7- Fostering Trust in the ongoing education (revolution)

By Shell

When you become a teacher in and for the American education system, you’re expected to put everything above yourself: the students, the work, the atmosphere, and especially the overall performance of the school. Am I — a human who gives and receives — not deeply and symbiotically tethered to the concept of everything? How can I improve lives if my life is consistently considered an afterthought? 

Additionally, becoming a Black teacher means piling more things, heavy truths, on top of all the loaded truths that you were already suffocating under. I’m not even alluding to the political climate, though I could be.

Every day this country that I was forced to pledge allegiance to from the ages of six to seventeen is murdering and displacing Black and Brown communities all over the planet, and they are not only doing this in the places that we all know for a fact they are doing this. 

Additionally, “Intricate, invisible webs…link some of the world’s largest food companies and most popular brands to jobs performed by U.S. prisoners nationwide, according to a sweeping two-year AP investigation into prison labor that tied hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of agricultural products to goods sold on the open market” (McDowell and Mason 2024.) You can go to prisonpolicy.org and look at the various graphs and statistics, then infer the race of many of these prisoners who are forced to work like slaves, enabling the convenience of the rest of us. 

On top of all that, while simultaneously teaching students the difference between intent and impact, we are expected to work alongside people who are so afraid of looking like racists that they will quickly respond with a version of “Well, I didn’t mean to hurt you,” when confronted with a POC’s version of “I want you to treat me differently.” 

What I experienced as a multi-racial, Black presenting teacher in a charter school centered on social justice in Greensboro, North Carolina, is far too nuanced to be referred to as simply racism or prejudice. I received a lot of what felt like genuine care and support at times from various staff, even from those who hurt me and drove me to the point of abandoning my position, mid-day. I won’t and can’t justify my pain and disappointment by claiming that things were bad for me all of the time. The underlying issue was this: while I felt heard at various times, I was never fully trusted. I never trusted the educators I worked with either. 

We need to understand that people can be and often are racist, prejudiced, or plain rude without intending to be because ultimately we’re all operating within the larger context of colonialism. Action is the biggest indicator of a sincere ally. 

Unfortunately, I was surrounded by quite a few teachers who seemed to feel that they were such good antiracist educators and communicators that they had no room to grow, or to learn how to grow, from adults with different perspectives. There were also those educators who claimed to be antiracist but were only interested in rectifying guilt. Not all educators are like this, but enough are. 

It’s normal to be ignorant and wrong, and even to hurt others in the process of discovering the ethical way to treat humans in this unethical system. Failure is not futile, and failing to consider the needs of others can only be wrong once the failure knows better. Adults tend to forget what it means to grow. Starting life with limited knowledge and accumulating different experiences and perspectives as time moves is exactly how aging works. 

What I’ve learned from encouraging the growth of children, though, is that there needs to be a framework of communication that allows educators to hear one another without guiltily and automatically defending ignorance; otherwise, no one will morally succeed. To prevent microaggressions and misunder-standings from blossoming into full-on hatred, we have to be able to give and receive redirections and criticisms from a place of sincerity. We have to build and foster the trust that we falsely assume already exists in workplaces. 

If Audre Lorde is correct, and guilt “is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices,” how much time are teachers wasting when they can’t implement the empathetic strategies they teach their students?

In this context of systemic immorality, learning needs to be treated as an ongoing process. The purpose of learning how to hear and eventually trust one another as educators should not be to fulfill the soulless goals of getting our students “college and career ready” like the state standards demand; we need to foster solidarity as quickly and deliberately as possible to survive what’s coming politically and culturally. 

Understandably, many POC I know are hesitant to take on the responsibility and emotional burdens of facilitating open communication across the nuanced lines of race and class. Large numbers of non-POC willing to work through ego and unresolved tensions seem to be missing from the spaces I occupy. I’m always worried that all of our feelings, opinions, and questions have been irrevocably repressed, and that we’re all so afraid of unleashing the (potentially controversial) implications of equity that no one will speak from their souls and take up the mantle.

Trust is the major reward for speaking up, and it is the only act strong enough to break the grip of distrust. Empathy is not enough — trust is the bloom from its seed. An equitable community takes trust, which must be fostered by every single shred of that community. In a loaded conversation, trust will conquer ego and tone, and clarify intention. A revolution is happening, and if educators cannot communicate effectively enough to agree on values and fight alongside each other, who can the children trust?

Sources Cited 

Davidson, M. D. G. (2012). Albert Memmi and Audre Lorde: Gender, Race, and the Rhetorical Uses of Anger. Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, 20(1), 87–100. doi.org/10.5195/jffp.2012.546

Lucas, J. (2015). The U.S. Has Killed More Than 20 Million People in 37 “Victim Nations” Since World War II. In globalresearch.ca. Popular Resistance and Global Research. globalresearch.ca/us-has-killed-more-than-20-million-people-in-37-victim-nations-since-world-war-ii/5492051

McDowell, R., & Mason, M. (2024, January 29). Prisoners in the US are part of a hidden workforce linked to hundreds of popular food brands. AP News. apnews.com/article/prison-to-plate-inmate-labor-investigation-c6f0eb4747963283316e494eadf08c4e

Prison Policy Initiative. (2017). Prison Policy Initiative. Prisonpolicy.org.