Today I am Proud

Reflections on Youth Led Inquiry into Race and Racism (Part 5)

I will write more, lots more, as soon as I can. But for now, I just want to say that today I am proud.

Like many teachers I know, I hold myself to a high standard. Some people in my life feel like it's an impossible standard. But the fact is, as a white man teaching Black and Latinx children in Central Harlem, just trying my best isn't enough. I need to make sure that each day I'm going for broke and doing everything in my power to properly serve my students and their families.

So, a lot of days, I end up feeling like a failure. Whether I'm truly falling short, or just falling into the trap of a white savior mentality, it's hard to say. But like I said, today I'm proud.

Today nine of my 5th graders stood in front of an audience of strangers and shared their words. And they weren't just any words. They wrote about the meaning of race, the roots of racism, and the history of resistance to racism from abolitionists to Freedom Riders to Colin Kaepernick. They were nervous, but ultimately showed no fear as they stood up in front of this crowd of adults to share their writing, as well as their feelings, about race and racism.
One of Kortney's slides

Most of the audience members were impressed. Some were skeptical. Like they couldn't believe these 5th graders could come up with these questions and these answers about race and racism on their own. But they did.

Ultimately, while I applied for my students to present at the conference so their writing might have an authentic audience, the strangers in the auditorium weren't the true audience at all. Along with the twenty or so strangers there were about ten family members. My assistant principal was in attendance with her family as well. I know that these family members were truly impressed and proud, and their opinion matters most of all.

At the outset of this unit, months ago, my co-teacher and I wanted to prove that young people can tackle challenging ideas like race and racism. We wanted to try a unit where the kids in our classroom led the learning as much as possible. We wanted our students to know that their voices matter, and have power to make a difference. It wasn't always easy along the way, but today I feel like all these goals were met, and for that reason, I am very proud.

You can read my previous reflections on this unit here:

  1. "Who made up the lie?"
  2. "If you're white, how come you care so much about teaching Black history?"
  3. "Donald Trump had different opportunities"
  4. "White people don't want Black kids in their school"


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