Holly and Tim booted up their laptop and prepared for another day of online phonics and fractions. As the computer came to life, there was something unusual on the school’s Google Classroom links. As they went through each of their lesson slots they saw that the connection was down. It seems the entire server had crashed – the Covid lockdown equivalent of a “snow day.”
Gigi assembled her planners, her calendars, her pens, pouches, and post-its before her on the desk and stood over them like a general surveying maps.Useless, she thought to herself. If she were indeed a general she would have called a retreat. What good was all this stationery in a world of e-Learning?
Pushing it all to one side, she opened her laptop and scrolled to find the tutorials for Google Classroom and Google Forms. She also cleared away some clutter from behind her desk to give a more professional background to Monday’s upcoming “live” lesson. It was going to be a long weekend, and General Gigi now knew how Napoleon must have felt at Waterloo.
I was on a webinar sponsored by the National Education Union today. The first panelist was the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. He made several interesting points in his address. He noted that the Black Lives Matters movement is more than just a policing issue. Other panelists included Kevin Courtney, and the MP Diane Abbott.
Reverend Jackson noted that the police are the guards at the gates. He stated that “what is behind the gate is the real issue.” He said it is the system that needs changing. Jackson, on a few occasions reiterated that the police patrol the community, they don’t control it. They are the “skin” of the community, but the problem is “bone deep.” The underlying inequality is the bigger issue. People need to see that the “lack of barbarity” is not the same thing as freedom. Even if every policeman was kind, it wouldn’t erase the issue of embedded racism and inequality in social outlooks. Reverend Jackson closed with the reminder that his colleague Dr King had focused on as well. “We are all God’s children. We need to learn to live together as civilised people.”
Kevin Courtney, the Joint General Secretary of the NEU called for the decolonialising of the curriculum as an instrument in getting to Reverend Jackson’s “bone” of the problem of racism and inequality. In Mr Courtney’s words, we need to challenge the “soft violence” of inequality. Education can make a real change in the underlying assumptions that manifest themselves as structural racism.
For those wondering what structural racism is, Ms Abbott gave a great example. When she was a young student, she was challenged by her English teacher, and accused of plagiarism. Her teacher wanted to know where she had copied her story from, because it was assumed that a Black girl, couldn’t have written one that good on her own. Reverend Jackson, had addressed this myth of Black intellectual inferiority earlier in the webinar.
All in all it was a thought provoking and challenging opportunity to see where we as educators can go to truly make “All lives matter.”
I have studied at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Centre for Holocaust Education at UCL Institute of Education, and taken part in several courses and workshops from the Holocaust Education Trust, and Yahad-In Unum. Through it all one mantra introduced to me by Professor Yehuda Bauer has stuck with me: “There is only one race – the human race”
One of the most challenging, yet rewarding aspects of my role as an educator is the teaching of ethics. Here again, ideas of “the other” are a major concern. It is one of the early exercises that I engage in with my students is an attempt, to isolate “who is the other?” within the class. When gender, gender identity, height, weight, eye and hair colour, and a vast array of other distinctions are considered – the only possible answer is “everyone.”
I often shock some students when I comment that there are no such things as black people or white people. All humans are actually on a spectrum of brown. Yes, very light or very dark in some cases, but nevertheless – brown. Objections are countered by a simple experiment of having students place their hands on a sheet of white paper.
But in society today we still have to deal with racism, sexism, classism, ageism, antisemitism, islamophobia, xenophobia and so many more. Isn’t it time we begin to show our dislike of something sensible like the “isms” themselves?