Sunday, July 16, 2017

An Urban Teacher's Education: You Can Be an Astronaut, but You Can't Be Black

An Urban Teacher's Education: You Can Be an Astronaut, but You Can't Be Black:

You Can Be an Astronaut, but You Can't Be Black

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question I always imagined every kindergarten student hearing.

“I want to be a doctor!,” declares Sally. 

“I want to be a teacher!,” exclaims Johnny 

"I want to be an astronaut!,” shouts Bobbie.

The possibilities were always thought to be endless for middle-class white students, particularly boys. 

“That’s great! You can do it. You can be anything you want to be!,” our teachers and parents replied. In the United States, you can do anything you want to do if you just put your mind to it. 

It’s almost embarrassing to admit that I never really stopped to consider what those conversations might have been like in other households. In families where parents had not experienced the sense that this was anything resembling a land of opportunity, where their most salient experiences with carving out some degree of financial safety and success more often had to do with what sorts of demeaning labor richer people were willing to offer them money for than fulfilling their potential. 

How do parents and teachers who’ve suffered incredible trauma at the hands of oppressive systems guide their young people who begin to sense that it may not be as simple as asking the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

In my family and in my schools, it was always about encouraging whatever idea I had at the moment. Although I don’t remember ever seriously thinking I would consider a career path apart from teaching, I had a profound sense that I would hear affirming comments from all of my supporting adults if those ideas ever arose. 

The whole of American ethos is based on individual determinism. You do you. Whatever you want to do, that’s what you should do. I think middle to high-income white children growing up in the United States may be exposed to the reality that this undoubting encouragement doesn’t exist for every student all over the world. The way we’ve taught history in public schools for sometime has often emphasized American exceptionalism. We have a vague consciousness that this is not quite what it’s like for children in all parts of the world. But rarer is the white child who understands that this unconditional support of a child’s career aspirations is not available to a great many children in the US.

One of the elements of white consciousness that may be most crippling when it comes to intra-racial dialogue is an almost total lack of opportunity to see outside of ourselves, to see outside of ways we’ve been brought up, to suppose that what we are and the way we think are mostly natural functions of the human condition rather than constructs that built in us as we marinate in the comfortable surroundings of white, patriarchal culture. 

As a result, I think we white folks often approach the world with an expectation not only that we have a right to be whatever we want, but also an assumption that everyone else thinks that way too. One place we see that play out in school is when white educators attempt to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to do well in school as if all of those students were in school primarily for themselves. A great many students from all backgrounds see their purpose in school primarily as a responsibility to bring honor and/or strength to their family rather than to their individual name. 

Because it is difficult in a culture that worships white identity for white folks to see outside of our habits of thought, we often engage with people from different backgrounds in ways that are confusing and often harmful due to our blindness of other ways of thinking and knowing. And I’m afraid that our overwhelming sense of ability, that we can do anything, also translates into a false belief in our capacity to know, understand, and be like other people.

We very often hear white folks who want to be allies to people of color and other marginalized An Urban Teacher's Education: You Can Be an Astronaut, but You Can't Be Black:

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