My name is Brandon Thornton and I teach kids at Bloomington HS. I say “kids” because often times we use WHAT we teach as an excuse to not talk about current events, politics, human rights or, in this case, race. So, if you’re a teacher, and you’re struggling to figure out how you’re going to unpack the traumatic events of the summer with your students — it’s simple. Remember WHO you teach. You teach kids (some of which have been living through trauma for their entire lives).
Many of our students have organized events like this, many of them have spoken at board meetings or worked with administrators on diversity action plans, and many of them are organizing fundraisers, resources, and campaigns online. And some, are actively working against these movements, while some are on the sidelines trying to understand if they should even care.
In a few weeks, all of those kids will come together. And before we teach the quadratic formula, or Shakespeare, or the Periodic Table, it’s SO important that we all create a space where kids can make sense of everything.
Some in this community will call this indoctrination.
But to me, indoctrination is not learning about who Columbus really was until college — on my own. To me, indoctrination is being told by teachers and peers that slang was less, ghetto, unprofessional in comparison to “proper English.” And that speaking proper equates to whiteness and I should wear that whiteness like a badge of honor. To me, indoctrination is learning about Black history on my own, at age 31.
But what I’ve realized, after watching TikToks all summer, listening to R&B influences and watching Hip-Hop choreography within K-Pop, or seeing how most kids on TV or in school dress, style their hair, and speak…is that Black history is not only the past, it’s now.
It’s current events and it’s the future. Blacks have and will continue to contribute to our way of life. The problem is, we only hear about them if they’re on a stage, screen or court.
There are so many other firsts for Blacks. Scholars. Inventors. Astronauts.
My first black teachers, Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Mikel, are the reason I teach today — as a part of the 2% of teachers across the country who are black males. And I can’t help but think about where I would be today if I read books, or heard lessons, or did assignments discussing other “firsts” beyond just Rosa Parks, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (think Tulsa and learning that Blackness and affluence were seen as a threat and essentially the cause of its’ downfall).
How would those moments have shaped opinions of my peers who were often shocked I was in Honors classes? How would hearing these parts of Black history help break down stereotypes so that there would be no confusion of what we mean when we say, “Black Lives Matter.”
All of our schools in McLean County have mission statements about preparing students to become lifelong learners or global citizens — and they can’t possibly accomplish this without teaching them how to engage in the world around them.
And if you’re not in the humanities, you’re probably thinking, what can I DO? Well, since we’re teachers, and we love acronyms, imagine that DO stood for something — let’s say, “D” is for dismantle and “O” is for oppression.
Don’t wait for permission, make your “DO Now” list tonight and focus on how you’re going to dismantle oppression in your school. It could be working to ensure Black, Indigenous, families of Color have the same educational opportunities in your classroom and building. It could be making sure that your discipline, routines, and expectations promote equity, regardless of race, class, gender, ability, or sexual orientation, and that they hold up regardless if we’re face to face or teaching through Zoom. It can be whatever amplifies the voices of all students (not just the majority) — whatever it is, just DO Now.
And parents, many teachers in this community already have a DO Now agenda. They have for years. So, if you’re reading this back on Facebook or getting the highlights from someone who is here, I want you to give teachers the same grace you give lawyers, doctors, and other professionals when they do what’s best for the people in their care.
We’ve got this. And we need you to have us too.
When we say, “it takes a village,” this is what we mean. More so now than ever, we need you to become a part of our village.
But if your only intent is to gentrify it, then no thanks.
Commitment to Teach More Black Education in McLean County Schools
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