Going for Broke, But Not Going Alone

It turns out I picked the perfect time to step back and reflect on my core beliefs last week.  It turned out to be great preparation for this year's New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE) annual conference. Spending the day Saturday with pedagogues from all over who are committed to a vision of teaching and learning that places liberation at the center was more than inspiring. It felt rejuvenating. It made me realize how crucial community-building is to social justice oriented teaching.

In one session we took a look at a text from Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade and another from James Baldwin. In the text from Duncan-Andrade, he lays out "five pillars of effective practice" for critical pedagogy. These five pillars resonated with me a lot, and reminded me that my vision for my teaching is supported by a great body of research and thinking by people much smarter than me. In other words: I'm not crazy for believing what I believe about teaching and learning.

One of my main takeaways from Dr. Monique Morris' keynote, the morning session, and a session on #Teachresistance which I co-facilitated, is that the work of radical and transgressive teaching is urgent. Just as James Baldwin wrote 55 years ago, "We are living through a very dangerous time." The young people in our care need us to step up.

My second takeaway is that I cannot do this work alone. At times I think there are real barriers to collaborating with others. Some teachers aren't interested in this kind of teaching. Others are openly hostile to it. Even if I do find colleagues who are invested in social justice teaching, it is hard to find the time and energy to work together.

Additionally, I think as a white person teaching in the hood, I'm drawn to the savior role. Intellectually I know that I am far from the first person to engage in social justice teaching. There are so many people who have pioneered this work, and so many people doing incredible work now. And intellectually I know that as a white man with all kinds of internalized biases, I am far from the ideal person to lead Black and brown kids through a liberational educational process. Still, somewhere in my subconscious I think I'm drawn to the idea that I have to be the hero teacher who uses social justice teaching when nobody else will.

I think working with others can hopefully help me to dissemble this problematic inclination. But perhaps more practically, working with others can give me the support I need to keep pushing forward.

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about going for broke. This was inspired by James Baldwin's "A Talk to Teachers." This weekend I came across another powerful quote from this text:
You must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom, but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance. There is no point in pretending that this won't happen.
If I am truly ready to teach in line with my core beliefs, I am going to have to be ready to fight. But if I'm truly ready to succeed, I cannot fight alone. I need to find white co-conspirators, and teachers of color to follow, and I need to work with them. If this school year has taught me anything, it's that doing otherwise is way too exhausting and lonely.

I'm entering this school week hopeful. My vision is clear. My sense of duty and purpose is profound. And I know I'm at the beginning of building a community that will hopefully not just transform my practice, but give me the strength to continue fighting for as long as its necessary.


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