerous studies. If you don’t address the hatred, name-calling, threats of deportation and all the other vitriolic actions these students face attendant to race and ethnicity, you haven’t taught the whole child. You may have addressed the student with your content, but what about the rest of the child?
- Students take their social cues in school not only from one another but from the adults in the building as well. When teachers ignore such blatant disrespect of one group of their students, why should the other students accord these same students with any respect?
- Educators so often claim genuinely to care about their students. If the adults don’t openly and caringly address what the students experience, why would those students believe that you care about any other aspect of them?
- And if you do care, how can what pains them, jeopardizes their peace of mind, robs them of their humanity and leaves them vulnerable to the inhumanity of others not break your heart?
In times like these, silence is not an option. Really, educators never have that option. Our students are depending on us.