As I watched the news features, Facebook post and countless Instagram stories flooding mass media with George Floyd’s inhuman death, I could not help but think about the ramifications for our students and how educators need to address this come September when students presumably return to school. Regardless of what students are being taught at home, it is our duties as educators to implement a critical lens of right and wrong, to talk about oppression, racism, and privilege.
So how can we do this?
First, we need to ensure that it is being done in a meaningful way, do not take away from the experiences of students of colours, do not pretend to understand their lived experience as a person of colour, especially if you are not a person of colour yourself. Simply listen and validate their feelings. Reiterate your support and allegiance to helping and doing everything you can to make their lived experience in school better. Conduct open and honest age-appropriate discussions and let your students voice their opinion. Remember that school might be their only safe outlet in expressing their opinions and feelings regarding this.
Second, implement George Floyd in your teachings and lessons when it comes to speaking about race and equality. With everything going on, educators cannot stand idly by and not address this with their students. Make Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice household names. Desmond Tutu famously quoted “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. The conversations will not be easy or even comfortable, but it is the right thing to do. Allow for students to process it — do not rush teaching this topic. The treatment of Black people is systematic and has historical contexts that cannot be taught within a day. Do your research, become informed if you aren’t already, and share resources with your fellow colleagues.
Third, you should include messages about the possibility of change. Educate your students about local resources and the different communities and allies working together to make things better. Instilling these messages and letting students know that while the world is hurting now, there is hope for things to get better. Teachers cannot change the past, but they are ethically responsible for ensuring that the next generation become agents of change.
With summer break right around the corner, teachers have time to thoughtfully curate a pedagogy surrounding George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Take this time to reflect, connect with allies, and to craft a curriculum with a social justice lens for your students come September. Educators and school staff are some of the best people I have known due to their tenacious will to help other people’s children. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to protect a child.